There are self-made billionaires in the world, especially self-made female billionaires like Oprah Winfrey are an inspiration to many women in the world. And so is Johnelle Hunt, the self-made billionaire with a success story.
She is an American Billionaire and the co-founder of J.B. Hunt transport services, the largest publicly-owned trucking company in the US. She ranks number 6 on the Forbes list of America’s self-made wealthiest women. In 2022, Johnelle Hunt’s net worth has risen to 4.7 billion USD.
She was born the daughter of a poultry farmer in Herber Springs in 1932 and reached one of the most successful businesswomen in American History. Read to know how she reached her success from nothing.
The early life of Johnelle Hunt
Johnelle Hunt was born in Herber Springs, Arkansas on January 4th, 1932. She was born to Terria Debusk who was in the poultry business. And so Johnelle Hunt had a keen interest in the business from the early days.
She graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and thought of entering the career field of teaching but it didn’t happen instead it turned out to be a venture into business.
When she was a junior in high school she met her husband Johnie B. Hunt.
How did Johnelle Hunt meet her husband?
Hunt was 16 and Johnnie was 21 when they met.
One evening, when Johnie B.Hunt was driving his red Ford truck through Herber Springs and there he offered a ride to Johnelle and her friends. He proposed to Johnelle on their way to high school graduation with a small diamond ring he had bought with $80 borrowed from his aunt. He had to work hard to pay it off.
He worked as a truck driver and was involved in other businesses including selling rock, lawn sod, and cement. He got his extra money from the Lawn sod. They dated for four years, and he often spent a lot of time away from home as a truck driver to provide for his family, and she understood him well.
The life of Johnelle Hunt
Her husband was away from home and sometimes did not make it home for birthdays and anniversaries. After moving to Little Rock from Texarkana, the couple purchased their first home. It was 836 square feet.
They saw someone burning rice hulls along the route they drove, and so thought of starting a rice hull business. Her husband sold stock in the company to potential customers along with the poultry companies.
In 1962, the J.B.Hunt company, a rice hull packaging company was started in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Johnelle Hunt worked part-time to help her husband start the business and as the company grew, she worked more and more helping with financial statements and bookkeeping.
Initially, she was taking care of the kids and the house, but it was when they started their own business, that Johnelle started to work.
The struggles in the business
In 1969, the founder of Hudson Foods, the Red Hudson suggested that it is better for Johnie to buy a refrigerated trucking company with its five tractors and seven trailers.
Both of them bought it and started the trucking company J.B.Hunt Transport services. In the first year of operation, the company lost $19,000 and accountants were telling them to shut down the business.
The rice hull company burned in 1971.
She learned the rice hull business and was about to learn the trucking business. She was collecting money and they both were losing so much money. It was hard for them to make money but they still never gave up.
When they thought of taking the company public, they thought of selling the rice hull company. They sold it to Eli Lilly. They did not want to go public and did not want to share it. But in 1983, the company had always run as if it were a public company. It had 44 shareholders before going public and the only difference they could see when the company went public is the price of the stock.
The company entered the intermodal business in 1989. And this was one of the biggest things that came for them. It accounted for 64% of its operating income and 57% of the revenue in the first quarter of 2017.
The success of the trucking business
Although there were so many struggles in making the business a success, they never gave up. Hunt’s entrepreneurial spirit and hard work made it a success. The J.B. Hunt transport is one of the largest transportation logistics providers.
Johnelle’s job was the position of credit manager and board position of Corporate secretary which she held until 2008. She was recognized to be an active and important partner who contributed to the company’s development and success.
Afterward, they were able to start several development projects, like establishing rock quarries in Northwest Arkansas and Honduras and operating drilling rigs.
The contribution of Johnelle
Johnelle actually wanted to be a full-time mother and homemaker. But her husband saw the business potential she had and the way she interacted with people. Her husband wanted her to work full time when their son and daughter were in school.
It was then they bought trucks in Rogers in 1969 and moved there in 1972. She didn’t want to move, but Johnie promised that if they moved then she did not have to work. When they arrived at Rogers, she realized that the truckloads of the company paperwork were in disarray and would not make sense to the new team.
She decided to go in just a few weeks and organized and oriented the new employees. She did shipping and anything that was needed to be done. Johnie would work in the morning and would go around to let the employees know that they were doing a good job. Then he would come to Johnelle and address her that certain people were doing wrong and Johnelle has to look for it.
She gets the opinion of everyone and thought of getting everyone’s feelings of their input. She cared for each individual as she knew how hard it is for the drivers and they would miss family occasions. She would go and speak to the wives of the truck drivers when they become upset.
