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Efficient and Effective: the Knight Transportation team builds fleet with sound financial management

By: Brad Bentley

Brad Bentley

A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.


“There can be economy only where there is efficiency.”

These words were uttered by Benjamin Disraeli, a novelist who would become Prime Minister of Great Britain in the mid-1800s, but the axiom rings true on this continent more than 150 years later. Sadly, many miss the message.

Common lore has held that approximately 50 percent of start-up businesses fail in the first year, with the number rising as high as 90% in the first five years (although research conducted by the Small Business Administration shows a slightly lower number).

Regardless of the statistics you choose to believe, one thing is for sure: it is difficult to start and manage a business. It requires more than dedication and hard work to make a new entity succeed. It demands proper planning and sound financial management. Fortunately, Kevin Knight understood both when he and his family formed Knight Transportation in March, 1990 – a decade after deregulation – and the Disraeli quote accurately describes Knight’s business philosophy.

Knight said he knew his company was going to be a success before they hauled the first load in July 1990. Kevin and a few family members had spent many years at Swift Transportation, where they viewed and competed against other “big players” like J.B. Hunt, MS Carriers, Crete and Schneider – so they developed a “hybrid” business from their successes. “With a solid business plan, which highlighted Knight’s experience and understanding of the industry and focused on a good operating ratio to produce strong financial performance to create capital, he was able to get the critical financing. “I felt like we needed an effective, disciplined model to drive growth,” Kevin added. “We were way behind the big boys, and I knew if we wanted to join them, that we had to be strong financially,” Knight stated.

The company excelled from the start. “Our first full month’s financial report in August 1990 was good; we were already operating efficiently,” Kevin said. “Our preparation and approach had been vindicated; I knew we had something special.”

Kevin said the most disappointing point during the first year of business was the time he got a call that a Knight truck had been in an accident. “It wasn’t a serious accident, and nobody got hurt,” he said. “I think it was about $5,000 in damage, but to me accidents are the most disappointing thing in trucking.” Despite a few minor setbacks like this, Knight has never looked back.

Numerous trucking companies have made a mistake over years thinking growth can solve their problems, but Knight understood you have to be efficient on a small scale before going big. “It is much easier to operate in the low 80s as a small fleet,” Knight stated.

Efficiency is often described as doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things. The Knight Team has been both efficient and effective in growing the company to 3,900 trucks between all businesses. Knight Transportation now comprises five very strong entities with dry van, reefer, port/rail, brokerage and intermodal operations. We expect to continue to grow each one of our businesses by building more services and expanding our network.

Fleets got much older during the recent downturn, when rates decreased but costs did not. “Getting revenues on a per-mile basis where they need to be to dig our industry out of the hole is paramount,” he said. A strong balance sheet helps every driver and owner operator in our fleet,” Kevin added.

Knight’s emphasis on financial performance may be their company’s best driver benefit. “With Knight,  our drivers  are part of a large, financially successful company, that feels like it’s small. Thanks to the people in our service centers,” Kevin stated. “They never feel lost – and we all long for that.”

Kevin believes everybody in their business is important, and when Best Driver Jobs interviewed him recently, we found him working with customers and drivers alike. There are many more regulations today than 10 years ago, and with enhancements in logistics systems, trucking has become an appointment-driven industry. As such, Knight knows the importance of drivers and dispatchers communicating effectively. “We are committed to what’s in front of us and are trying to do whatever we can to improve efficiency, ” he stated. “We try to base decisions on how a driver’s day works and to help our drivers get the most out of each day.”

Knight Transportation’s Management Team focuses on working with our Driving Associates. Our goal is for our drivers to be as successful as they can be. We work with our drivers to develop their abilities in the areas of service, safety, fuel economy, equipment care, operation and productivity. To this end communication is key.

The company has three businesses that provide company driving associates and owner operators opportunity: Knight Transportation, Knight Refrigerated, and Knight Port & Rail Services. Each business is unique, having different lengths of haul or frequency at home. We should have the opportunity that works.

“The reason you want to come work for Knight is our people. I promise you it will be a different experience than you’ve ever had,” Kevin Knight stated. “Give us an opportunity to show you what we’re all about.”

“With Knight, our drivers are part of a large, financially successful company that feels like its small.

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