WHAT WE DO
Bruce Oakley, Inc is a diverse commodity trading, distribution, and transportation company. Our vertically integrated transportation system allows us to provide excellent service to an extensive customer base. We have suppliers and customers all over the world and are able to connect them in the most efficient ways. Our knowledge, experience, and global network support our operations and allow us to better serve our customers.
Our Company History
Bruce Oakley combined the rare gift of knowing what people needed with the even rarer ability to build and manage an organization capable of consistently delivering on its promises.
Of all the life lessons Oakley shared with his son Dennis over the years, two key messages stood out. As Dennis once recalled in Arkansas Business magazine: “Always do what you say you’re going to do,” and “Never bet the farm.” It’s simple, yet timeless advice, and it serves as a foundation for the core principles to which our company remains faithful, even today.
Bruce Oakley’s early life
Bruce Oakley was born in 1935, and raised on a farm in El Paso, Arkansas. After leaving school in the 10th grade, he took his first job as a window washer. For several years after that, he drove a milk truck. In the early 1960s, Bruce joined the United States Navy—where he began developing the entrepreneurial skills that would serve him so well in life.
His initial venture, upon his honorable discharge from the Navy, was San Diego-based “Oak’s Locker Club”—where sailors rented lockers to store their belongings while they were at sea; and where Bruce offered, for sale, items of particular interest to sailors—including suits of clothing and wedding rings.
Bruce Oakley, Inc. takes root
In 1964, Bruce returned to farming in El Paso—where he initially raised cows. When the price of grain increased, he sensed an opportunity: Although he and other area farmers had begun raising their own grain, there was a shortage of suppliers who could deliver and spread the lime they needed to fertilize their fields.
So in 1968, Bruce purchased a dump truck and began making the 75-mile trip to Batesville, Arkansas—where he bought the lime he then sold to, and spread for, his first customers.
The company diversifies
Demand for Bruce’s services grew, and he began hiring workers. He built a fertilizer storage facility in El Paso, and established himself as a fertilizer dealer. He then built a second fertilizer facility, strategically located 12 miles down the road in Beebe, Arkansas—which gave him access to the railroad.
By now, Bruce was buying his fertilizer by the car load. And since fertilizer was a seasonal market, Bruce entered the grain business in the mid-1970s.
Since Oakley’s trucks already specialized in bulk transport, Bruce first struck a deal with 3M to haul the company’s roofing granules. From there, Oakley Trucking expanded into scrap metal and other commodities, gradually broadening its delivery region beyond the company’s central Arkansas base.
Further expansion includes 1st Arkansas River port
When the company’s sales outgrew Beebe’s rail service, Oakley looked to the Arkansas river system to meet demand. And in 1977 (shortly after the completion of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System), he bought the 20-acre site, in North Little Rock beside the Arkansas River, where Oakley’s headquarters is located today.
The company’s new facility also served as a hub for its wholesale grain sales to feed mills and export markets. To establish his waterway business, Bruce took on a partner and bought a used barge—which, for the next two years, constituted the company’s entire fleet.
Gradually, the company’s barge business grew to the point that, in 1980, Oakley purchased half-a-dozen or more new barges—then established a second Arkansas River location at Morrilton, Arkansas.
Dennis Oakley joins the company
Bruce Oakley’s son Dennis officially joined the family enterprise in 1982, at the age of 18. Having worked all his life for his father, he already had first-hand experience with many of the company’s operations. Dennis first served at Oakley’s Beebe facility—where he did, for all practical purposes, whatever needed doing. Including bagging fertilizer and running loaders.
Over the next decade, Dennis became increasingly involved in Oakley’s business administration—and in 1993, he succeeded his father as president of Bruce Oakley, Inc. And although Bruce now enjoyed his newfound freedom to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests, the truth is, he never truly retired.
“He just enjoyed being busy,” Dennis would later tell the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Which is why Bruce continued coming into the office on a regular basis until the day he died, in 2006, at the age of 70.
Oakley’s leadership enters its second generation
Under Dennis’s leadership in the 1990s, the company grew on every front. Increasing demand for grain and fertilizer drove expansion in the trucking subsidiary—which now serves the entire continental United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. Since the late 1990s, Oakley Trucking has operated terminals in Reserve, LA, Inola, OK, and Farmington, NM—in addition to its Little Rock operation.
Waterway hauling expanded during the late 1990s. Oakley added a river terminal in Russelville, AR; then purchased a fertilizer terminal at Caruthersville, MO—gaining access, in 1998, to the Mississippi River. The terminal opened up markets in Missouri, Northeast Arkansas, and parts of Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, Oakley built a terminal at Shreveport, LA—providing access to markets in Louisiana and eastern Texas.
In 2011, Oakley acquired Jantran—a river towing company operating 20+ tow boats on the Arkansas, Mississippi and Red Rivers. For over 30 years, Jantran has serviced barge companies (including Oakley Barge Line) on these rivers. Adding its capabilities to our operations creates a synergy that enables Oakley to serve its customers even more efficiently, and seamlessly, than ever before.
In early 2014, Oakley acquired Johnston's Port 33 in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Port 33 is the largest private port on the Arkansas river and has been doing business with Oakley for several decades.
Moving forward, it is Oakley’s goal to maintain growth organically—expanding, as we’ve done since founder Bruce Oakley bought his first truck in 1968, wherever our customers need us.