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JRSL acquires Bison Transport

One of Canada's largest agricultural conglomerates has acquired Bison Transport, which has grown to become one of Canada's largest trucking companies. James Richardson & Sons (JRSL) and Wescan Capital Inc. announced that as of Jan.

1, JRSL acquired 100% of the issued and outstanding shares of Bison Transport Inc. and its affiliated companies. Bison is a Winnipeg-headquartered transportation company established in 1969 by Duncan M.

Jessiman. Over the years, the company has grown to become one of Canada's largest trucking companies with more than 3,700 employees and contractors operating a fleet of 2,100 tractors and 6,000 trailers throughout North America. Together with its affiliated companies, H.O.

Wolding, Searcy Trucking and Britton Transport, Bison services a wide variety of multinational, national, and local customers. Established in 1857, James Richardson & Sons is a private, family-owned and operated corporation involved in global agriculture and food processing, as well as energy exploration, transportation and marketing, financial services, insurance and real estate. Headquartered in Winnipeg, JRSL has assets and operations across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

Peter Jessiman, president and CEO of the Jessiman family's holding company, Wescan, said in a statement that "Bison and its employees have been like members of our family since my father established the company in 1969." "While we have mixed emotions, we are thrilled that we have found a buyer for Bison that shares our values of excellence and that cares for our employees and customers as much as we have over the past 51 years," Jessiman said. "I have no doubt whatsoever that Bison will continue to enjoy tremendous success in the future as part of the JRSL family." Following its disposition of Bison Transport and its affiliated companies, Wescan will continue to be active in real estate ownership and management.

The transfer of ownership from Wescan to JRSL will not result in any changes to Bison's operations, the companies said in a press release. Bison will continue to be headquartered in Winnipeg. "We are excited about the opportunity to acquire Bison, which has an outstanding reputation for customer service, dependability, employee relations, and safety built over the past 51 years," Hartley T.

Richardson, JRSL president and CEO, said. "We have been a long-time admirer of Bison Transport and we are very thankful to the Jessiman family for entrusting the future ownership of Bison to our family," Richardson added. "Bison and JRSL share many of the same values and we are pleased that Bison's senior management team have committed to continue to lead Bison and ensure that it continues to adhere to the same principles and standards of excellence and safety as it has under the ownership of Wescan and the Jessiman family." Financial details of the transaction will not be made public, the companies said. 

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and CarriersEdge have announced the "2021 Best Fleets to Drive For," a list comprising the 20 top for-hire trucking companies that graded highest on a series of metrics ranging from compensation and benefits to advancement opportunities and driver feedback. Top honors will be awarded to the best large and small fleet and will be revealed at TCA's Annual Convention at the Wynn Las Vegas, taking place April 17-20. "We are proud to recognize the winners of the 2021 Best Fleets to Drive For contest," TCA President John Lyboldt said. "In a year where the essential services provided by our industry have come into public focus, it is especially important to acknowledge those carriers who are going above and beyond in setting the standards for workplace satisfaction.

Each of the Top 20 winners should take pride in the dedication they have shown to our essential workforce." CarriersEdge, which provides training for the trucking industry, launched the program in 2008 with TCA to identify the North American fleets (operating 10 or more trucks) with the most desirable workplaces. A company driver or owner-operator must nominate the trucking company for it to be eligible.

"2020 was a year like no other, and the 2021 Best Fleets showed that they were stepping up to address those challenges," said CarriersEdge CEO Jane Jazrawy. "Even in the midst of a pandemic these fleets are focused on creating a great workplace experience for all their drivers, and with an average satisfaction rate over 90% their drivers clearly appreciate those efforts." This year marks a full decade for Nebraska-based Grand Island Express gracing the list, while Garner Trucking out of Findlay, Ohio, has a five-year streak going. "It really validates all of the efforts and energies that we put into deciding what our programming, pay packages and hiring guidelines are going to look like," Josh Mecca, director of recruiting at American Central Transport (ACT), told FleetOwner.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based fleet of 300 tractors has made the list four consecutive years. Mecca said ACT's turnover percentile was "in the high 80s, low 90s" at the end of 2016, but is now hovering around 50%. He credits fostering open communication and feedback as a main driver, which was facilitated by WorkHound, a digital platform on which truckers can share their experiences and feelings about a specific job and/or the company overall.

