“I Love to Build Things”
Second-generation Williamson continues bold progress at RJW Group
Kevin Williamson has gotten used to the quizzical stares.
He got them when he ambitiously set RJW Group’s annual revenue goals in the high double-digit million range, and he expects them to appear to at least some extent now that he’s fixed his gaze on a whopping $250 million revenue number by the middle of 2017.
“I think we’ll be a $250 million company within the next 36 months,” Williamson said. “Now, my executive team looks at me and they believe me, but they’re worried. But we should be fine.”
The ambitious approach, though, is nothing new for Williamson.
RJW’s president has long been a creator when it comes to approaching opportunities, and he’s not one to settle for middling objectives for fear of shocking his colleagues with bigger ones.
“I set the goal that we’d hit $75 million by last year, and we did that, and everybody looked at me like I was crazy at that time,” he said. “I’m a builder. I love to build things. I love to build businesses within our organization, and I’m not going to stop doing that. I look at it as, if I have to put a small investment into something and it’s not going to cost me a lot to do, why not? Even if I fail, I’ll learn from it.”
And, he said, every time a big goal is set and reached, the stares are a little less frequent.
“They don’t look at me as quite so crazy now. I’ve got a little more street cred to back me up when I say something,” he said. “It should be a fun couple of years.”
The trek toward $250 million actually began a few decades back when his father, Ron Williamson, created the company after earning a double major in transportation management and business administration at Elmhurst (Ill.) College. The elder Williamson actually worked toward those degrees – and another from the College of Advanced Traffic in Chicago – via night school while working full-time day jobs to support a burgeoning family that included a wife and four children below age 12.
He received an ICC license that enabled him to broker freight and began the RJW Logistics business that is now part of a multi-faceted RJW Group operation.
These days, the group’s services include dry less-than-truckload (LTL) or truckload (TL) transportation within 500 miles of Chicago (via RJW Transport), LTL/TL, dry van or reefer, flatbed or intermodal movement across the United States and Canada (via RJW Logistics) and warehousing in a 180,000-square-foot facility in Woodridge, Ill.
“My dad put in the 60- and 70-hour weeks, took over my bedroom and started there,” Kevin Williamson said. “Then we moved to a basement in Bloomingdale (Ill.) and then to an old Blockbuster. In 1991, we started the trucking operation and moved into a 5,000-square-foot warehouse.”
Incremental size increases occurred steadily over the years – from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 to 60,000 – before the son officially took over and managed a move to 75,000 square feet in Woodridge, and subsequent additions of four more facilities that boost the overall footprint to 450,000.
The company’s growth in multiple service directions was triggered when Williamson began aggressively hiring sales people during the recession – many of whom came to RJW with knowledge bases in niche elements like trade shows and warehousing and retailing.
And while the boss might take recruiting credit, the successes were the product of their hard work.
“It was just hiring the right people, getting them in here with the expertise and letting them roll with it while giving them what they needed,” he said. “It was getting them the right tools to build those segments. Now they’re flourishing after the incubation phase of nourishing them.”
The workforce now sits at 250 including drivers, a significant jump from the 75 or so who were employed prior to the recession. Four facilities exist within a short drive of each other in Illinois and one more is in Las Vegas that services RJW’s trade show operation.
The company expects to take occupancy of a 200,000-square-foot building in Bolingbrook later this year to replace an existing 100,000-square-foot facility, and Williamson is aiming at having the entire Illinois operation under one 600,000-to-1 million square foot roof when all existing leases end in 2018.
The RJW fleet has 167 trucks (including owner/operators) and 350 trailers, and its efficiencies were boosted with the addition of Rand McNally-powered electronic logs in April. The dual-purpose aims were to maintain compliance with fuel-tax reporting regulations as well as increasing miles per gallon, which created an initial savings of $811,000.
“Technology definitely helps,” Williamson said.
Going forward, the company’s approach to its customers will remain infused with the integrity-first mindset Williamson had passed to him from so many years of watching his father do business.
“Honesty,” he said. “The way I was raised and the way that my dad brought up the business and the culture of RJW was ‘You’re not going to lie to the customer.’ There are going to be times where it’s going to be easy for you to make up an excuse for why a driver is not there or why it went wrong. But if you tell the truth, you’re going to feel better about yourself.
“Bad things are going to happen in transportation where things aren’t going to go right. It’s not a perfect industry. But at the end of the day, you can go home and tell them exactly what happened. Could we lose that customer? Yes. But at least we didn’t get caught in a web of lies. In any industry you’re going to have that, but we just worry about ourselves.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: RJW Group
WHAT: Multi-pronged operation providing national and international logistics services, regional trucking within a 500-mile radius of its headquarters and LTL transportation throughout the continental United States
WHERE: Headquarters in Woodridge, Ill.; three other facilities in Illinois and one in Nevada