Hailing from the heartland of America, Kansas City native Trudy Jacobson along with her husband, has successfully built one of America’s largest trucking companies and is now set to conquer New York City. A sharp businesswoman and philanthropist, Trudy is the epitome of today’s modern woman who has mastered the art of living a balanced life of business and pleasure. Her boundless and effervescent energy can be seen in everything she approaches from serving as the Chairman of the Board of TransAm Trucking to all of her philanthropic endeavors. As she peers out over her windows from her Plaza Penthouse overlooking Central Park, Trudy is ready for her next phase of life in the Big Apple which she endearingly refers to as being ‘Next in the City.’
How did you get started in the trucking industry?
My husband’s family had a successful Fortune 200 trucking company, National Carriers, which was attached to a meat packing and cattle feeding business. The more I learned about it the more I wanted to be a part of it. He was a workaholic so it was better to work with him rather than not seeing him as much. When I started working in human resources where I was responsible for hiring and training drivers, it opened up a whole world for me. It was so exciting and I loved it, putting the loads together on the trucks and making it all work at the end of the day. I was part of the team. The only thing missing was that I didn’t know how to drive a truck or what the very people I was hiring were experiencing. So I knew if I really wanted to do a good job I had to learn how to drive the 18 wheelers. That was the biggest and hardest adventure I had.
For several weeks I drove around picking up and delivering loads, and learning how to pull refrigerated and grain trailers as well as tankers. I had to learn how to pull offal and byproducts. It was also a different sensation to pull a tanker with liquid because it sways with momentum vs hauling a refrigerated van with boxes. An empty trailer can also go all over the road depending on the cross winds. You never knew what to expect and handling this huge truck and trailer was just an unusual experience, you have to be alert. Grain trailers were used to haul bone and blood meal to animal feeding plants and the driver was expected to sweep out the trailer and that aroma was a sensation that you will never forget for the rest of your life. I learned to respect that drivers had to do this all the time.
I would never have dreamed that I would have that opportunity, but to be authentic and respected it was important for me to learn how to do this. We would spend two weeks every summer driving long hauls and delivering loads of meat from Kansas to Hunts Point, New York and then pick up another load to get to Michigan and go cross country. At the time there were no cell phones or GPS, you had to use a road atlas. After a delivery, you also really never knew where you were going, just that you were going somewhere, and it was a very liberating feeling to travel the US. There’s a lot of stimulation on the road, the constant noise of the engine, music in the background, chatting on the CB radio to other truckers, it was like being in a chamber of noise all the time but it propelled you and kept you stimulated, until you knew it was time to sleep.
I drove off and on for 8 years at National Carriers which was later sold to a New York buyer in 1986 at a time of junk bond and corporate takeovers. That left us with a sizeable amount of money. My husband John was still young and a workaholic, so he and I moved to Kansas City and started a new business called TransAm Trucking in 1987. I am still a half owner and Chairman of the Board and I try to be as involved as I can. Shortly after we started the company, our son was born and that is when I decided to become a full time mother, which was a hard decision to leave the company on a day to day basis. That changed my life in a lot of ways because it couldn’t help but diminish my involvement in the trucking industry. I was released on an integral part of managing the company. As time went by I was gradually phased out. I still had the title but men ruled our company, yet I will always love the trucks, and being in them and around them. When you own the company the equipment is your biggest asset.
What are some of your philanthropic endeavors?
I was on the board of the Kansas City Jewish Community Center for nine years where I applied my skills as a business woman to help build it into a meaningful and strong organization. This was one of my fondest times in leadership.
My main priority now is to be involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, because someone in my family has this. My other charity is the Veterans Community Project which started in Kansas City by veterans who found a need to help other homeless vets. They built 30 tiny homes on tracks of land with manicured lawns and also have social services in the community project to help the veterans assimilate once they’ve met their needs. It’s starting to expand into other cities and it’s an amazing project. I also enjoy being a patron of the arts and theater in NYC. I am hoping to start a foundation to write grants for aspiring artists.
What made you move to New York?
I call this phase of my life ‘Next in the City.’ I had traveled to NY many times and I could never get enough of it, there was never enough time spent here. My time was over with the Jewish organization and I was wondering what I would do next. A lot of people own second homes so I decided that this was where it was going to be. Even if I do nothing here, I would still be a thriving person. I just love the atmosphere, the excitement and everything about it. This life is unlike the life I had anywhere ever. I’m a girl from the Midwest and I made this decision and had nothing holding me back. I love it, there’s something exciting going on all the time, and the first thing I do every morning is look at Central Park from my apartment.
How do you make it work in business with your husband?
It’s been a lively story in Kansas City, especially amongst the men. We decided mutually that my move here is a good thing and this is a good time. He loves where he is with the office and we have a home there. We are different in some respects because he doesn’t like the city. As far as the business partnership I haven’t been as involved as much over the last 10 years as I had been. For me the best thing is to move on and find something else and if I can’t find it here in NYC I can’t find it anywhere. But I will always be tied to Kansas City. It is my home and where I am still a full time resident. Our friends say that they have not seen either one of us as happy as we are now.
What are some of the biggest life lessons you have learned along the way?
Always be authentic, be who you are no matter what. You can’t be as happy as you can be by living behind a mask if you are living a life that is not suitable to you. Be willing to take that risk at any age. Always respect others whether you are the boss or part of the team, because you should never take anything for granted or your importance so seriously so that people don’t admire you for who you are as a person.
Living with a chronic auto immune disease is bad but it’s not the worst thing in the world because as time goes by you have hope and faith that there will be a cure. Treat your body well and health is the most important thing in life. You can have all of the money in the world but without good health what is the difference. Be mindful, open minded, and take care of yourself.
Photographed by Udo Spreitzenbarth
Photographer Assistant: Carolin Hohberg
Stylist: Mona Sharaf
Stylist Assistant: Thereza Reboucas
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