Mike Shaffer Hits the Road

Nov 01, 2007

Mike Shaffer's story has gone just the way things are supposed to happen in America. A young man, on vacation from the Alaskan oil fields, comes home to visit his mother. While he's back, he meets the love of his life. So, he decides to take a temporary job in preparation for starting a future with her out west. He finds work in the dispatch department of Atlas Van Lines.

But here's where the story takes a twist. The short-term stint turns out to be the first step in a decades-long climb to the offices of CEO and Chairman of the Board for Atlas World Group. How did he go from working in an entry-level position to the top of the company? Those who have worked with Mike know the answer.

"A Nice Guy with a PhD in Common Sense"

"Mike has a PhD in common sense, an uncanny ability to get along with all people," says Atlas Board member John Steiner. "He never tries to duck a problem, he just faces it straight up. He's one of the few executives I know who answers his own phone." "It's difficult to single out one characteristic I respect most about Mike," says Dennie Lynn, Senior Vice President of Transportation in the Relocation Services Group. "But I would have to say I admire his ability to stay himself. Despite all his success, around the office he's still known as 'Shaf.'"

Dennie joined Atlas within months of Mike, and the two have worked closely over the years. He says Mike's comfort with people and his ability to communicate have made him well liked. "He has lots of close friends among agency staff and van operators. That's a real credit to Mike...he's always related well to people at street level."

Atlas Van Lines President and COO Glen Dunkerson joined the company as assistant dispatcher in 1978 when Mike was, as Glen puts it, the "emperor of the east" (Eastern Zone Manager in Household Goods Operations). "Mike has a quick wit and an unbelievable memory," says Glen. "He could always remember obscure situations, shipments, and events that happened eons ago."

"Mike made our van operators feel their importance, he always paid attention to them," says Board Member Donnie Hill. "Whether they were texting, calling, or emailing, he always responded."

Professionally and Personally Devoted

"Professionally, Mike has more than fulfilled expectations during a fast-paced, growing time for the company," says Donnie. "Personally, I respect Mike greatly as a devoted family man."

For Mike, the professional and personal aspects of life seem to blend naturally. "Mike loves the company," says Glen. "You can see the Atlas family is truly his family."

Mike's own family members say they have felt at home within the Atlas family.

"I've enjoyed the traveling and meeting new people," says Mike's wife, Elaine Shaffer. "The only difficulty for me in relocating was having to start over in a new job each time. I always got the field of nursing I wanted, but not always the hours."

Elaine says that, while she and Mike each pursued careers, the needs of their family always came first. When she required months of bed rest while carrying her two children, "Mike was able to work things out" and do what was needed at home as well as the office.

Daughter Shelly, 35, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Cowlitz County, Washington, remembers a moment when her family came to a crossroads.

"Our family left Atlas briefly in the early 1970s, so my father could revisit his oil drilling career off the shores of Alaska," says Shelly. "My brother, Jim, was just an infant when my dad went back to that God-awful schedule: two weeks out in the Arctic, one week back at home."

"At the beginning of each week home, my baby brother had no idea who my dad was. Then, at the end of the week, when Jim was just starting to warm up to him, my dad would have to leave. The cycle would repeat each week. This tore my dad up."

"Finally, at Christmas, my dad dressed as Santa Claus, sat me on his lap and asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted my dad to have a job where he went to work every morning and came home every night. Soon, we were back in Evansville, within the loving confines of the Atlas family."

Son Jim, 33, a training expert in broadband technical support for Verizon, remembers when the Atlas family came into sharp focus for him.

"I went to an Atlas convention with my folks, and I saw all these people that I recognized as their buddies. But they were all dressed up in business suits. That's when it dawned on me, my dad works with all his friends."

Jim says that whenever he would meet people in Atlas settings, they would take an immediate interest in him and make it a point to tell him what a great guy his dad is. Shelly has similar recollections: "I can't tell you the number of people who have told me my dad is their hero."

"We're lucky to have been part of Atlas," says Elaine. "It's a close-knit family...supportive and easy-going."

The Atlas Family Team Goes On

"Mike is the most honest, decent, fair-minded person I've ever had the pleasure to know or work with," says Atlas Vice Chairman and CEO Jim Stamm. "I try to learn something from everyone I've ever worked with. From Mike, I've learned temperance. Measure twice, and cut once."

Like Mike, Jim is a veteran of the U.S. military and cut his teeth on the operations side of the business. Jim is the key man on the leadership team that has blossomed with Mike's help over the recent years.

