Jim Franck fell into trucking mostly by accident.
Originally, he planned to go to law school, but there was an abundance of attorneys at the time, so Franck decided to take a year off and work for a driver training school. After working there, he decided to stay in the business, and he said it has been a pretty good decision so far. His professional trucking career began in 1980 and he’s been in a management role of a trucking operation for 40 years except for a short period when he ran his own business.
Franck has been the president at National Carriers, Inc. since 2012.
“I enjoy the people,” he shared. “Whether it be the drivers or the executives, we have good hard-working people and the technology is getting very intriguing, especially over the last few years.”
Franck said some of the technology that National Carriers has been looking into is alternative fuels and artificial intelligence (AI) robotics, adding that it is all merging and happening quickly.
Franck said National Carriers is particularly seeking to attract younger drivers who are interested in both trucking in general and technology in particular. Manufacturers have been testing more and more autonomous trucks, which most industry stakeholders say will become reality in the future, albeit still with considerable driver involvement.
“It is not something that is going to happen overnight, because there are a lot of variables out there such as insurance and how secure the technology is – can it be hacked?” said Franck. “Driverless trucks will work much like a self-driving car; it is the same technology, but in my lifetime, I don’t think we won’t ever not have a driver involved in some way or another.
“A plane can take off and land on its own, but a pilot oversees the operation,” he continued. “It is driving on its own, but there is someone in the seat – this is a dynamic time in our industry.”
After starting with a leasing company in South Bend, Indiana, in 1980 and working for them for a year, Franck grew tired of the winters and moved to Texas, where he worked for a company hauling processed meats to Hunts Point and brought liquor back to Dallas out of New Jersey. He did that for about three years. He has also worked for Tandy Transportation, as well as the old Radio Shack Group as operations manager for its private fleet for a few years.
“I have never driven for a living,” he said. “I drove some construction trucks in the summer while in college, but it was mostly flatbeds, hauling some equipment around.”
National Carriers was started in 1968 by John Jacobson, as part of what was originally National Beef Packing Company in Liberal, Kansas. Franck described National Carriers as a family, with most of the turnover coming from retirement or drivers who had a medical condition that prevented them from driving over the road.
He said the company does lose some drivers after they decide to drive local, but for drivers who want to drive over the road and make good money, National Carriers can be the right environment.
“We don’t always do it right, but we will work harder than anybody to make it right,” shared Franck.
National Carriers has about 1,000 employees, and 75% of its transport is food. They carry for Hershey, Nestle, Anheuser Busch, ConAgra, and of course, National Beef — just to name a few. Franck said National Carriers also has a livestock fleet of about 120 trucks in southwest Kansas.
“I don’t want us to grow for growth’s sake,” he said. “We haven’t grown the last couple of years. Two years ago, when the rates were good, we had a bit of a conundrum. When the economy is good, drivers have a lot of choices, and when it isn’t, we can keep them longer.”
Right now, the biggest deterrent to growth is the COVID-19 pandemic, which Franck described as an ever-changing dynamic. He said for a month, drivers had dealt with a real demand for services, which kept them busy, but now the demand has shrunk dramatically. However, demand seems to be turning the corner as the economy starts to open up.
He said it is a completely different environment and, “We always have to be on our toes and understand what is going on around you and react accordingly.” He said the demand has been much like a roller coaster, but for the most part, has kept the drivers busy.
Franck said National Carriers has been fortunate enough during the pandemic to not have to furlough any of its employees. He said the drivers have taken a lot of pride in their work and, “It has been amazing, because of the positive attention they are getting from President Trump and the media.”
“I hope that stays when we get past this virus, because they deserve the recognition,” said Franck.
By their very nature, most drivers are self-isolated by being in the cab most of their day. He said unfortunately, it also means they can’t sit down and get a meal, so they are living, eating, and sleeping in their trucks, as most restaurants are carry-out only.
“It has been incredible the way the public has acknowledged the truck driver and treated them as heroes,” he continued. “If you bought it, a truck brought it, and it makes me feel proud to be a part of this industry. People are recognizing the work they do.”
Sam Pierce has been a journalist for more than a decade and has written for several publications including The Trucker, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Living Our Faith magazine. He enjoys spending time with his family including his two daughters. They like to watch movies, read books and build LEGO sets.