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Nebraska trucking company is still trucking strong thanks to three generations of family leadership


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Nebraska-based carrier Grand Island Express is committed to keeping the business in the family, with the third generation of leadership taking the wheel and steering the company toward success.

Since Grand Island Express was launched, three generations of the Pirnie family leaders have worked to create a culture where drivers feel included and valued.

Company Founder James D. Pirnie

From the beginning as a moving and storage company in 1967 under the guidance of founder James D. Pirnie to the company’s steady growth into one of the nation’s premier small refrigerated carriers with second generation company President Tom Pirnie at the helm, Grand Island Express has evolved over the decades to meet the needs of an ever-changing freight market while keeping true to their family values and principles.

First-generation owner James D. Pirnie and his wife, Catherine Pirnie Evans, breaking ground for the family trucking business in 1976.

Third generation owner Jim Pirnie, 44, took over leadership of Grand Island Express as company President in November 2020, but he knew he was destined to join the family business since he was a teenager. After completing college and an internship with Knight Transportation, he says that he was driven by his respect for the company’s culture to return to Grand Island Express to continue the family tradition.

In an interview with CDLLife, Jim Pirnie explained the difference between family-owned trucking companies and other types of carriers in terms of driver experience.

“There’s the family culture, there’s the small carriers that say they’re gonna know your name but don’t and then there’s the large carriers that don’t know your name, have the bullet-proof glass… just not very driver-friendly at all,” Pirnie said. “I guess what we value the most is the driver’s input. We sit down– myself or my dad — we meet with every driver individually at the orientation classes and try to get to know our driving staff even more and welcome them to the family.”

Pirnie went on to highlight the ways that Grand Island Express works to improve the day-to-day lives of their drivers.

“We have family values in core and that’s what we portray to our drivers and that’s how we operate. We value their opinion. I mean, we get feedback from them when we’re testing out new equipment or preferences or items that maybe we should look to add to the trucks or trailers. Because we’re not the one behind the wheel. So if there’s something that can make the driver more efficient, more safe, and reduce some of that stress sitting behind that wheel, we’re going to try to do that,” Pirnie said.

Family leadership has had a profound impact on Grand Island Express employees, many of whom have been with the company for decades, working with all three generations of the Pirnie family.

“I grew up on the farm that was built by my great-great grandparents and my grandmother still lives there today. I know the importance of family carrying on a legacy and I see and feel that at Grand Island Express. I am proud of my own family legacy and equally as proud to be a part of another family legacy in my professional life,” said company dispatcher Tammy Teske.

“The thing about the Pirnies is that they have always been respectful and provided me with job security.  I have enjoyed working for a small company in a family atmosphere. I have been happy here for 32 years this December,” said veteran truck driver Eric Bauman.

“I have been here 26 years and have always been treated well,” said truck driver Dan Nedrig. “The years have gone by fast.  I haven’t worked for many companies, but I have been treated so well I haven’t ever thought about going somewhere else.”

Shop manager Randy Kunze reflected on decades of working for the Pirnie family: “I have worked for the Pirnies for 37 years. I have enjoyed my time here because of the family oriented environment, open-door policy, and strong ethical foundation.”

The company’s strong family leadership and respect for employees has been repeatedly recognized within the trucking industry, helping Grand Island Express to appear on the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) “Top 20 Best Fleets to Drive for” list for 10 years in a row.

Grand Island Express is headquartered in Grand Island, Nebraska, and provides refrigerated and dry van transportation services to more than 38 states in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. The company operates more than 140 power units and 300 semi trailers. If you’re looking to become part of the Grand Island Express family, please click here to get started!

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