In today's globalized economy, there's always something to be said for a family-run company.
There's even more to be said when that company has been in business for more than 80 years, spanning three generations, and is still growing strong under the same family name.
That’s a sentiment not lost on Sid Brown, CEO of Cherry Hill-based transportation logistics and supply chain solutions provider NFI.
What began as a small regional trucking business in Vineland by Brown’s grandfather, Israel Brown, in 1932 was later passed on to his father, Bernard Brown, who Sid Brown credits with developing a “foundation to build upon.”
Brown now runs the family business alongside his two brothers, Ike and Jeff. The trio have been involved with NFI since the 1980s and have seen the company evolve and grow through acquisitions and strategic partnerships into an industry leader across the United States and Canada.
“My two brothers and I have been aligned as partners in building this business,” Brown said. “We work great as a team, which is hard when you’re in a third-generation family business. I think we’ve got a special thing that we’ve built here and, hopefully, we can continue to keep this as a special family-run business.”
Brown notes two members of the fourth generation of Browns are already working in the family business.
But in order to have success at the top, Brown believes it’s just as important to fill the company ranks with people of a similar mindset.
“When somebody works here, we hope that they have this entrepreneurial spirit and that they feel like this business is their business, like we feel this is our business,” Brown said.
For Brown, an employee who embodies that approach is someone who “bleeds blue,” striking a reference to NFI’s signature blue trucks.
“If we can continue to have as many people out there bleeding blue going forward, I think we’re doing a good job of really keeping the family-run business successful,” he said.
BIZ IN BRIEF
COMPANY: NFI, #12
HEADQUARTERS: Cherry Hill
LEADER: Sid Brown, CEO and grandson of founder Israel Brown
INDUSTRY: Supply chain and logistics
2014REVENUE: $1.11 billion
EMPLOYEES: About 8,000 across U.S. and Canada, roughly 850 in New Jersey alone
While keeping in line with tradition is important with any family-run business, Brown and his brothers also understand that innovation is a key to its ultimate survival. That’s why in 2011, after assessing the dynamics of the marketplace, NFI decided to move away from its legacy over-the-road business and focus more on contractual assets rather than transactional ones.
In the process, NFI has diversified its service offerings through acquisitions as well as organic growth, and now boasts a fleet of over 2,800 drivers and 2,200 tractors. The idea, Brown said, was to become more of a one-stop shop for NFI’s customers.
“We wanted to really be known (for) more than just a trucking company,” Brown said.
And it’s not just NFI’s scale across North America that keeps customers coming back. Brown says flexibility plays a large role, as well.
“We believe that (with) what we do and the services we provide, we’re able to do them in a cost-effective manner because we’re nimble,” Brown said.
While NFI’s current strategic plan is to grow its operations in North America, Brown believes there may be opportunities in the future to partner with companies in Asia, Europe and South America, as well.
Brown says that he sees NFI continuing to add to its service lines going forward and growing key business components such as its e-commerce fulfillment operation.
“I honestly believe, over the next five years, we can potentially double the size of the business,” Brown said.
And for now, NFI plans to grow from its home in the Garden State. Brown said it’s tough to overlook the benefits of operating such a business in the heart of the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor and being able to tap into the area’s talent pool.
“We’ve got a great labor market here. … At the end of the day, this business is all about the people,” Brown said.
But the state’s high taxes and business costs pose an ongoing threat. Brown said he has seen plenty of companies come and go over the years and notes that “New Jersey has not made it easy for businesses to stay here.”
“New Jersey’s got some structural issues that, ultimately, they’re going to have to address in order to continue to have job growth,” Brown said.