Driving the Family Business

Some say taking the road less traveled can be rewarding. But Kathleen Garrison Nance has made a successful living following the business path her father paved in 1987 when founding his transportation company, Tri Star Freight Systems. Based in Houston, the family business provides turnkey transportation services through airport pick-up and delivery, line haul, DOD-approved carriers, drayage, and US bonded carriers. With Tri Star entering its 25th year in business, Kathleen divulges how she drives the family business while maintaining a steady wheel with its core values.

Kathleen Garrison Nance climbed the ranks from dispatcher to director of operations to president of Tri Star Freight Systems, a firm her father, Kenneth Garrison (portrait), founded.

I spent many summers as a teenager working side-by-side with my father, Kenneth Garrison. I watched him spend countless hours not only building this company, but building a legacy.

Before my father started Tri Star, he had a steady career with another company. He had forged incredible relationships with his clients. So when the company went out of business, he started Tri Star, and most of those loyal clients followed him. My two brothers and I saw first hand his work ethic and how he always had the customer’s interest at heart. In the long run, a company with honesty, integrity, and customer focus will result in more business. And 25 years later, we’re still thriving in an up-and-down economy.

The core values that my parents set forth are the heartbeat of Tri Star’s philosophy and longevity. Through the years, we’ve pursued this business with unmatched customer service and outstanding communication. As I worked my way up in the company, I was fortunate to gain experience in different sectors. From the challenges of being a dispatcher to director of operations to now president, those positions postured me to lead this company into the future.

RUNNING THE NUMBERS
of Tri-Star Freight Systems 

1987
year founded

15%
company growth each year

5
family members that still work for the company

80
employees

5
states where offices are located

Once my father passed in 2008, I became president.
I updated the structure of the company including a high-performance incentive program. We maintained the core values, but finessed strategies and systems that better facilitated our employees and served our customers. For a number of years, I was responsible for running the day-to-day operations. Now we have more defining roles, such as a finance person who deals only with finance. Also, we now have a human-resources department.

What I love about this company is that we stand out. We’re a multifaceted transportation company. We have terminals in Texas, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. We specialize in intermodal container drayage, warehouse storage, transloading, inventory management, and importing and exporting military household goods. In order to stay at the forefront of the freight industry, we hope to expand our services with the same level of attention and passion.

It’s hard not to be the everyday manager anymore. When you’re fortunate to hire a larger staff, you learn how to trust more and micromanage less. My father always told me, “If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you.” It’s challenging moving from manager to leader without holding on to my control-freak nature. However, part of our core values is hiring intelligent and capable people who can contribute to the success of the company individually and collectively.

My family members are some of those intelligent people who help run Tri Star. My mother Laura is a 74-year-old multitasking woman with enough vigor to outlast the young ones. I pick her up every morning and we come into work together. My brother Kevin manages our South Carolina terminal, while my other brother Keith runs the Jacksonville, Florida, terminal. We just added my sister-in-law, Denise, who is the vice president of sales and marketing.

Doing business with family can be rewarding. I trust them. They have the same work ethic and core values personally and professionally. When I have new ideas, my family’s the first on board. And when my ideas aren’t so brilliant, they are the first to tell me. I value their opinions because they share my vision to move this company forward.

Tri Star’s next step is obtaining a woman-owned business certification. With WOB status, there are advantages from having a stronger voice in the industry to finding opportunities. We’re working toward a vision, and I know my dad would be so proud to see how far we’ve come.