No one put an obnoxious sign in front of our corporate offices. And we certainly didn’t receive any gag gifts. But on February 2, AFS officially hit the big Four-O.
In honor of that milestone, allow us to share a few fun facts about our company founder/chairman – and the business he ultimately helped to build.
1. It all started with a Datsun280ZX… sort of
Brian Barker was working in sales with another industry company when he decided it was time to strike out on his own. His first company headquarters consisted of a 10 X 15 office in a family member’s warehouse. He was the sole employee. And the sale of his sports car provided the capital he needed to keep things running until the company got off the ground. The first revenue came in April and it was only growth from that point.
2. The company shares its birthday with the title of a famous movie.
“My son was born on Groundhog Day, and he was turning one that year,” Barker said. “On Sunday, we threw him a first birthday party. And the next day I started AFS.”
AFS was able to hire its first employee within six to eight months, and by the end of the first year, it had five employees. Just as important, the company had turned its first profit, which is a good thing because …
4. Barker is hyper-competitive – and he hates to lose.
“Growing up I played every team sport imaginable. But I was never on a winning championship team. And that was frustrating because I knew I could only control so much of that outcome,” he said. “By starting my own company, I felt like I had a chance to build a highly competitive team and have greater control over the outcome and wins. To me, the win every year was growing the business.”
“One of the reasons I wasn’t surprised to find myself running a company was that my father did the same thing. He was in business for himself, and when I was in high school he sold that business. He provided the right tools for success and I give my father a great deal of credit. My regret was that he passed away when I was 28. I would have loved for him to see how the team at AFS grew the business.”
“I believe strongly in the saying, ‘If you don’t take care of the client, then someone else will,’” Barker said. “From day one, AFS has always been focused on being a customer-respected and customer-friendly company, which is probably why we have such a high client satisfaction and retention rate today.”
(He doesn’t exaggerate. The company’s average client tenure is 11.7 years, which is well above the industry norm.)
In AFS’s early days, all Barker did was Post Audit invoices. “Within one year we were paying freight bills, I can remember each week I had to physically sign 40-50 checks.” he said.
It wasn’t too long before he and AFS began expanding into other areas, including Cost Management, which Barker cites as a major turning point in the company’s history. Today the company offers Freight Audit and Payment, Parcel, LTL, and Transportation Management services.
In 1985, AFS made its first acquisition (of Tulsa-based AL Billings & Associates). Since then, the company has acquired 20 additional industry-leading companies – and not just to expand its capacity and reach.
“What we’re really acquiring is data and additional footprint but most important the people who make it happen each day,” Barker said. “When you bring on the right kinds of companies, it’s a great way to grow.”
“AFS was the first company to develop a benchmarking method based on carrier pricing,” he said. “In fact, if I had to name one of the things I was proudest of over the past 40 years of being in business, it would be that it’s made such a positive difference for so many of our clients – and the industry as a whole. “
No article about Brian Barker would be complete without mentioning his wife, Kathi. “We’ve been married for 16 years, and she’s been my rock, my best friend and a real factor in our success,” he said. “Kathi and I spend as much time as possible with our grandkids, Helen (13) and Jay (12). They are a joy in our life… to quote both of them ‘We love Kathi’s breakfast and dinners.'” They live in Atlanta and are now able to attend most football games.
Since April 2020, when he named Tom Nightingale as AFS’s new CEO, he’s gotten to enjoy the chance to spend even more quality time with her – and pursue interests like being a Limited Partner in the Atlanta Falcons.
“When I brought Tom on, I told him, ‘I’ve spent all this time growing the company and taking it as far as I could. Now it’s your turn to be at the helm.’”
That said, he remains an active part of the company he founded in 1982.
“I may not be behind the steering wheel of AFS full-time anymore. But Tom’s great about letting me drive every now and then,” he jokes. The question is, how does it compare to that Datsun 280ZX he sold all of those years ago?