Light the Candles

Aug 01, 2007

If your memory stretches back 40 years, you may recall that mid-twentieth century U.S. society inhabited a turbulent world. A confounding cold war preoccupied the national consciousness. A blossoming civil rights movement rightfully challenged the status quo. And a countercultural revolution sang promises of peace and love as it chipped away at taboos of sex and drugs.

It was also a time when the moving industry and its members were often openly criticized — sometimes fairly, sometimes not. A tide of consumer advocacy was welling up around grass-roots activists such as the young and brash Ralph Nader. A growing concern for consumer rights gave birth to The Consumer Federation of America in 1967, in Washington, D.C. and, in 1973, the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In retrospect, it was a perfect time for a forward-thinking company to experiment with a new way of finding common ground among its customers and the public. Some might say, half-jokingly, that the Age of Aquarius ushered an alignment of planetary and social forces that revealed the need for a totally different channel of communication. Whatever was at work, this was a moment ripe for a bold idea. It would take shape as an open exchange among people of common purpose who held widely divergent views.

During the 1960s, most of the corporate sales volume at Atlas Van Lines came through relationships with traffic managers. These were the corporate customers, almost exclusively men, responsible for selecting and working with van lines for moving their associates' household goods. The word "relocation" was yet to come into vogue. The industry viewed itself in terms such as "traffic," "moving," and "shipping."

Two decades is an important milestone for any company. In 1967, as Atlas Van Lines approached its twentieth year in business, Vice President of Marketing Jack Thorne and Public Relations Consultant Fred Seidner cooked up an idea for a special commemorative event the following year. It would be unlike anything the industry had seen. It was so radical, in fact, there was a good chance it could fail. Atlas President O. H. Frisbie even bet Thorne $25 that fewer than 25 guests would show.


Billed as the first "Traffic Managers' Forum on Moving," the event followed a simple premise. Atlas would bring together the professionals who shared a responsibility for household goods moving. They would have the freedom to speak openly, candidly, critically about the things that concerned them. It was risky. The industry was far from perfect accord on issues of policy, claims, and standards for service delivery.

That first gathering took place in a new theater on the University of Evansville campus. It was, essentially, a 2-1/2 hour panel discussion — and a widely acknowledged success. The reason it succeeded was precisely the reason some thought it might fail. Those in attendance realized they were free to speak their minds. Disagreement became instructive and, handled professionally, quite constructive. The Forum was, it turned out, an idea whose time had come. Its axiomatic underpinnings — freedom of speech and thoughtful honesty — would provide an unshakable foundation on which to build.

An event that started as an experiment is now a leading annual gathering among the community of relocation professionals. The number of people in attendance has grown right along with the increase in scope and sophistication of relocation services. Now, more than 600 corporate administrators and Atlas staff gather every year for two days of sharing ideas, finding efficiencies and exploring new trends. The Forum looks at issues across the entire relocation spectrum (beyond the original focus on traffic management of course), and takes time to drill down to explore the ideas that keep Atlas and its guests at their industry's forefront. But despite its growth and success, the Forum remains a place where people can freely challenge information...float new possibilities and ask, "Why not? What if?"

"As the industry advances, so does the Forum," says Mike Shaffer, Chairman, Atlas World Group. "Whether considering big ideas or examining small details, whether reflecting on what has happened or anticipating what may lie ahead...the Forum remains committed to the industry and the people it serves by building solutions through communication."


A Logical Extension

The Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey Shares the Forum's Milestone.

When Atlas convened its first Forum on Moving 40 years ago, it was only natural to document the ideas that the occasion invited. After all, if you want to understand the way people act, you must first understand the way they think. So, the annual survey of corporate relocation policies and practices became the handmaiden of the signature Atlas event.

"You never know what you might learn when you ask people to honestly tell you what they think," says Greg Hoover, Sr. Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Atlas World Group. "And that is precisely why we have surveyed corporate relocation professionals for each of the last 40 years."

Big-Picture Bellwether

The survey is considered an important barometer of the nation's economy. By putting a light on company relocation policies, the annual survey provides a unique glimpse of the corporate mindset at work. Not only does the survey uncover what industry leaders are thinking, it offers clues about where business is headed.

"As you would expect, our survey annually generates a lot of interest among the media and industry analysts," says Greg. "Our findings are covered by major business and news outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal and U.S. Business News."

The media's interest dates back to the earliest days of the Forum. Moderators and panelists were often drawn from the trade press. Likewise, featured Forum speakers have frequently been top-tier news reporters, such as Walter Cronkite and Howard K. Smith — or newsmakers, such as Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

The survey has been far-reaching in its assessment of diverse corporate cultures, a characteristic it shares with the Forum. By engaging people across a wide cross-section of industry, Atlas fosters a dual resource that exposes people to differing viewpoints and wide-ranging ideas.

"Atlas has always tried to make this event relevant on several levels," says Greg. "Of course, we have an interest in the many facets of relocation that affect our ability to deliver a standard of service. But beyond that, we are keenly interested in how relocation is connected to the 'big picture,' that is, how we influence the vitality of the industries we serve, and how all of us are affected by the social, economic, and political currents that shape the business climate."


After 40 years of annual investigation, the Corporate Relocation Survey has produced a mountain of data. From one year to the next, changes in the findings are typically subtle. But from a long-range view, the little ticks add up to shifts that offer interesting points of reflection about the vagaries of a mobile society.

In 1969...

  • 83% of companies surveyed said their traffic department personnel were responsible for contracting the household goods carrier's services.
  • The average expenditure per move for direct van line services of packing and transportation was $985.

In 1974...

  • Companies moved an average of 161 employees. On average, four were women.
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of companies experienced no declinations. Ten years later, that number had dropped to 27%.
  • Only 16% of companies had utilized the services of a relocation service firm to purchase and resell residences of transferred employees. By 1982, 50% of companies had enlisted outside help for this purpose.
  • 74% of respondents said the majority of their overseas shipments were forwarded by surface transportation.

In 1984...

  • 45% of respondents said their greatest number of moves did not occur during the summer months.
  • 64% said volume discounts were the most beneficial program or service since the Household Goods Transportation Act of 1980.
  • 1% of respondents offered no reimbursement for moving expenses.

In 1994...

  • Nearly 60% of survey respondents were employed in human resources departments. 13.2% were employed in traffic or transportation functions.
  • 70% of firms provided full reimbursement of moving expenses.
  • Companies spent an average of $19,515 per relocation on real estate services such as home marketing, home search, pre-move house-hunting, etc.

In 2004...

  • 66% of companies indicate they outsourced relocation services.
  • The three most important attributes when selecting a carrier for international shipments were service (91%), scheduling (73%), and reputation (66%).
  • 29% of companies anticipated an increased relocation budget in the coming year and 18% anticipated a decrease.
Forum 1968: Blast from the Past

More than 200 traffic executives and Atlas agents attended the first Forum in 1968. George A. Gecowets, editor of Transportation & Distribution Management magazine, moderated a panel composed of Leo Horner, General Electric Company; E. A. Millner, Ford Motor Company; L. Ben Roberts, Eastern Airlines, Inc.; and Harry F. Washburn, Johns-Manville Corporation. By 1970, the Forum had become so popular that it moved outside Chicago to Pheasant Run, a retreat center with lodging, food service, and meeting facilities. Since then, with few exceptions until 2002, the event has been held at the Hyatt near Chicago's O'Hare Airport.





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