Bison's HistoryLike its namesake, Bison Transport is best characterized as the strong steady type. Modest - but not to a fault - and incredibly capable.
More Than Just Humble Beginnings
Like its namesake, Bison Transport is best characterized as the strong steady type. Modest - but not to a fault - and incredibly capable. Strong and steady: it's as much a personal philosophy as it is a business model and it has worked since 1969.
Duncan M. Jessiman, founder of Bison Transport Inc., looks back fondly on his commitment to the transportation industry. "Trucking isn't an easy business but it's a wonderful way to make a living. It gets in your blood," he said. "Trucking is both a labour-intensive and capital-intensive business - a real business where we do real things. If I wasn't doing this, I wouldn't know what I would do instead."
His quiet passion for the industry and for respecting his employees, suppliers and customers, has stood Bison Transport in extremely good stead nearly half century in business.
New world, New life, New business
The family and the family businesses began with a shipboard romance. The Scottish immigrant parents of Duncan met onboard a ship on the way to Canada. Shortly thereafter, they began a new life in the new world, settling in Winnipeg where they raised a family of six.
His father (Peter) ran a local cartage and warehouse operation in Winnipeg that became Jessiman Brothers Cartage Limited. It truly was a family operation and Duncan quickly became familiar with the industry. After graduating from the University of Manitoba, Duncan followed his own entrepreneurial spirit by starting a transport company of his own in 1969 initially focusing on the hauling of construction-related products.
If the name fits... When it came time to choose a name for the company, Duncan's brother Bill suggested Bison. Symbolizing pioneering spirit, the bison is also a very social animal, is extremely resourceful and is determined in pursuit of its goals. The hardy bison which was also symbolic to Manitoba's heritage seemed the perfect fit.
Through the '70s - Keep on Truckin' Indeed
In 1970, Bison made a major strategic move into the general freight business by purchasing R.C. Owen Transport, the largest hauler of paper for newsprint. This opened the door to a contract with Abitibi Consolidated paper mill in Pine Falls, Man.
During the same period Bison inked a deal with Eaton's and got into transporting merchandise from their catalogue orders. By the time Eaton's shut down their catalogue operations in 1976, Bison had become an expert in this area and took up the gauntlet when Sears came calling.
Also, it was during this period that Bison expanded into the courier market by opening a subsidiary named Letter Lassie. Duncan's sister-in-law Audrey Fogg, ran the company that was recognized for its innovation. The timing was perfect and appealed to women who were entering the business world in earnest. Letter Lassie's all-female team of drivers delivered courier packages throughout Winnipeg. Letter Lassie later began operating under the name Bison Courier.
Overhauling the Industry in the '80s & '90s
Big changes hit the trucking industry in the late 1980s with deregulation of the Canadian trucking industry. "Deregulation meant that everyone had to compete with everybody else," said Duncan. Deregulation also opened the door to market access on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
The unfettered market caused great turmoil among many Canadian fleets, but Duncan viewed deregulation as an exceptional opportunity for growth.
In 1990, Duncan's son Peter joined Bison. His flair for business development served the company well. Duncan credits Peter and his team with being instrumental in the company's growth. According to Duncan, "Peter got us into the post-consumer scrap paper market, which proved to be an exceptional opportunity for Bison at that time."
Bison began servicing paper mills across most of Canada, from Vancouver Island through Quebec and worked hard to service the growth of an upstart retail juggernaut known as Walmart. As the company moved into the next decade, it expanded to offer full-service logistics, dedicated fleet operations, yard management and a warehouse and distribution network.
The small company with heart was poised to embrace change. In 1991, the 18-truck fleet with 32 employees launched an aggressive growth strategy to establish a foundation that would transform Bison Transport into one of the largest truckload carriers in the country.
Taking Management Expertise on Board
Duncan recognized that adding outside professional management expertise would further buttress its strong market position - enter Don Streuber. A partner in the accounting firm that served as the company's auditor, Streuber welcomed the challenge of running the rapidly growing fleet. Coming on board in 1999, he quickly transitioned to president and CEO.
"Don Streuber is a great leader. He possesses the qualities of leadership that make people enjoy working with him," said Duncan.
As the fleet continued to grow and more staff were added, the company soon outgrew the current building and purchased the 60,000-sq.-ft. Sherwin Williams warehouse which would eventually become the most innovative and exceptional terminal and corporate head office in the trucking industry.
