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Tribute: From humble beginnings, Allen Lund built a $500M transportation company

Allen Lund, a longtime leader in the transportation of fresh produce, died on April 7. He died with the knowledge that the company he founded with just $5,000 in 1976 had just had its best quarter ever, surpassing $500 million in annual sales.

Kenny Lund, Allen’s son and company vice president, speaking to The Produce News 10 days after his death, said his father could not have been more proud of the business he built.  Allen-Headshot-4Allen Lund

“He always would say that he began the company with ‘less than no money.’ In fact he bought the company from the previous owner for $5,000. My mother says she never knew where he got that money.”

David Allen Lund was born in Salt Lake City on Sept. 3, 1940, and grew up in nearby Farmington, UT.  He said the name described it well. At age 16, he met his future wife, Kathie, while working at the Lagoon Amusement Park. They were married three years later, and within another three years, at the age of 22, he had three children. Three more would follow over time.

With a growing family, Lund held various jobs, including dogcatcher and mechanic. He was driving a truck in his early 20s when he met Roger Lowe, who was in charge of C.H. Robinson’s Salt Lake City office. Lowe hired the young Lund, who began specializing in securing transportation for the produce loads that Lowe sold. Kenny Lund said his father excelled at the task. “He could sell ice to an eskimo,” Lund quipped.  “He was a tremendous salesman.”

Allen Lund’s transportation efforts got back to the headquarters in Minnesota and he was offered a transfer to Los Angeles in 1970 to work in CHR’s L.A. office on the transportation end. He loaded up the family, including what had grown to be five kids, in a Valiant station wagon and headed west. Lund said things worked well for his father at CHR but eventually he quit over a pay raise dispute. He went to work for a small Los Angeles-area truck broker, which he bought out in 1976 to form the Allen Lund Co. “The other broker was doing 25 loads a month. In his first month my dad quadrupled the business to 100 loads per month.”

Two years ago, when his company was celebrating its 40th anniversary, Allen Lund told The Produce News, “I’m living the American Dream. Where else can you achieve this?”Kathie Allen Wedding-1Allen and Kathie Lund met in high school and were married a few years later.

Lund grew his company methodically, opening local offices throughout the country beginning with his first branch office in Atlanta. In that same interview two years ago, Lund said the first turning point for his firm was in 1980 when the trucking industry was deregulated. Fresh produce and other ag products were exempt commodities that could be hauled by anyone, while most goods were regulated commodities hauled by licensees in those industries.

Lund was connected with some textile manufacturers in which he brokered the hauling of cotton and beans to the West Coast with produce loads as the backhaul. He lost his niche as rates dropped on the westbound haul and other operators took that business. But many other products were now open to the Allen Lund Co., and the firm experienced quick growth. Lund expanded into other commodities and found several different niches.  

However, Kenny Lund said his father’s first and best love was always the produce industry. Today, the Allen Lund Co. has more than three dozen offices, with produce hauls still ranking No. 1 in volume, accounting for about 40 percent of its business. It was the people, Kenny said, that his father appreciated the most. He once said “I want to maintain the family feel of this company, no matter how far reaching our footprint spreads. We’ve only come this far because of greatest assets, our employees. I want to give them a good reason to walk through our doors, every day.”

Over the years, he was joined by his three sons in the company — David, Kenny and Eddie — as well as by a son-in-law, Steve Doerfler, who is the company’s chief financial officer. And now, the third-generation of Lunds are finding their way into the family business.Kathie Allen Ranch-2015-3Allen and Kathie Lund at their Utah ranch. Allen and Kathie met in Utah, where they both grew up.

Lund served the industry in various capacities and on several committees, typically in the transportation arena, and was always a supporter of industry events and conventions. He was always quotable and didn’t shy away from controversies.  

As impressive as he was in the produce world, he had an even bigger impact in his personal life as a do-gooder. He converted to Catholicism to marry his wife and became a life-long supporter. Lund was a well-known philanthropist, especially to the Catholic Church and many schools and charities associated with the church —  of which there are too many to list. One of his favorites was the University of Portland, a Catholic university of which he was the former chairman of the board of regents. His funeral was held in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. In attendance were 1,500 mourners, including the Archbishop and Bishop of Los Angeles as well as 20 other religious leaders in the church.

Lund’s generosity was referred to often by his eulogists, which included his three sons, a granddaughter and grandson. Each spoke of Lund’s admonition to “be good” and the fact he truly practiced what he preached. Each son noted that they were their “dad’s favorite son,” which Kenny said spoke to his father’s ability to make every one believe he or she was his best friend, because, in fact, they were.

Years ago, Lund bought a ranch in Utah where he spent a good portion of time in his later years. But up to his death, Allen Lund was still a very active member of the company. In that interview with The Produce News a couple of years ago, he said “Even when I am at the ranch, I am on a conference call with the office every day. I have no intention of leaving. I’ve told them that as long as they will have me I am going to stay. I love doing this. I’d much rather be doing this then playing cards at some country club.”