To get from point A to B has meant TBB

Specialists: TBB Global Logistics in Hunt Valley has expanded from its early beginnings as a transportation specialist and now advises firms on parts procurement and other problems.

August 04, 1999|By Rachel Sams | Rachel Sams,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Look around. Pick up any product you've purchased in the past few months -- from a pencil to a bottle of Maalox to a fruitcake.

Before the item ever got into your hand, it not only had to be developed, marketed and sold, it had to get to the right place.

You probably don't think about how things get from here to there very often. Most people don't. But getting things where they need to be is the bread and butter of TBB Global Logistics in Hunt Valley.

A couple of the most challenging transportation problems TBB has solved were how to get Meridian Medical Technologies Inc.'s nerve agent antidotes to Desert Storm soldiers and how to get crafts from remote countries to the shops at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

TBB President Samuel R. Polakoff said he thinks of TBB as the Federal Express of the transportation industry: "Before Federal Express existed, there was no way to get an overnight letter from here to Los Angeles. Before TBB, there was no traffic department for hire."

Polakoff's grandfather, A. Allan Polakoff, founded TBB in 1946 as Transportation Bureau of Baltimore and incorporated the business the next year.

Trained as a lawyer, he couldn't find work in New York or Baltimore during the Depression. After a stint as a traffic manager for what is now Seagram Co. Ltd., he started TBB as a way of combining his two areas of expertise, law and traffic management.

Originally, TBB was a transportation consulting service, assisting companies in finding carriers to transport their products, negotiating rates, classifying freight, auditing freight bills and filing claims for lost and damaged freight.

Over the years, the company diversified its services. TBB began functioning as a brokerage, contracting with carriers to transport its clients' products. The company also began offering supply-chain consulting, serving as advisers on matters such as procurement of parts and supplies, inventory management and location of distribution centers.

In addition, TBB opened an international transportation management division and a truckload division.

The company's expansion led to the name change. Transportation Bureau of Baltimore Inc. became TBB Global Logistics in April.

According to the Polakoffs -- President Samuel; his brother Phil, managing director, and their father Jay, chairman of the board -- the company's major focus today is on providing traffic management services for smaller companies. Many Fortune 500 companies have their own in-house traffic departments.

"A smaller company probably needs more TLC than if you are catering to a Fortune 500 company," said Samuel Polakoff. "The business owner might be the guy loading the truck he's much more involved in the day-to-day operations."

TBB now has four branch offices, in Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Fla., and Sacramento, Calif. The $37 million company has about 125 employees that serve 600 clients, ranging from companies with sales of $5 million to $10 million to those with sales of $700 million to $800 million, according to Samuel Polakoff.

Several of TBB's accounts have been with the company for decades. According to Jay Polakoff, two accounts signed by A. Allan Polakoff decades ago -- Monarch Rubber Co. and Life-Like Products Inc., both of Baltimore -- are still with TBB. Other longtime clients include Alpharma Inc., Capitol Cake Co. and Sunny's Great Outdoors Inc.

Jay Polakoff, who describes himself as a "calculated risk taker," attributes the company's longevity to its ability to change with the times. "We've been on the cutting edge of knowing when to add services and when to change," he said. "That's the secret of our success."

One thing hasn't changed much since 1946, however -- the work TBB does is largely behind the scenes. If the company doesn't do its job and a product doesn't make it to the shelves, everybody notices.

"We feel like we're the best company nobody's ever heard of," said Samuel Polakoff.

Amanda J. Crawford contributed to this article.

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