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NEW ORLEANS — Business was going quite well for family-owned Triple G Express Inc. during the summer of 2005, as the city best known for its 24-hour nightlife, vibrant live music scene and spicy Cajun cuisine also served as a great base of operations for the intermodal motor carrier and its decades-old less-than-truckload affiliate, Southeastern Motor Freight Inc.
Then came Hurricane Katrina.
When the Category 3 hurricane struck this Southern coastal city on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005, buckets of rain and 125 mph winds left a path of destruction that could have signaled the end of the line for the two companies.
“Katrina was tough for all of us,” said Randy Guillot, who Oct. 8 was formally installed as the 75th chairman of American Trucking Associations. “We went from everything we had to nothing. We literally had to restart our business after Katrina.”
Randy (left) and Glen discuss their business. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
After the storm hit, many of Triple G’s independent owner-operator drivers were stranded hundreds of miles away from New Orleans. When they finally returned days or weeks later, some discovered there was no place to return to, recalled Randy’s brother, Glen Guillot. “They didn’t have homes. There were no grocery stores or no hardware stores. Nothing was open.”
The storm also took a personal toll on the family. The residence for Randy’s grandmother was located near the Lake Pontchartrain levee breaches that gave way in the storm, and was submerged in nearly eight feet of water for two weeks.
“That was a scary moment in our history,” Glen recalled.
Randy’s home had minimal damage, but his parents’ home in Metairie had a foot of water inside. The family evacuated to hotels in the Baton Rouge area for about three weeks.“We watched Katrina in a hotel on television about 100 miles away from New Orleans,” Randy said. “It was heartbreaking to watch on TV.”
Were it not for the ample financial reserves that Triple G had built up, the company could also have been a casualty of the storm, Glen said. “It took us a good two years for the company to get back on its feet after Katrina,” he said.
Today, with Randy handling sales and operations and Glen handling the company’s administrative side, Triple G once again is humming right along.
GUILLOT PERSPECTIVE: The importance of connections.
Glen permanently joined the family business in 1989, after spending 10 years as a local bank officer as well as serving as an auditor for the Federal Reserve Bank. He credits Randy’s talent for sales as the key reason Triple G was formed in 1985. “After he got out of college, he was selling LTL services for Southeastern Motor Freight,” Glen said of his brother. “He was doing such a good job that his customers wanted to book more freight than the company could handle.”
Today, with the contributions made by the Guillot sons and daughters and employees — which build on the prior generations that opened Southeastern back in 1945 — it’s clear that the company stands on a foundation of family tradition.
By traditional measures, the two Guillot businesses are considered small. The company’s business model is centered on owner-operator truck drivers, with Triple G running about 100 trucks and Southeastern running about 16 more. However, the two motor carriers combined are expected to gross about $20 million this year, Randy said, noting most of the company’s business is within 200 miles of New Orleans.
“We have reinvented our business several times in my career, both in the type of service and the regions we service,” Randy said.
Randy in front of the Port of New Orleans. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Now, the man who said he has reinvented himself several times since he first sat in a corporate chair will take his experience, talent, perseverance and strong personality to a new level as the most visible face of trucking. In this capacity, Randy said his priority will be promoting ATA.
“I view the associations as a home for the trucking industry,” he said.
“It’s time for ATA and the industry to be recognized. We are doing the work for the entire industry, day in and day out. But yet only a small portion of us are paying the price. We want the dues, we need the revenue, but we also want the time and talents of everybody involved as well.”
Friends, family and associates said Randy is eager to take on the role of ATA chairman.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) of New Orleans, who has known Randy since Scalise was a candidate for Louisiana state representative in 1995, said Randy is willing to put in the effort.
“Randy’s going to bring a work ethic and a rich history to ATA,” Scalise said. “And not just his 30 years of experience, but understanding what a multigenerational company has to do to be able to pass that legacy on in a tough industry. We’re proud to have a trucker from Louisiana lead one of the most respected associations in D.C.”
He continued, “The culture of Louisiana is that you work hard and you play hard. Randy really does work hard and he really does it in a positive way. In this industry, just like a lot of other industries, you go through good times and you go through tough times. He’s always the same person. He keeps his head and doesn’t lose his cool.”
Randy himself acknowledged that the intermodal business can sometimes be tough. “It’s not easy to make a buck and it’s not easy to carry on family traditions,” he said.
Dave Manning, president of Nashville, Tenn.-based motor carrier TCW Inc., has known Randy for more than 25 years and agreed that the drayage business is a tough one. The two have worked together on several projects for ATA’s Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference.
“Randy has a passion for our industry,” said Manning, a former ATA chairman whose company’s services include drayage at the ports of Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C. “He’s always been knowledgeable about any topic, does his homework, knows what he’s talking about and pursues his goals pretty relentlessly. He’s going to be somebody who pushes really hard for achieving whatever it is that ATA has spelled out that it wants to achieve.”
And it takes a strong personality to survive in the intermodal trucking segment, Manning said.
“Intermodal in and of itself means you’ve got multiple modes of transportation involved,” Manning said. “You have the railroads and the steamships that want to make the rules about equipment, free time, per diem or whatever the issue happens to be. Obviously they make it for their benefit — sometimes I think to the detriment of the overall intermodal product. The motor carriers don’t have a lot of leverage in those negotiations.”
