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Sirena Rubinoff/Medill

Don Brown has been driving Central States Trucking tractors for 27 years.

Third-generation trucking company on a roll after major tune-up

by Sirena Rubinoff
July 19, 2007

TRUCKER_doug driving

Photo by Sirena Rubinoff

Doug Grane worked as a dockworker during high school vacations. 

Truck driver Don Brown has driven to Bensenville, Ill.-based Central States Trucking Co. before sunrise in his 1999 Dodge pick-up truck nearly every day for the past 27 years.  

He grabs a cup of coffee, hops on his 2006 Freightliner day-cab, and drives back out to deliver goods, from food to furniture to pharmaceuticals, to dozens of customers whom he's known for years throughout Illinois and five other Midwestern states.  
“They know my name and are happy to see me,” said Brown.  The truck driver, who remembers current president Doug Grane when he was just the boss' son and a 16-year-old dockworker, has seen big changes at the family-owned company.  

A major overhaul and expansion since 2003, when Doug and his brother, Bryan, took senior management positions alongside their father, Fred, has made Central States one of the fastest-growing trucking companies in the Midwest.  

Revenues at the company are in high gear -- up 67 percent to $35 million at the end of 2006.  Grane, who with his brother, Bryan, bought the company from his father in 2006, estimates revenues will total $42 million this year.  Central States pulls in an industry average of 3.6 percent in net profit, says Grane.

It's a long way from the company's 1980 beginnings.  Central States Trucking was founded by Fred Grane with a dozen office employees, 30 drivers and tractors, and 50 company-owned trailers.

“[The] Central States of 2007 is a much different company than [it was] in 2002,” said Doug. “In 2002, we were mature and slightly complacent.  In 2007, we are mature, yet dynamic.”

Today, with the third generation in the driver's seat, the company has 200 tractors and drivers, 300 company-owned trailers, and customers from six Midwestern states, including Jewel-Osco, Crate & Barrel, and Johnson & Johnson.

As the business has grown, so have gasoline and diesel prices.  To cover those rising costs, Central States has a fuel surcharge.

"Everyone hates fuel charges.  We hate charging them and the customers hate paying them, but we do our best to purchase fuel at the lowest possible cost," said Grane. 

Central States' growth has come exclusively from expansion of its operations rather than from acquisitions, and Grane says more expansion lies ahead. 

The company bought land in Joliet, Ill. in March and in Rochelle, Ill. in May in order to “expand our operations near major state highways south and west of Chicago,” said Doug.

“What makes [Central States] successful is that they’re not just about being a transportation company,” said long-time customer, Jorge Farr-Aguilar, general manager of Antek Madison Plastics USA, Ltd. “They are very much a service relation company too.  Whenever I have a request, they always step up and have an answer for us.  Doug is on the ball like you wouldn’t believe.”

Doug became senior vice president in 2003, when he joined his father and brother in a campaign to revamp the company from the inside out.

“We made no assumptions of what was working and what wasn’t working,” Grane said.  “We started from scratch.”

The family spent several hundred thousand dollars to replace old technology, streamline the organization, and hire new workers with an eye toward improving productivity. 

In 2006, Doug and his brother bought the company from their father, becoming third generation trucking entrepreneurs.  Doug is now president and his brother is the chief executive officer.

“We are very fortunate,” said Grane.  “And as we have succeeded, we’ve been able to give back more to charitable organizations.”

Farr-Aguilar was happy to testify that the Granes’ donated baseball tickets to Metropolitan Family Services, a charity that Farr-Aguilar has been involved with for four years.

 Their efforts have not only cemented ties with customers like Farr-Aguilar, but have also increased morale among employees.

“I’m comfortable here,” said Brown. “It's my home away from home.”