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Saturday, Sep 30, 2023

Rob Phillips: Plotting Future for Trucks, Trailers

It’s not your great-grandfather’s trucking world anymore.

Rob Phillips, CEO of Phillips Industries, is moving the family business headquarters from Santa Fe Springs to UCI Research Park in Irvine to help make big rig deliveries safer and more efficient.

“Everything we do is designed to simplify the lives of truckers,” Phillips said. “The caliber of employees is incredibly strong here.”

That includes using plenty of technology to make trailer-truck hauling smoother.

“Our focus is really on GPS, plus things like brake sensors, tire sensors, light sensors, temperature, cameras on the inside of trailers and on the outsides of trailer,” Phillips told the Business Journal.

Phillips was one of the five local innovators honored by the Business Journal during the ninth annual Innovator of the Year Awards on Sept. 7.

Family History

Phillips is the great-grandson of H.W. Phillips, who patented, manufactured and distributed the first reflective turn signal for trucks in California, starting his business in 1928.

Phillips currently serves as president and CEO of 95-year-old Phillips Industries—succeeding his father, Bob Phillips—and also heads two other related family ventures: Phillips Connect and Phillips Innovations, both of which are already based in Irvine at UCI Research Park.

It remains a family business, with Rob Phillips’ brother Dave serving as the company’s executive vice president.

The headquarters move to Irvine will be completed in November.

The Business Journal estimates Phillips Industries and its two additional business units have about $500 million in annual global revenue.

Phillips Connect

Overall, Phillips has a worldwide workforce of about 2,650, while its current OC headcount will soon grow from about 150 to 210.

Phillips makes about 4,000 products such as electrical connections, lights, wiring cable and air connectors for tractor-trailers.

The company’s products are installed on all trucks made in the U.S. and 84% of the trailers, according to Phillips.

“That’s really our foundational business that we have,” he said.

The company works with over 4,000 distributors throughout North America, while the list of customers is vast.

For example, Phillips products are found on trucks such as Volvo and Freightliner, and trailers such as Hyundai and Utility.

The company’s website lists FedEx Ground and UPS, saying Phillips is “Trusted by the Best.”
Phillips also supplies larger nationwide fleets, including Hirschbach and Nussbaum Transportation.

Phillips co-founded Phillips Connect, a telematics company committed to maximizing efficiency and profitability for commercial truck fleets worldwide. Phillips Connect has been headquartered at UCI Research Park for the past five years, as it seeks to further “smart trailers.”

“We’re a 95-year-old company, but we’re like a spry 21-year-old,” the CEO said.

Phillips Innovations

Phillips recently launched a third company, Phillips Innovations, a strategic business unit of Phillips Family Holdings that focuses on developing sustainable technology and trailer vision products for the commercial truck and trailer industry as well as driver comfort and automation.

That includes developing its own software, the CEO said.

The Laguna Niguel resident calls it a “future technology think tank.”

“They do everything from design to launch and those products are sold either through Phillips or Phillips Connect.”

Phillips has transitioned the company from being a U.S.-only manufacturer to a global supplier of innovative products.

Phillips Industries and its business units operate globally.

The company has offices in Detroit; Omaha, Neb.; Canada; and Poland in addition to Irvine, and manufacturing and distribution in Mexico, Europe and Asia Pacific. “We’ve moved most of our manufacturing to Mexico,” he said, adding that the campus there is just over 500,000 square feet.

“We’re the only telematics manufacturer in North America,” he said.

That includes tracking sensors and cameras.

He said the company has pulled back “significantly” on its Asia business though it still has a big facility in China and a manufacturing campus in Vietnam.

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