Atlas Operations "Cooking" with Reorganization

Aug 04, 2008

A popular parable among business managers tells of a housewife with the peculiar habit of cutting the end off a roast before baking it. When asked 'why' by her daughter, she said mom had always done the same and the roasts turned out fine. So, the girl phoned her grandmother and posed the question. "My dear," came the answer, "my oven was small and I had to shorten the roast to fit it in the pan."


Atlas Van Lines has long functioned as two operating units that serve customers for household and commercial traffic separately. However, with the understanding that tradition is not always the best teacher, the company has taken an important, forward-looking step. During the first quarter of the year, RSG and STG operations joined forces to enhance the efficiency of the Atlas system.

Leading the effort was Senior Vice President and General Manager of Operations Bob Zimmerman. Before joining Atlas in 2007, Bob had held senior management positions with Yellow Transportation and USF Holland. His experience with these organizations informed his perspective as he assessed the potential for a reorganization of Atlas operations.

"We saw this as a way to help us improve performance all the way around," says Bob. "It gives us greater visibility for planning, it brings new efficiencies, it keeps more shipments in the Atlas system on Atlas equipment, and it gives our agents and operators additional revenue opportunities."

Atlas World Group Vice Chairman and COO Glen Dunkerson was an early advocate of the idea. Having worked in both operating units during his tenure with Atlas Van Lines, Glen knew firsthand the potential for synergies.

"Dispatchers for both RSG and STG shipments utilize the same operating system and tools to communicate and dispatch the professional van operator," says Glen. "Sharing their workloads and responsibilities is a natural fit. They can work more efficiently together than they can autonomously."

A Road to More Hauling Opportunities

Working closely with Bob – and highly attuned to the project's ramifications – were long-time Atlas pros Dennie Lynn, Senior Vice President of Transportation, and Bill Travelstead, Vice President of Operations Support.

"Perhaps the most important aspect of this reorganization is that it gives our traffic planners the ability to see both RSG and STG traffic," says Dennie. "This greater visibility allows us to find increased hauling opportunities throughout the entire network of 529 Atlas agents."


As a result, Atlas will keep more traffic in the Atlas system, rather than farming it out to other carriers.

"We look at it like this," says Bill, "If an Atlas operator is available for work, we have an obligation to feed him the business, not give it to a third party. Our commitment is to help our people first, to make sure they get the revenue opportunity."

"One reason this plan works well is the complementary seasons for the different kinds of traffic," says Bill. "Household goods activity is greatest during the summer months, while STG traffic is at its lowest."

Conversely, STG volume rises during the household goods off-season. "Bringing the operations together helps minimize the impact of these fluctuations," says Dennie. "We can even out the workload among our people throughout the year."

"It comes down to how we view our relationships with one another in the Atlas family," says Bob. "We strive to hire the best, treat them well, and enable their success. By making the best use of everyone's abilities, we can create loyalty for Atlas and, ultimately, stronger customer relationships."

Communicating Change

Early in the year, the project team began educating Atlas operators and agents about the plan via mail. Bob, Dennie and Bill also covered the subject at length in a series of Van Operator and Safety meetings across the U.S. beginning in early February.

"Communication has been essential to our transition," says Bob. "Although a physical change has taken place in our organization, it is imperceptible in terms of how we interact with our agents, operators and customers."

"Our goal was to make the reorganization seamless," says Bill. "The only evidence of it will be seen in the form of business benefits...better utilization of the Atlas fleet, fewer empty miles, more pounds per van operator and more miles per shipment."

Understanding the 'R' Word

Although "reorganization" can sometimes connote a reduction in staff, Glen points out that is not the case for the Atlas plan. "We're not losing or creating positions," says Glen. "We are creating a structure that will enable the cross-utilization of our people and allow them to work more productively."

Communications with employees in both STG and RSG divisions prepared them for the change, as did cross-training to bring everyone the skills necessary to perform adeptly in both arenas.

"Employees are gaining from this effort as much as anyone," says Glen. "It creates opportunities for advancement by making them knowledgeable in both areas of our business. It's a huge benefit for them, and they are excited about it."

Moving Forward

As Atlas Van Lines enters a new era of efficiency, agents, operators and customers will experience "business as usual" in their dealings with operations.

"Our identities will remain unique from our agents' and customers' perspectives," says Glen. "The reorganization should be relatively seamless."

Efforts to fine-tune the plan are ongoing, as the performance-monitoring team creates metrics to measure performance. But all agree the upside potential of the reorganization represents a smart investment for the future.

"Since 2003, the volume of peak season STG-hauled goods tonnage has declined dramatically, even though we had record volumes during that period," says Dennie. "And the amount of RSG-hauled STG traffic during their peak volume season has declined as well."

"Having RSG and STG Planners in close proximity, working closely together, positions us very well for turning that around." says Dennie.

"Given the increasing costs of fuel, labor, and operations overall, this is a way to help offset those increases with more hauling opportunities," says Bill. "It only makes good business sense."



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