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J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. marks 70 years in business

What started as a one-man operation has since grown to be a multi-branched business with more than 2,000 associates worldwide

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November 14, 2023

NEENAH – As the third-generation leader of his family’s 70-year-old business, Rustin Keller, president and CEO of J. J. Keller and Associates, Inc., said he’s humbled to be able to carry on the legacy of the company his grandfather started seven decades ago.

“I took the job (of president and CEO) about five years ago,” he said. “It’s a little intimidating when your name is on the front door and people are looking at you to maintain the reputation the brand name has. But it’s gone well – I’m very proud of that.”

Seven decades of growth
Founded by his grandfather John J. (Jack) Keller – a World War II veteran – in November 1953, Rustin said J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. has seen substantial growth since – expanding from a consulting company of one to a multi-branched business with more than 2,000 associates worldwide.

“My grandfather came back to the United States and started working at a couple of different traffic offices in area companies – he was like a fleet traffic manager,” he said.

At that time, Rustin said the interstate highway system was at its beginning stages – nowhere near what it is today.

“(My grandfather) thought as more and more trucks were on the road, and more and more companies started private fleets and had their own trucking divisions, the government would probably start regulating the industry and there would be an opportunity for him,” he said. “So, he decided to start his own consulting business and help people understand how to form private fleets.”

Rustin said when his father (Bob) and uncle (Jim) started working for the company as teenagers, they encouraged his grandfather to start writing down his advice, which eventually led to the creation of J. J. Keller’s second area of focus – publishing.

“It went from a pure one-on-one consulting kind of advice to newsletters and regulatory bulletins,” he said. “My dad and my uncle started a publishing division – so, then J. J. Keller had a consulting division and a publishing division.”

As Bob and Jim became adults, their roles within the company, Rustin said, began to be further defined.

Bob earned a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and held several positions within the company over the years, including advertising and marketing manager.

He was named senior vice president in 1973 and became president and CEO in 1988.

Jim obtained a degree in graphic arts design from Madison Area Technical College.

John J. (Jack) Keller, pictured here in his original office, started J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Nov. 1, 1953. Photo Courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

He too held a variety of positions in the company, including manager of graphics and production division.

He became president in 2011.

When the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 eventually led to the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Rustin said J. J. Keller expanded its services to also include industrial, construction and environmental types of regulation – which in turn led to more customers and a larger workload.

The company’s continued growth prompted a move out of its downtown office and into a newly constructed office on 35 acres west of Neenah in the Town of Vinland.

Construction of the 40,000-square-foot facility was completed in 1971.

Though he started working at the family business during the summers at a young age, Rustin said he wasn’t sure if he’d follow in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps or not.

He attended Marquette University, earning a degree in industrial engineering.

“(After school), I went to work elsewhere (for a while),” he said. “I wasn’t certain I would come back to J. J. Keller or not. I didn’t know what the future held.”

Rustin said he eventually returned to the family business to develop KellerOnline – the company’s first web-based service.

“I came back professionally in 1999…,” he said. “In the early 2000s, with the advances of the Internet, we started a technology division to build cloud-based software.”

Today, Rustin said J. J. Keller has a consulting division, a services division, a supplies division and a technology division.

2,000-plus associates
Rustin said referring to J. J. Keller employees as associates is something his grandfather started decades ago – even serving as inspiration for the company’s name.

“That’s something my grandfather insisted on,” he said. “We don’t have employees, we have associates. All 2,000 people are part of the organization and that’s why he named the company J. J. Keller & Associates. That was very important to him.”

Those associates, Rustin said, are spread out across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as a dedicated Center of Excellence in India.

“In my 25 years here, we’ve gone from probably 800 or 900 employees to 2,000,” he said. “We managed through the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Today, Rustin said about 80% of its workforce works remotely.

“That helps our organization flourish because we can recruit talent from anywhere in the country,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Rustin said J. J. Keller was contemplating building a satellite office in a major city, maybe Atlanta, Nashville or something on the West or East Coast, because the labor market in the Fox Cities is limited, and “we’re constantly looking for sales associates and constantly looking for software engineers.”

“We were having a lot of those debates then,” he said. “Now, with technology and everybody becoming comfortable with Zoom and Teams, we’ve ended all of those plans. We allow our managers to hire almost all positions – other than the most senior positions – remoting. This allows us to hire the best person for the job. We’re hiring probably eight out of 10 roles remotely today.”

That being said, Rustin said J. J. Keller will always need a home-base office.

“Our home base has been here (in Northeast Wisconsin) since the beginning,” he said. “We will continue to invest in our campus and will continue to grow the footprint of our campus.”

Rustin said about 800 J. J. Keller employees reside in the region, “and I don’t think that will change.”