Atlas Board Member John Westerberg sees that team as Mike's legacy. The seeds were sown when Mike was promoted to CEO in 1998, recalls John. At that time, the company was in need of someone who could build a sense of unity. Mike was a solidifying force.

"I have a great deal of respect for him and what he's done," says John. "I'm sorry to see him go. However, one of the most important jobs a CEO has is to ensure a succession of leaders. Mike has done an excellent job of grooming people so Atlas will continue to benefit from capable and committed leadership."

Atlas Sr. Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Greg Hoover, a protégé of Mike, sees in his mentor the same qualities that have made Atlas successful. "Mike is the personification of the van line," says Greg. "He's hardworking, professional, yet down to earth. And he has put us in as good a position to succeed going forward as anyone could."

The success is undeniable. Over the last ten years, Atlas World Group has experienced record growth. Today, the company is approaching one billion dollars in annual revenue for its ten subsidiaries. Atlas World Group, has grown by 134% percent during Mike's tenure.

"None of this could have happened without the support of our agents and drivers and the many people who mentored me along the way," says Mike. In particular, I remember the help I got from Joe Joest, Don Johnson, Ed Cox, Walt More, Norm Gee and Wally Saubert."

The Shaffers' Next Move

When he completes his term at the end of the year, Mike and Elaine will make their home in Tucson, Arizona. "It gets about 350 days of sunshine a year," says Mike, "according to their Chamber of Commerce."

Mike says they plan to do some traveling, just for fun. He looks forward to volunteering, and to working on his golf game. ("He needs to," says Glen.)

And, as everyone who knows him can attest, Mike will take advantage of the scenic desert and mountain vistas for some great bike rides. No doubt, as he breezes along the sunny stretches of Arizona, the people he has known during his 38-year tour of Atlas will be right there with him.

"I'll miss the people here," says Mike. "I'll miss working with them. But they, and Atlas, will always be part of me."

There's comfort in that thought. Mike may be out of sight, but he will always be an Atlas family man.

Good luck, chief!


Agents know Mike on the clock...and off.

If you expect the person who leads Atlas to be one of the sharpest and hardest working, you're right.

Fred Paxton II, President of Paxton Van Lines (1610), came to know Mike in the early 1970s, when they were each working in dispatch. Fred was building his family's Atlas agency, and Mike was working to optimize the productivity of Atlas' resources. The days were filled with long hours for both men, with lots of time spent on the phone, scrambling to answer service needs.

"Quite frankly, Mike's a brilliant man," says Fred. "I saw the great dispatching he did at a young age. And going from the bottom rung of the ladder all the way up took a lot of hard work along the way."

Working with Mike helped make business fun. "Mike has a wonderful sense of humor," says Fred. "He's very easy to get along with. He's been with Atlas throughout the hard times and the good times, and always supportive for agents and drivers."

But, if you expect the guy who leads the company to be all work and no play, you're wrong.

"I believe Mike is responsible for establishing the universal 'I need a beer' sign," says Gary Weleski, President of Weleski Transfer (2151). (This, as everyone now knows, is the act of holding an empty beer can on top of your head.)

Gary says that he and Mike go back over 30 years, when Gary was in operations at his company and Mike worked in operations at Atlas. "At one point, we entertained the idea of attempting to hire Mike here," recalls Gary. "Outside of marrying Elaine, I guess it was the best decision he ever made to stay where he was."

Gary recalls the night of an Atlas regional meeting in New Jersey, when he and Mike visited Atlantic City. ("Mike taught me how to get money from an ATM that night...I'd never used one before.") As the two were on their way back to the hotel, they got turned around. "We saw a couple of guys outside a gas station, so we pulled in to ask for directions, although the place looked like it was closed," says Gary. "Mike asked the men how to get to Newark, and they shouted back, 'Can you get the (expletive) out of here, man? We're trying to rob this place.'"

In the interest of fairness, Gary says Mike knew when it was time for business. "Mike's best attribute to the van line was his willingness to look out for the drivers and customers," says Gary. "It's obvious that he respected the agency family, and he's always tried to help the agents in any way he could."

From left to right: Dennie Lynn, Senior VP Operations, Atlas Van Lines; Mike Shaffer, Chairman, Atlas World Group; Gene Hazlett, friend of Michael Chick, VP Operations & Sales, Weleski Transfer; Dennis Cochran, Commercial Sales Specialist, Weleski Transfer.




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