There are many people who can describe the difficulty of starting up a business in the trucking industry. Doing so as a woman — and an immigrant to the U.S. — adds to the challenge. But it’s all in a day’s work for JagDeep (Deep) Dhillon, founder and CEO of Livonia, Michigan-based RoadEx.
In 1994, Dhillon immigrated from the Punjab region of India to the Toronto, Ontario, region of Canada. Not long afterward she married, and soon the family was joined by daughter, Simran.
“We started a small coffee shop, and when (Simran) was 2 years old, we started a trucking company,” Dhillon explained.
During the recession in 2008 and 2009, Dhillon recognized an opportunity to come to the U.S.
“I saw lots of people that don’t have jobs in the USA,” she said. “When we posted ads in the paper or online, I got almost nonstop phone calls.”
After a half-decade in trucking, the Dhillons decided to start a factoring business to serve other trucking companies.
“A lot of our Indian community is involved in the trucking business,” Dhillon said. “I noticed Indian drivers on the road, or Indian [company] names on their trucks, and from that I got the idea.”
Dhillon’s factoring company grew and increased the services it offers. Today, RoadEx provides dispatch services, fuel cards, trucking insurance and assistance in obtaining authority, permits and more — all in addition to invoice factoring. Currently, about 30 employees work at the company’s Livonia location, and additional staff works from India. Dhillon said company revenues of $60 million in 2019 are expected to be more than double that amount for 2021.
In September 2021, Simran joined RoadEx as the company’s associate counsel, following her graduation from law school. Before attending the prestigious law school at Wayne State University — one of Michigan’s largest schools — she graduated from Wayne State with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a business minor.
“I graduated law school this past May and took the bar exam over the summer,” Simran said, adding that she became fully licensed about a week before visiting with The Trucker. “So now, I’m a full-fledged attorney, but I’m taking on a lot of roles under that umbrella.”
Simran could have sought a law career with a firm in Detroit, but she said she wants to work in the family business.
“I feel passionately about what we’re doing here,” she said. “And I feel very personally invested. I have such a soft spot for trucking because my family’s always been in trucking.”
Of course, Simran has been around the RoadEx office for many years, even though she wasn’t always officially on the payroll. She spoke about how her mother, Deep, handled the issues of working as an immigrant and speaking with an Indian accent in U.S. society.
“In the beginning, I think she got nervous talking to people on the phone,” Simran explained. “I think the trucking community is just so diverse that she hasn’t had too many issues with it. Over the years, she’s definitely become more comfortable.”
Any doubts about Deep’s ability to succeed in the U.S. were quickly put to rest.
“When I was younger, she (Deep) would answer the phone and the caller would be like, ‘We need to talk to whoever’s in charge,’” Simran recalled. “When we get people calling now, they ask for her first because they know she’ll get the problems taken care of.”
Helping to improve the image of the trucking industry is an important goal for Simran.
“I think sometimes trucking can get a bad rap for not being super-sophisticated or whatever,” she explained. “But that’s coming from people who don’t know much about trucking and the field. Having knowledge about it has made me want to provide for this field.”
None of this means Simran is abandoning her law education or degree, however.
“I think it’s a really untapped market where (the trucking industry) would benefit greatly by having more attorneys who can provide more detailed legal services to potential trucking clients,” she said. “That’s also one of the fields that we plan to branch into in the next few years.”
How does Deep feel about her daughter growing up and joining the family business?
“I’m so proud of her, and she’s gonna take our company way up,” she said with a big smile.
Part of the RoadEx mission is to give back to the community that supports the company and its employees. The company lists Forgotten Harvest and Trucker’s Final Mile as two charitable groups selected for its support.
“One of the pillars of our (Sikh) religion is to provide to our community and always give back,” Simran explained. “So, for example, if you ever need a warm meal, you’re always welcome at a Gurdwara, a Sikh Temple. Those principles carry naturally into our business.”
The company has also funded a display for Trucker’s Final Mile at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky.
“When my parents had their trucking company, we had a few truckers who had someone pass (away) in the family and their first priority wasn’t, “What are we going to do with this load?’” Simran said. “Their first priority was, ‘Let’s get the driver home. Let’s make sure they can be with their family.’”
The Dhillon family feels strongly about supporting other women in the trucking industry.
“Our goal is always to advocate for truckers and especially now, more and more, advocate for these female truckers, Simran stated.
“We want to be leaders within the field to show other women that you can also be a leader,” she continued. “So, every opportunity we get to partner with a female-owned trucking company, it’s a big deal. It ripples through our all of our offices that we got another one.”
Deep says she plans to continue the company’s growth in the coming months.
“(RoadEx clients) are asking for more services,” she said. “We have (clients) every day looking for trailers and trucks. We try to connect them with sellers. That’s our next plan.”
Simran acknowledges her mother’s role in paving the way for women in the industry.
“I have been able to reap the benefits of the hard work she put in,” she acknowledged.
Under the leadership of Deep and Simran Dhillon, there’s more hard work and more success ahead for RoadEx.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.