Growing up in Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s, Brian Hall didn't realize the groundwork for a flourishing business career was being laid right before his eyes. He watched his father, William D. Hall, and uncle, Horace E. Hall, overcome the obstacles of two African-American entrepreneurs building a trucking company from the ground up.
"They had been involved in trucking as a side business," Hall recalls. "My father was in insurance and decided to build a trucking company."
Hall's Trucking was formed in Cleveland in 1968, when Hall was just 10 years old. The company later evolved into Industrial Inventory Solutions in 1977.
Though Hall had aspirations to become an architect, the entrepreneurial spirit he saw in his father began to rub off. In 1980, while he was studying architecture in college, Hall realized he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Cincinnati and an executive MBA from Baldwin-Wallace College. In addition, he attended the Dartmouth Minority Business Executive Program.
This decision to join the family business led to a lifelong career at Industrial Inventory Solutions and an instinctual feel for business — with Hall excelling at every turn.
Today, as the company's chairman and CEO, Hall has grown Industrial Inventory Solutions into a national, comprehensive freight-transportation business with 550 employees. Boasting such customers as Apple Computer, Ford Motor Co., Penske Logistics and Daimler AG, the company provides freight yard management with more than 30,000 trailer switches a week, dedicated truckload and expedited delivery, among other services.
Throughout his career, Hall never stopped looking to his father as a model business owner. He watched the struggles his father and uncle encountered running a business in a challenging trucking industry and the hardships they faced as African-Americans in a white-dominated society.
"[By] the notes from early board meetings, trying to get financing to buy equipment when there were no banks for financing," Hall, 49, cites as just one frustration in the early days. "The trucking industry was highly regulated. There were clear institutional issues they faced, beyond the social issues of being African-American in Cleveland."
The lessons Hall learned still hold true today, albeit in the business models of 2007.
To further expand his footprint in the trucking industry, Hall went on to start two additional companies under the Industrial Inventory Solutions umbrella. In 2000, he formed iSource Performance Materials — completely minority owned — which distributes industrial safety and maintenance materials, and in 2005, he bought majority interest in Innogistics to provide warehouse and logistics services.
"As the company grew and evolved, we looked at opportunities to grow," says Hall. "From that, we continued to look at warehouse opportunities and purchased Innogistics."
Yet Hall is hesitant to say Industrial Inventory Solutions has reached its full potential. "We're still striving for success," he says. "We want to keep increasing the value of our business and broadening our footprint in the marketplace."
Amazingly, Hall is somewhat surprised he has been inducted into Inside Business' 2007 Business Hall of Fame. "It's a fantastic honor," he says. "I'm glad someone thought I deserved it. I'm humbled by it. Some days I wonder what I did to deserve it, but you just say thank you."
Just as he learned from his father, Hall prides himself on helping other minority-owned businesses achieve the same success. He is a founding member of the Presidents' Council, which brings together leading African-Americans and public company CEOs around the mission of wealth creation and economic growth in the African-American community. The council was awarded the Governor's Award for Supplier Diversity in 2002.
With a keen sense of civic involvement, Hall has served on more than 20 boards and task forces centered around civil rights, economic development, youth education, arts, politics and culture. He is currently co-chairman of the Commission on Economic Inclusion, is secretary and governance chairman for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and is a trustee of the Presidents' Council Foundation, University Hospitals, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, Fifth Third Bank and the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority.
And when he's not busy running three successful businesses or serving on various boards, Hall dedicates his free time to mentoring area schoolchildren. He founded the Tremont Elementary Advisory Group in 1991, organizing 10 men to act as mentors to 14 elementary school boys. He stays in contact with many of his protégés as they start their own career paths.
Hall takes that same approach to mentoring with his employees, while also learning from them. "I am very delighted that every day I get up and go to work in a business that I enjoy and other people enjoy," he says. "I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the team we've created. I know we deliver products and services our customers want, value and look for."
When Hall talks about his team, he means it in every sense of the word. "It's bringing the right people to the team," he says. "They are self-motivated individuals. We share a vision of where we take the business."
Looking back, Hall takes pride in where the company has gone in its 30 years. His biggest accomplishment is "probably the fact the company has survived and evolved through oil crises and slumps in the automotive industry," he explains. "I hope to broaden our footing in the logistics area to ensure our sustainability into the future."
As Hall moves his companies forward, he anticipates a third generation eventually taking over the business. "I have no plans for retirement, but I thought I'd be retired by now," he says. "Eventually, I want to realize some of that value and prepare the next generation."