The central office for J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. is located at 3003 Breezewood Lane in Neenah, however, about 80% of the company’s workforce works remotely. Photo Courtesy of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

“I think that will continue to go up,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of our employees are still based in Wisconsin, and I see that continuing. But, (having a remote option) gives us flexibility.”

One of the things Rustin said he takes the most pride in is the company’s high associate retention.

“Our associates have ranked J. J. Keller as a Great Place to Work seven times,” he said. “It’s an honor bestowed on us by our associates. We’ve created a culture where people like working here, and we believe if people like working here, they’re going to treat customers well.”

One of the things Rustin said is unique about J. J. Keller is “we’re very vertically integrated.”

“We have a sales force of about 650 people, and they’re engaged with customers every day,” he said. “And then we have service teams that are also engaged with customers every day. So of our 2,000 employees, more than 1,000 are on the phone with customers every day. We’re very customer-oriented. We’re interacting with customers every day.”

Rustin said probably 95% of J. J. Keller’s revenue is generated from its sales team’s direct interactions with customers. 

“We don’t go through distributors or retailers and we manufacture (our products) – so whether it’s software or services, or supplies, we make our products,” he said. “We have control over the whole vertical chain from the relationship with the customer to the products we produce and deliver to customers.”

Rustin said customers in the B2B world appreciate knowing they are working with a firm that has control over the entire process of their experience.

Standing out in the crowd
Another aspect that Rustin said sets J. J. Keller apart is its variety of solutions options – which include consulting and training services, managed services, content subscriptions, cloud-based solutions and a wide range of physical products.

These solutions, Rustin said, help employers ensure the safety of their employees and mitigate the risk of non-compliance with a multitude of regulatory bodies, such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Labor, EEOC, OSHA, and EPA.

“Most of our competitors do one of the things we do,” he said. “For example, many of our competitors are a training company, or they are a consulting company, or they’re a publisher, or they’re a maker of software – we do all of those things. So, when we engage with customers, we talk to them about how to fix their safety programs and how to improve their safety programs. And we can bring lots of different products to help address those issues.”

Rustin said J. J. Keller has business units that are tailored to the kinds of products.

“There is a business unit that makes physical products,” he said. “There’s a business unit that makes software products. And there is a business unit that delivers services.”

There is also an R&D unit, Rustin said, that is focused on customer needs.

“They aren’t looking at how we make things, they’re looking at what the customer needs,” he said. “They don’t have a particular objective of any kind of product – they’re looking at regulatory changes, doing lots of research with customers and trying to find out where the pain points are.”

Rustin said if J. J. Keller discovers a regulatory change or some regulatory nuances customers are struggling with, they will go to the drawing board and try and figure out a solution that can help.

“It might be in print,” he said. “It might be online. It might be consultants showing up at their front door. It might be a piece of technology – whatever kind of solution (needed) to help them solve their problems.”

The next 70 years
As he reflects on J. J. Keller’s 70th-anniversary milestone, Rustin said “we’re in it for the long haul,” and as a privately held, family-owned business, “we get to make decisions we think are right for our associates in the long run.”

“We don’t have any driving quarterly Wall Street expectations,” he said. “We think it puts us in a unique position for a little bit higher customer loyalty and associate loyalty.”

Rustin Keller
Looking to the future, Rustin said he anticipates an even larger integration of technology within the industry and the company – especially artificial intelligence (AI).

“I think we’re going to see AI everywhere,” he said. “Initially, I think it’s going to help us become more efficient, internally – things that maybe customers can’t see directly. We manage a lot of customer documentation and a lot of customer data, and our ability to manage that data and find insights on that data is going to get better and better and more efficient because of AI.”

In the long run, Rustin said he anticipates more AI showing up in the customer products.

“We’re working on things like using AI to help our editors put answers together more quickly and write timely answers to customers’ questions,” he said. “We answer about 2,000 questions a month through our editorial team and helping them articulate the answers faster and get a better turnaround – this is the kind of thing AI is going to help us do.”

Rustin said J. J. Keller also offers truck dash cameras with AI capabilities.

“(They) help fleet managers coach truck driver behavior and ensure they can have better practices to reduce accidents,” he said.

Rustin said his grandfather’s vision was to assist motor carriers navigate the complex regulations associated with an emerging intrastate trucking industry in 1953.

“His dedication and experience in transportation laid the foundation for what J. J. Keller has become today,” he said.

The wide range of expertise and technology-based solutions J. J. Keller offers today, Rustin said, would likely have surpassed even his grandfather’s entrepreneurial imagination.

“However, what I believe he would easily recognize is our commitment to carrying forward his legacy of protecting people and the businesses they run,” he said. “If you ask customers about working with J. J. Keller, they will often say it is the premium brand – the gold standard. I’m proud of that.”

For more information on J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., visit

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