AmplifierAtlas Companies > Atlas Van Lines > Fifty Years of Forum Memories

Fifty Years of Forum Memories


This April, at the Marriott on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, Atlas® leaders and colleagues celebrate the Forum's 50 years. Instituted for candid discussion between movers and their corporate customers, the Forum soon grew into the signature event of Atlas World Group - and a mainstay for thought leadership in the relocation industry. 

Atlas Agent Bob Shetler, Chairman and CEO of Shetler Moving & Storage (1830), holds an impressive distinction. He is the only person in the world who has attended every Atlas Forum — all 50 of them. The Amplifier caught up with Bob by phone a few weeks before the Forum, and he shared his memories — some a little fuzzy, but most as clear as crystal.

“The very first Forum on Moving took place in Evansville, at Shanklin Theater on the campus of the University of Evansville,” says Bob. “Our agency co-hosted the event with Atlas, and the event organizers were my brother, Joe Shetler, Jr., and Jack Thorne, the marketing officer at Atlas.”

Bob says when the reservations came in, only one woman was among them, a traffic manager with Mead Johnson. “We were afraid she might be a little uncomfortable being the only woman, so I invited my sister who worked in our office,” says Bob. “Over the years, attendance has gone from about 99 percent men to about 30 percent men today.”

The first Forum coincided with the dedication of the recently completed Atlas Van Lines headquarters building in Evansville. Forum attendees received a special tour of the new facility. “We transported the attendees from the Executive Inn to Atlas Van Lines for the tour in several of our cars and a couple of the attendees’ cars,” recalls Bob. “My mother had all the attendees over to our house for late night breakfast. One of them, a Standard Oil of Indiana traffic manager from Chicago, helped mother fry several dozen eggs for the group.”

Attendees at the first Atlas Forum tour an Atlas van at the newly contructed Atlas World Group headquarters.
In the early days, Atlas would feature people with big responsibilities in transportation, typically from large well-known firms. “One of our very first speakers was the traffic manager of Brown’s Shoe Company in St. Louis,” says Bob. “They were like the Nike of their day. We also had the president of Marriott corporation, and the list goes on and on. In those days, the speaker would make their remarks, then answer questions from the guests in a moderated discussion. Our moderator was from outside the company. For several years, it was the editor of Transportation Distribution Magazine—I think his last name was Crandell.”

A client of Bob’s, Eleanor Reaber, was a featured guest speaker in the 1970s. “I used to call on Eleanor when she was with a very large paper company in Philidelphia,” says Bob. “She  was working out of a four-room house in Danbury, Connecticut. Home Equity recruited Eleanor to start a relocation division for their fast-growing company. We know it today as Cartus Relocation Company.”

“We’ve had so many wonderful speakers over the years, it’s hard to remember them all. I remember Lee Sherman Dreyfus, former governor of Wisconsin and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. He predicted all kinds of interesting things, like the popularity of imported cars. This was at a time when the U.S. auto industry dominated. He was a super speaker. Quite a visionary.”

“Once a guest goes to the Forum, they don’t want to miss the next one. They say, ‘I hope you keep me on your guest list for next year.’ All of my guests have become good clients ... and very good friends.”
Bob Shetler, Shetler Moving & Storage (1830)

Bob also recalls several figures in public service who have taken the stage: Ronald Reagan, Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford), Elizabeth Dole (U.S. Senator and cabinet member under Reagan and Bush 41), Alexander Haig (Secretary of State under Reagan), Jeane Kirkpatrick (Reagan’s Ambassador to the U.N.), H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. (Army general who gained fame for his leadership in the Gulf War), Oliver North (USMC Lieutenant Colonel and central figure in the Iran-Contra arms scandal), and Bert Lance.

“Lance was in President Carter’s cabinet, and he was under indictment for financial wrongdoing at the time. (Lance was later cleared of the charges.) Frank Borman was a very interesting speaker—he was an astronaut who went on to become president of Eastern Airlines.”

Years prior to his presidency, Ronald Reagan took the podim at the 8th Atlas Forum.

Notable media figures have also taken the Forum stage, among them Walter Cronkite, Paul Harvey, and Bob Woodward, investigative reporter for the Washington Post who helped break the Watergate story that led to the resignation of President Nixon.

“I got a call one day from Robert R.C. Miller,” says Bob. (Miller joined Atlas in 1971 as Executive Vice President and General Manager, was named President and COO in 1974 and Vice Chairman in 1980.) “He said they were brainstorming on who to get to speak at the Forum, and somebody mentioned Gerald Ford, former president, and he wanted to know if I knew how to get hold of him. I said I know exactly where he is. Some close friends had a condo at Bermuda Dunes Golf Club in California, and I had met President Ford there and knew that’s where he would likely be. Bob Miller called the club and left a message; a few hours later, President Ford called him back, and they set it up.  His speech played off his clumsy image, he joked about his golf game, that he couldn’t yell ‘Fore!’ loud enough or soon enough. He was entertaining. It’s very interesting to hear what Presidents have to say, after all, ‘nobody knows what the President knows.’”