"I cannot swear by it enough," Mecca said. "It's tremendous. It goes to that audience that needs to see feedback in real time." Another key move was building a new £4 million terminal called ACT Plaza in the City of Fountains, which is home to the corporate office, maintenance shop, and training and service centers. "We're able to see our drivers and really get to know them a lot more," Mecca said.

The lobby of the American Central Transport Plaza in Kansas City, Mo.Photo: American Central Transport
And by knowing their 290 or so drivers better (90% company to 10% owner-operator), ACT discerned how important work-life balance was. Therefore, the company shrunk its hiring area to fit the operational footprint better so all drivers had a chance to spend more time at home.

A few other pay perks provided by ACT, which pays per mile, include extra compensation for lost trailer time and breakdowns, as well as "tweener loads," where a driver might lose two days for a load that should take a day and a half due to hours of service regulations. TCA and CarriersEdge both cited COVID-19 as a major factor this year, and ACT provided grab-and-go care packages replete with food, masks, and sanitizer for drivers when they stopped by the facility. The fleet also stepped up in a huge way for its private drivers by giving them an extra week of vacation, and providing all drivers with hazard pay.

"It was a tough decision as it was a lot of money to swallow, but what it also did was get our drivers home in a time when they needed that break," Mecca explained. That tough decision may turn out to be one of the company's wisest decisions, as it showed its drivers how valuable they are. "It proved that we're going to take care of them and their families," Mecca said. "I still have drivers come up and say 'Thank you for doing that.'"

JRSL acquires Bison TransportAmerican Central Transport has made a concerted effort to offer better pay and work-life balance to its drivers, such as Robert Burge, one of the fleet's million-mile drivers.Photo: American Central Transport
One of the stats Mecca is most proud of is the average driver tenure of 2.5 years. The industry average typically is about one year.

"The longer tenured somebody is at a company, the more invested they are personally into that company, so they're more likely to be a safer driver as well," Mecca concluded. ACT's CSA scores have risen as turnover has decline, he noted.

Check out the full 2021 Best Fleets to Drive For list:

[In alphabetical order]

  1. American Central Transport -- Kansas City, Mo.
  2. Bison Transport Inc. -- Winnipeg, Manitoba
  3. Boyle Transportation -- Billerica, Mass.
  4. Central Oregon Truck Company, Inc. -- Redmond, Ore.
  5. Challenger -- Cambridge, Ontario
  6. Chief Carriers, Inc. -- Grand Island, Neb.
  7. Erb Transport -- New Hamburg, Ontario
  8. Fortigo Freight Services Inc. -- Etobicoke, Ontario
  9. Fremont Contract Carriers, Inc. -- Fremont, Neb.
  10. FTC Transportation, Inc. -- Oklahoma City, Okla.
  11. Garner Trucking, Inc. -- Findlay, Ohio
  12. Grand Island Express -- Grand Island, Neb.
  13. Halvor Lines, Inc. -- Superior, Wis.
  14. Jetco Delivery -- Houston, Texas
  15. Nussbaum Transportation Services, Inc. -- Hudson, Ill.
  16. Prime Inc. -- Springfield, Mo.
  17. Thomas E. Keller Trucking Inc. -- Defiance, Ohio
  18. Transpro Freight Systems Limited -- Milton, Ontario
  19. Wellington Motor Freight -- Aberfoyle, Ontario
  20. Wilson Logistics Inc. -- Springfield, Mo.

In addition to the Top 20, TCA and CarriersEdge identified five Fleets to Watch (honorable mentions):

  1. AirTime Express -- Mississauga, Ontario
  2. Boyd Bros.

    Transportation -- Clayton, Ala.

  3. Carbon Express, Inc. -- Wharton, N.J.
  4. K & J Trucking -- Sioux Falls, N.D.
  5. Western Dairy Transport -- Cabool, Mo.

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