When the drivers had a problem and couldn’t sort it by themselves, Johnelle helped them to sort it out. She even had a landline fixed near her, so that she could help them anytime.
Today they have about 10,000 trucks, 70,000 containers, and 11,000 drivers. And she still goes to meet the people. Her favorite thing was to be with the drivers and they held big celebrations for each driver when they pass a landmark distance like 100,000 miles.
Life after the death of her husband
The J.B Hunt family grew up along with the development of the company. They had two children and seven grandchildren. They married for nearly 55 years and J.B.Hunt died in 2006.
After his death, Johnelle continues to serve in a variety of roles until the year 2008.
She took a very active role in projects developed and managed by her company. The group became primarily responsible for the conception and development of a more than 700-acre project in western Rogers known as Pinnacle Hills with1.4 a million square feet of restaurants, 960,000 square feet of Class A office space, and an additional 238,000 square feet of offices and retail under construction.
Johnelle is actively involved in many ongoing projects and companies started by Mr. Hunt. This included Central mortar and grout, Haskell Sand and Gravel, Northwest Arkansas quarries, and JB Hunt Gas & oil drilling and rock quarry project in Honduras.
She also developed and constructed Northwest Arkansas newest cemetery, Pinnacle Memorial Gardens with an accompanying 3000-square foot hunt Chapel.
Holding the seat on the Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute Advisory Board, She was the founding chairman of the United Way Alexis de Tocqueville Society for Washington country as well as a founding Executive Board member of the Ozark Affiliate of Susan G.Komen.
She accepted the position of campaign treasurer in May 2000 for the University of Arkansas leadership team entitled to campaign for the 21st century, which was a major fundraising drive that raised over 1 billion dollars. She was Co-chair of the University’s campaign Atkins a steering committee in 2013 and continues to serve on the campaign.
She served on the board of directors for the Beau Foundation benefiting prenatal care in Northwest Arkansas since 2003.
She stepped away from the company’s board of directors after serving in a variety of roles.
Her other works
Philanthropy what’s a huge part of the life of Johnelle Hunt, and she had a big heart do it. She learned this from her parents because they went through depression.
She went to school with children who didn’t have lunch to bring. So it was her parents who helped out to feed the kids. On October 13th, Johnelle Junt was honored by the children’s Advocacy of Central Arkansas as a woman of inspiration.
In 1990, she and Mr. Hunt were chosen as Arkansas Easter Seal Arkansans of the year. And they were the first couple to receive this award. She was one of the four women in 1992 to receive the Worthen professional women of Distinction award and has been included in the top hundred women list for Arkansas from 1994 to 1998.
In 2001 Johnelle hunt and her husband were inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame. She received an honorary doctor of humane letter from the University of Arkansas in 2009. She was honored by the Rogers Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce where she received 2013, Dick Trammel, Good Neighbor Award.
She still lives in Arkansas and has two children. And they employ more than 24,000 employees and make a net income of approximately $686 million.
The success of Johnelle Hunt
When she married Johnie Bryan Hunt at a young age, she thought that her life would be as a loving wife, devoted homemaker, and caring mother. This is all that she dreamt of. But she formed a dynamic partnership that led them to become successful businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and billionaires. Johnelle Hunt and her husband were both hard workers.
The young couple sold the family home and tool loans to launch the business. She took on clerical duties while raising her children. After 20 years of operations, it grew to become the 80th largest Trucking company in the United States and decided to take the company public in 1983.
Even after the death of her husband, she continued to run the business. After stepping out from the company, she still owns 17% of the company, which gives her a net worth of $4.7 Billion and places her on the billionaire’s list.
She has given it back to the communities in Arkansas, including a $5 million donation in 2019 to build a new baseball center at the University of Arkansas. She established a woman’s Center with the Washington Regional Hospital in Fayetteville.
She employs thousands of women across the country and nearly 1000, of them, are members of the female-focused employee resource group that intends to recruit and develop leaders with diverse backgrounds, unique points, and experience.
It is true that women can do things from the story of Johnelle Hunt. Because without her, there will be no J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. The company is moving by providing opportunities for women in the trucking and logistics industries.
She was an inspiration to many women where she worked full-time to make the business a success and was great support for her husband. As well as she was a devoted homemaker who looked after the children and work as a stay-at-home mom.
She was one of the main reasons to form a successful multi-billion global business. She is a source of motivation for moms not only in Fayetteville but across the world.
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