Women In Trucking Association (WIT) announces Johnelle DeBusk Hunt as its October Member of the Month. Johnelle loved driving her friends around the neighborhood in one of her dad’s big trucks used for hauling poultry feed. She had no idea that those drives around town would prepare her for a lifetime working in transportation and helping build a Fortune 500 company with her husband, J.B. Hunt.
Johnelle was born in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She met Johnnie Bryan Hunt when she was a junior in high school, and four years later they were married. She attended the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Johnelle and J.B. Hunt were married for 55 years and were blessed with two children and seven grandchildren.
“For the first 12 years we were married,” says Johnelle, “he drove a truck, I took care of the ‘business’ from the house. While he was on the road, I took care of the money, paid the bills, and raised the children. It was my job and I never complained, because he was providing for us and I could handle the rest.”
In 1961, the J.B. Hunt Company, a rice hull packaging company, opened its doors in Stuttgart, Arkansas.
Eventually, Johnelle was needed outside of the home and went to work part-time to help her husband grow the business. As the company expected, she found herself working more and more – helping with correspondence, financial statements, and bookkeeping. Before long, she was working full time. In 1969, the couple expanded the company’s service offerings to include five trucks and seven refrigerated trailers, marking the start of J.B. Hunt Transport. Its success is a tribute to the Hunt’s entrepreneurial spirit and hard work.
“I always do the best I can,” says Johnelle. “I make decisions, and when something doesn't turn out like I wanted it to, I let it go. The struggles are what make us appreciate when the good times come.”
Today, J.B. Hunt is one of the largest transportation and logistics providers in North America, encompassing intermodal, dedicated, truckload, LTL, final mile, refrigerated, flatbed, and expedited services.
As the company grew, Johnelle held a number of positions. “I did all the collecting from the beginning,” says Johnelle. “Even after we got larger and I hired some other people, I kept the tough clients. The key was being persistent. I would call them morning, noon, and night.”
Even after her retirement from the Board of Directors in 2008, Johnelle remained an active and important partner who continues to contribute to the company’s development and success.
“Transportation is a great field for women,” says Johnelle. “Women can get things done. We see situations differently, and I'm thrilled to know that we have women driving trucks.”
Since her husband’s passing in December of 2006, Johnelle has returned full time to the workplace as Chairman of Hunt Ventures. Her company is primarily responsible for the conception and development of the more than 700-acre project in Rogers, Arkansas, known as Pinnacle Hills.