Among the sports figures Bob remembers on the Forum’s dais are Joe Theismann (NFL quarterback), Lou Holtz (legendary college football coach, at the time leading the Fighting Irish), Pat Summitt (coach of the Unversity of Tennessee Lady Vols and the NCAA’s winningest basketball coach of all time), and Terry Bradshaw (NFL quarterback). “Pat Summitt was a great speaker,” says Bob. “And Bradshaw was a wild man up there—funny, very entertaining.”

Former Forum entertainers put on a show for attendees. 

Not all speakers created fond memories for Bob. One such headliner was Ralph Nader. “It seemed like he attacked industry, particularly the oil and automotive industries,” recalls Bob. “I had guests that year from Conoco and Old Ben Coal Company, which is owned by Standard Oil of Ohio.”

Bob remembers that Mr. Nadar spoke from the podium, but towards the end of his speech, he walked around the room. When he got to the back of the room, he handed the mic to the production folks. Then, standing in front of a set of double doors, he took his bow and the doors opened behind him. He backed out of the room, got into a waiting limousine, and off he went.

“It’s customary for the speaker to take a few questions after they speak, and my guests were primed,” says Bob. “However, they didn’t get the chance. They were livid.”

“Back in the 1980s, the Forum drew 600 to 700 people,” says Bob. “In those days, the heads of the other major van lines were special guests, part of a roundtable on stage that took questions from the audience. These weren’t PR people or sales people—these were the CEOs of Mayflower, North American, Allied, United, and Atlas—all sitting together and answering any question posed. We heard right from the top people making major dicessions for the moving and storage industry.”

“Any time I can get a potential or current client to attend the Forum, I invite them because I know how much they will get out of it,” says Bob. “The reaction is always the same: ‘OMG, does Atlas do a great job! I learned so much to take back to my company.’”

“The Forum is truly a great networking event and educational tool for the moving industry. I always leave thinking, ‘How can Atlas top this one?’ Somehow, they always do.”

Bob Shetler (left) and clients pose with former mayor of New York City and memorable Forum speaker, Rudy Giuliani. 


Agents Lend a Helping Truck

Atlas® Van Lines Agents think ‘the bigger the better’ when it comes to spreading awareness about food insecurity. In partnership with Move For Hunger,™ a nonprofit that encourages donating food instead of moving it, our moving and storage companies are sharing the message from the largest billboards they could find – their moving trucks. more

New Magic from AtlasNet.

What if you could walk through your customer’s home from the other side of the world? Or see every text message thread from your customer throughout the move? Or get immediate feedback for improving service on a move while it is taking place? You Can. more

What if every customer thought of you as “part of their family”?

Each month, thousands of families go new places® with the help of Atlas® Agents. And each month, expressions of gratitude pour into Atlas via post-move surveys. It’s no wonder the comments often read like fan mail. People go hundreds, even thousands of miles, to get to a new home, a new community, a new job. Throughout their journeys, Atlas Agents provide service that is reliable and reassuring. more


Dave Coulter, STG Veteran, Retires

Dedicated Atlas Van Lines veteran, David Coulter, Vice President of STG Sales, announced his retirement after 36 years with the company. more

2016 Atlas Agent Award Winners

Checkout which Atlas Agents are this year's Quality Milton M. Hill Award winners, the President's Club 2015-16 Platinum winners, and the Sustainable Agent 2015-16 winners. more

Atlas leader Honored for Igniting Momentum

In late September, southwest Indiana celebrated a year of major milestones and recognized six individuals for their commitment to regional business at the Annual Meeting and Dinner held by the Southwest Indiana Chamber. One of the individuals honored was Atlas® Chairman & CEO Glen Dunkerson, who was named the 2016 Richard A. Schlottman Business Person of the Year. more


Atlas is a Friend in Corporate Relocation at SHRM

In fact, the overarching message for Atlas at the SHRM show was to ease customers’ minds about the relocation process. To demonstrate how Atlas PVO’s and pack/load team members are friends that customers can trust with their household belongings, two life-size cardboard cutouts of crew members stood in the booth for photo opportunities, while attendees were encouraged to share their selfies with the hashtag #MyFriendsAtAtlas. more

Sharing the Many Ways to go new places at SHRM

A group of representatives from multiple Atlas Agencies and Atlas HQ trekked to Las Vegas in late June to set up shop at the annual Convention and Expo of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). In total, more than 630 exhibiting companies filled over 30 aisles with human resource solutions at the Las Vegas Convention Center, making it the largest expo SHRM has ever held. more

Alexander's Celebrates a Big Year in Nashville

In 2015, Alexander's Mobility Services (0217) celebrated 20 years of service in the Nashville area, and they did it in a big way. As the largest multi-location agent in the Atlas family, Alexander's moved their Tennessee operations into a new location on the northwest side of the city. more