The owner of a successful mid-size trucking company has done something extraordinary. After growing his company over the course of a 53-year career into a force to be reckoned with that had mega-carriers drooling over the idea of buying the company up, he did something almost unheard of in trucking. He instead handed over his company to the people who built it – his employees.
KKW Trucking was started in 1962 with just a handful of trucks. In 1967, Dennis Firestone took over the fledgling company as President and then as CEO. Over the next almost 63 years, Firestone grew KKW into a regional trucking company with 120 local trucks, 265 OTR trucks, and over 1,300 trailers doing business in 12 Western states.
After such a long career, it was time for Firestone to step down.
“I’ve had a saying over the years, and I think it’s pretty accurate: Either lead or get the hell out of the way,” Firestone told employees at a company party earlier this month. “So I’ve been looking the last year and a half, two years, for a transition for myself and for this company that makes the most sense for everybody.”
When their owners want to retire, carriers like KKW have a way of being swallowed up by larger companies or sold off to private equity firms. But that’s not what Firestone did.
“And I won’t lie. Yes, I looked at other options. And yes, they were tempting,” said Firestone. “And there’s a whole lot of folks that were interested in taking our team aboard. But I tried to visualize: What’s this look like when I ask everybody to board a bus that says ‘Knight and Swift’ on the side of it and wave goodbye to everybody and say ‘hey, good luck.’ I just couldn’t digest it.”
Instead, Firestone told employees that the company will become a 100% employee-owned company through it’s newly-created Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). It’s a complex process, but essentially, the ESOP owns the company and employees get shares of the ESOP. As they work for the company, they’ll continue to get paid as normal, but in addition, they’ll also earn stock in the company.
“Big picture is that only a few things really change. The big one is that rather than me owning the company, YOU will own the company,” Firestone told the gathered employees. “There’s no signup needed. There’s no investment coming out of your check to finance this transition. The bottom line is: If this company continues to be as successful as it has been over the last 53 years, you will – many of you will – be successful. Much more so than you’ve ever probably imagined.”
In a press release put out by the company, Firestone gave credit for the success of the company to his employees.
“The reality is that KKW Trucking was built by a team of hard-working committed men and women, and if I was to get any credit for our successful journey, then it would only be that I was able to recruit and train most of these amazing individuals,” Firestone said. “The time has come for me to step aside, and the thought of turning our company over to the very people that helped me build it is a dream come true. I truly believe that when the notion sinks in that each of our team members are truly owners and they realize that they will directly benefit from their extra efforts, then the sky becomes our only limit. I couldn’t come up with a better way to say ‘thank you’.”
You can watch Firestone’s heartfelt address to his employees below.