Terry Kilpatrick attended his first Alabama Trucking Association event 25 years ago, invited by a member to the annual convention.
“I was in awe of the great trucking legends who were there, men like Dempsey Boyd and Walter Poole,” he says. “These were successful businessmen who offered great ideas and a deep knowledge about trucking – and they were willing to freely share that knowledge with others. I have always remembered and appreciated those days.”
Now with his own successful business, Billy Barnes Enterprises in Frisco City, Alabama. Kilpatrick wants to give something back. During his one-year term he’s working on new public outreach programs to bring younger workers to the industry and help the public understand trucking’s purpose and value to the state’s economy.
The 65-year-old former Army helicopter pilot turned fleet executive quickly allocated additional funds for ATA staff to develop and implement programs to improve services to members and showcase trucking’s contributions to the state’s economy and its efforts toward industry professionalism. He also has plans to work with some of the association’s legacy members to establish a foundation devoted to industry research, outreach, and charity.
Monroe County, Alabama, is a hotbed of forest products industry activity. In fact, it was the reason Kilpatrick’s stepfather and company founder Billy Barnes got his start in trucking.
Back then, the region was in the midst of an economic boom, with several forest products producers starting up new facilities or upgrading existing operations. Barnes recognized the need for a specialized trucking outfit to service the booming industry. In 1975 the owners of Harrigan Lumber Co. approached him about contract hauling for their mill. Within weeks of accepting Harrigan’s offer, Barnes had bought a couple of trucks, hired a skeleton crew of drivers, and hit the road.
By the end of the 1970s, after five years of military service, Kilpatrick returned to Monroeville to help his dad and younger brother Donnie grow the business. At the time, the business had about 10-15 trucks, and about as many drivers, but demand was there and the future looked promising. Throughout the following years, the family business prospered, adding capacity and qualified people as markets allowed.
Kilpatrick has been with the family business for nearly 40 years. Prior to that, he served as an officer in the Army serving as a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, piloting helicopters, overseeing personnel, and performing general managerial tasks. His military background and education, which includes an undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management from Pepperdine University, have served him well during his career in fleet management.
Terry and Donnie lost their dad in an automobile accident in 1999. The company was able to continue its prosperity because of proper estate planning and the fact that Donnie and Terry had the wherewithal to continue building the business. The brothers worked as equal partners for six years after their dad’s accident. In 2006, Donnie was also killed in an automobile accident. He was 48.
Donnie’s death was tough; he had been in total charge of the maintenance department and was well respected by coworkers and vendors for his mechanical knowledge and skills. A few months after Donnie’s death, Terry received news from his doctor that he’d developed esophageal cancer. The same day he got that bad news, he recalls, “The very next call I received was the IRS letting me know that the company would soon go through a full audit.”
So for most of the fall of 2006, Kilpatrick underwent treatment for cancer, dealt with an extensive IRS probe, and continued working to reorganize the company following Donnie’s death.
“It was a lot to deal with for a few months, but fortunately I had hired my nephew, Luke Hudson, the previous summer to take over the role of operations manager. He stepped in and did an excellent job managing the business during my absence. It all turned out great. I’m now cancer free and doing fine.”
His first task after recovery from cancer surgery was to recruit a new head of the maintenance department, bringing in veteran fleet manager Jerry Layton, who had more than 25 years of truck maintenance management with Schneider, Evergreen Transportation and other area fleets.
“Donnie knew so much about maintaining trucks. I knew we needed to find someone quickly to move us forward,” Kilpatrick says. “We had talented folks working in the shop who kept us going during the transition, but none of them felt they had the experience to run the whole department. We needed a proven manager who could lead that department from the first day.”
After solving the maintenance situation, Terry talked to his oldest son, Bryan, who had taken a job after graduating from the University of Alabama with Tuscaloosa’s WTI Transport in the maintenance department. It was an opportunity to determine if he really wanted a career in trucking.
Terry asked Bryan to come back to Monroeville and work for the family company. He started in 2008 and ran the safety and human resources department for several years. Bryan working with the operations department to modernize the fleet of 180 trucks with on-board cameras and electronic logs. He also implemented online safety training for drivers with Vertical Alliance Group.
After weathering a number of tumultuous years, Kilpatrick is focusing on the company’s future. The management team is taking advantage of newer equipment and technology to improve services to customers, protect equipment, and better train employees. Bryan’s focus, after the recent hiring of Randy Watson, previously VP of safety at Birmingham-based J&M Tank Lines, will shift to sales and operations.
Other technical advances include the addition of McLeod Software’s latest version. “Our dispatchers really like it,” he says. “In the last year or two, we’ve made major investments in the areas of safety and technology in an effort to improve the safe and efficient movement of our customer’s freight.”
The company operates three divisions. The largest runs wood chips, shavings, bark, and saw dust. A flatbed side hauls finished lumber, poles, plywood, and general commodities. The dedicated division hauls for other local plants and mills.
Kilpatrick and his team have focused on improving the operation’s CSA score. “Our type of work is short haul with a lot of loading and unloading that generates more wear and tear on equipment. Our team is very proactive and conscious of that.
“We have worked incredibly hard the past few years to fine tune our fleet maintenance and safety programs. I am proud to say that our programs have resulted in much improved CSA scores.” They are now among the best in its peer group.
The company is even working on streamlining its equipment rotation to maximize newer, more efficient trucks. “For years we ran trucks as long as we could,” Kilpatrick says. “But more recently we’ve moved to a set rotation system, especially for tractors. We believe a rotation system designed for our particular business model will result in lower overall cost.”
The operation uses a mix of Internationals, Kenworths, Macks, and Volvos, pulling a mixture of about 300 Peerless and Dorsey vans and flatbed trailers.
Kilpatrick admits that the operation hasn’t grown much lately, but looking ahead he believes it is well prepared for its future. “We’ve put people and systems in place for better utilization of what we have,” he says. “Truth is, we’ve never had a dedicated salesman. All of our business has come from word of mouth. We are not going to chase growth at the expense of poor service to our existing customers. This company’s success has been because of dedicated, hard-working employees and loyal customers. I will never forget that.”
Adapted from a feature in the Alabama Trucking Association magazine. Used with permission.