Chance McNeely, executive director of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association, said the Guillot family “has been a staple” at the state association for decades. “Randy’s father, Elmo, was chairman of the board in the 70s, his brother Glen was chairman and then Randy was chairman. I always joke that it’s not an LMTA event unless there are at least five Guillots in the room.”
McNeely added, “I think that Randy thrives in a sales role. He did really well with business development. So I think that as people get to know him, they’ll see that he’s a personable and warm person.”
Randy has worked hard on difficult state industry issues ranging from the high cost of insurance to the need for increased fuel taxes, McNeely said.
“I consider him to be a very good consensus builder,” McNeely said. “His commitment to the betterment of the industry is almost unrivaled. I would say Randy is somebody who truly gets it and understands why trucking companies should get into industry associations and should be willing to invest. That’s one of the reasons he’ll be a benefit to ATA.”
“Randy is the most proficient person at multitasking that I have ever seen,” Glen said. “He can have a call on his landline going, text messages coming in on the cell, emails on his computer and people lined up at his door — all at once.”
Glen added, “He gives everybody the attention they deserve, even when they get the answers they may not want to hear. But they will get an answer from him.”
Cathy Gautreaux, currently senior adviser on drug and alcohol policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, has known the Guillot family since 1985.
“The Guillots believe in commitment and participation,” Gautreaux said. “The entire family is very genuine — the parents would accept nothing less. They have very high standards and are always polite.”
She added, “With Randy, what you see is what you get. He’s got that smile and that open warm personality. Glen is the numbers guy and Randy is the politician, and I mean that in a good way. He’s very competitive, but fair and respectful.”
Gautreaux said that Randy played a role in saving the Port of New Orleans from going out of business after Katrina.
“The other ports were ready to cannibalize their own,” she said. “Houston actually solicited freight from New Orleans. For months, we acted as a voice and actively solicited truck drivers to come back to the Port of New Orleans.”
Mark George, CEO of Memphis, Tenn.-based IMC Cos. — an intermodal competitor of Triple G in the Gulf of Mexico — called Randy “a good old trucker from the South, a Louisiana boy.”
“He’s always been a strong leader and very passionate about the trucking industry,” George said. “He’s served our industry well in the conferences and the organizations he’s supported along the way. I just think he’s going to make an outstanding chairman for ATA. He’s always been very visionary, and always been outspoken and engaged.”
George added, “We don’t always need the big guys to be chairman.”
“Randy is hard-working and very focused. But he’s a jokester too,” said Doug Williams, a New Orleans attorney who has known Randy personally and professionally for years. “Randy has got a sense of humor that can defuse a tough situation — a talent that I don’t think a lot of people have.”
Williams described Randy as a “right-from-wrong kinda guy.” Williams has represented Triple G on everything from labor issues to personal injury litigation and contract law.
“In litigation, he will take a stand,” Williams said. “He’s not interested in settling just to get out of a case. He’s one of my few clients who has had me file lawsuits back against a plaintiff if he thought there was a fraud component in a case.”
Renee speaks about her husband, Randy. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Randy married his high school sweetheart, Renee, in 1983. They left the wedding reception in — you guessed it — a truck. The two met at a Catholic Youth Organization dance in high school when he was a junior and she was a freshman.
Renee said trucking is, and has always been, in Randy’s blood. Despite having to travel a lot, he always has been a family man, spending as much time as possible with his two sons and daughter as they grew up, she said.
“He’s ambitious and full of energy and ideas,” Renee said. “I think he’s going to be one of the most energetic chairmen ATA has ever had.”
“He’s loud. He’s bold. He’s very loyal,” said his daughter, Megan Berberovich. “In high school during my senior year, he actually danced [the Nutcracker] ballet with me on stage, which was really cool, but horrifying for him.”
“It was a comical thing, not a serious thing at all,” Randy recalled of the father-daughter dance. “Basically, I embarrassed her in front of all her classmates.”
Randy’s daughter-in-law, Rachel Guillot, who is married to Randy’s son Mason, said it’s both “intense and calm” working at Triple G, and that as a leader her father-in-law is “inspiring.”
“Joining the family has been a lot of fun,” Rachel said. “But it’s a little intimidating because they are so close-knit and passionate. At the same time, they’re loving, kind and generous.”
The Guillot family. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Randy’s oldest son, Mitch, 33, said when he first went to work full-time at Triple G, his father “threw him in the fire.”
“I was literally introduced to the safety director and told to figure things out,” Mitch said. “What that allowed me to do was figure out my own way of doing things rather than picking up someone else’s habits. It was difficult at first, but that mentality took me a long way, not just with this career, but with life.”
Mitch said his dad is a “very quick thinker.”
“Every now and then he’ll get stumped, but he still figures his way out,” said Mitch, who handles driver resources and IT for the company. “There’s always a solution. He never gives up.”
Those who know him say Randy is very proud of his company and the contributions that every generation of the Guillot family has made. He’s looking forward to the next generation transitioning the company in upcoming years.
“It’s hard to separate family life from business life, not only at the house, but also at work,” Randy said. “But it’s fun to see them work together as a family and as work associates.”
He and Renee have a variety of friends, but hold a special place for their trucking friends. “I don’t believe that there are better, nicer folks than those in the trucking industry,” he said.“They’re just wonderful people.”
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