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30 Years Later: Atlas® Agents Remember A Turning Point


Board members, stockholders, and headquarters employees celebrate a return to agent ownership at the Atlas® Van Lines Annual Agent Stockholders' Meeting in September 1989.

The Annual Atlas® Convention is a highly anticipated and memorable experience for the entire Atlas family. The 2017 Convention in San Diego, was no exception, but a few, defining characteristics made it truly remarkable.

2017 marked the event’s 70th anniversary. Atlas welcomed new President and COO, Joe Stackhouse, to his first-ever Atlas Convention, and Jack Griffin took the main stage as the official CEO of Atlas® World Group.

AmpOnline_Agents-Remember-A-Turning-Point_JoeM_400w.pngBut it was something Jack addressed in the event opener that made the 2017 Convention exceptionally unique – the Atlas buyback. Jack invited Joe McNamara, Principal of Certified Van Service, to the stage to reflect on this pivotal moment in Atlas history.

Thirty years prior, Atlas held its 40th annual Convention merely blocks away from the 2017 venue. The day before the 1987 event commenced, 27 Atlas Agents met to discuss buying back the company.

Atlas was founded as an agent-owned van line – but went public for a brief period in the 1980s – a period commonly known as the “Dark Days.” In response to the threat of a hostile takeover in 1984, Atlas merged with a private investment banking firm, Wesray Services, Inc.

Over time, the relationship between Wesray and the Atlas Agents grew tumultuous. Wesray built a new management team out of recruits unknown to the agency family, and the culture slowly began to disintegrate.

“To Wesray, an agent was an ‘employee’. Many of us felt or knew that the type of management they put in place would not work,” says Joe McNamara. “Either we had to step up and buy Atlas back or move to another van line. Recognizing all of the talent and knowledge agents like Fred Paxton and John Westerberg had to offer, to me, the decision was a no-brainer.”

Joe, Fred, John, Gary Weleski, Milton Hill and several other like-minded agent leaders started organizing what would later be recognized as a revolutionary moment in Atlas history.

Despite Wesray’s opposition, the agents announced from the 1987 Convention main stage their decision to buy back the company.

“We knew we had to band together to stay together. We had a bunch of good, family-owned agencies, and we wanted to keep it that way,” says Gary, Principal of Weleski Transfer. “I didn’t want to go to another van line – no one did. The buyback wasn’t about making money. It was about keeping the agency family together.”

The road to buy back the company was long, complex, and extremely expensive. As the late Milton Hill put it: “The effort of the agents to buy back Atlas could be likened to the fight between David and Goliath.”

2018 marks Atlas’ 30th anniversary since the buyback was complete, and from 1988 to now, Atlas Agents continue to believe in what it means to go together and to drive change throughout the industry.

“I’m proud to be an Atlas Agent and to have served for 30 years since the buyback. I’m proud of how we’ve hung in there and stayed together,” says Gary. “Atlas is an industry leader. The growth and longevity displayed by our agency family definitely speaks to that. Every agent – big or small – plays an integral role in our overall success.”


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