Technology has always played a huge role in heightening efficiencies in the company. A dispatch software system introduced in 1998, satellite tracking introduced in 1999 and detailed cost-analysis software brought on track in 2003, highlight just a few of the innovations Bison has embraced over the years.
High Road to Victory
Bison has been recognized with some of North America's most coveted awards, handed out by independent third parties who measure business innovation, road and operational safety and environmental sustainability.
There is no shortage of awards that recognize Bison Transport's winning approach. Duncan justifiably takes pride in every one of the awards Bison has received over the years.
Among Bison's remarkable achievements: winning the coveted National Fleet Safety Award for carriers over 100 million miles from Truckload Carriers Association. Winning this award once is a truly outstanding achievement. Winning it twice is even more spectacular. However, Bison has won first place in our mileage category multiple consecutive years, a feat that is truly remarkable.
Taking its place amidst the creme de la creme of Canadian companies, Bison Transport also has a much-envied position as a Platinum Club Member of Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies. Platinum Club members are winners who have maintained best-managed status for at least six consecutive years and running.
Bison is also an industry leader on the environmental front. The company embraces solid environmental practices and utilizes green technology and on-road equipment that is cutting-edge. It partners with the Canadian government to test aerodynamic trailer equipment and has been recognized by the rigorous U.S. EPA with a SmartWay designation that confirms it is an eco-friendly trucking fleet.
Standing quietly doesn't mean you can't stand out
There are many other players in the industry -- some larger than Bison and some smaller -- but Duncan humbly expresses his deeply-held conviction about where his company stands among them. "We have a high level of competence and professionalism among our staff and Drivers and we are very good at what we do," said Duncan.
The company slogan, "Bison cares... because we're people driven!" says it all. "We've made a commitment to people in our mission, our culture and our daily processes and we're proud to continue on that path. The environment our people work in is conducive to quality service. Also very telling is the fact that one would be hard-pressed to find a Bison staffer who isn't pleased to be part of the Bison team. The company's turnover rate is low in an industry noted for high turnover."
Duncan explains that Bison's philosophy is centred on treating people at all levels with respect. Over and over again, he points out how it is not only the executive team who takes credit for the company's success. While many companies pay lip service to the contribution and involvement of all their people, Duncan is proud to say, "We actually live it!"
And Bison puts its money where its mouth is. Employees share in the company's success through profit sharing. "A tangible sign that we are all in it together," said Duncan.
Unique Headquarters reflects Corporate Philosophy
When Bison opened its new corporate office in 2003 it was the talk of the trucking industry not only because it was an impressive feat of architectural design that converted the old Sherwin Williams warehouse into a modern, high-tech office, but also because of the numerous innovations it offered.
The building embodies the values that Bison embraces. Its very design illustrates respect for employees and the focus is on comfort, productivity and enjoyment. Unlike traditional trucking operation buildings where drivers' areas are markedly different from the administrative and executive areas, the building's design encourages interaction between all employees regardless of what job they hold.
Bison Gives Back
The company takes very seriously its role as a member of the communities in which it operates. Inspired by their eldest daughter Nancy, Duncan and his wife Judy are big supporters of DASCH (Direct Action in Support of Community Homes), an organization that provides residences for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Bison's Executive Chairman, Don Streuber, is also active in a broad range of industry and business associations, has a high profile in the Winnipeg business community and plays an active role in various charities. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Governors of Providence College and Seminary.
Our Future is Bright – A Change in Ownership
2021, an unprecedented time for the world and big changes for Bison. After 51 years, the ownership of Bison Transport transitioned from the Jessiman family to a new owner, the Richardson family. This change in ownership represents increased and accelerated opportunity for our business and for everyone within.
James Richardson & Sons (JRSL) is also a family-owned and operated corporation which was established in 1857, 10 years prior to Canadian confederation. They have grown to be a multi-enterprise business, with sizeable investments in Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom in four diverse business segments: agriculture and food processing; energy production, transportation and marketing; financial services; and real estate. The acquisition of Bison Transport includes its operating subsidiaries, Searcy, Britton, H.O. Wolding, Hartt and Pottle’s adds a sixth operating segment to the JRSL organization and allows it to enter the truck transportation and logistics market in a meaningful and substantive way, with a collective brand that is highly regarded.