The online news magazine of Atlas® World Group.
November 8, 2018

LEAD: Atlas Answers the Call

  • Atlas Van Lines
  • Featured



The history of Atlas® is a story of leadership. In 1948, 33 independent moving companies formed the cooperative “Atlas Van-Lines, Inc.” and affirmed that “each member was to render service on his brother member’s loads of the character that he would expect on his own business.”

Those early leaders established strong roots for Atlas. In the ensuing 70 years, the cooperative has weathered some storms—temporary loss of agent control in the 1980s and a meltdown of the housing market in 2009. Today, the company is staring down yet another challenge and retooling its business model to stay strong in an industry threatened by decline.

The story of the world’s premier moving brand continues to be written in bold and confident strokes. In this issue of the Amplifier,® we look at how Atlas is furthering its leadership role. As you read, ask yourself: How might I lead? Your answer may well determine your future.

Investing Forward

In 2015, as Atlas leaders formulated a long-term business strategy for good growth, one thing became abundantly clear. Without a means to counter a trend of industry decline, the future was dark. Regular readers of this magazine are familiar with the scenario—shifting demographics, tighter regulation, strained capacity, rising costs.  

“We had a choice,” says Ryan McConnell, Vice President of Strategic Planning. “We could either fix our business or go out of business.”

The strategy team dubbed its mission Vision 2020. They developed two complementary tactics. First was a reformulation of the pricing structure. It became known as Price Reset.

To communicate the need for this change, Atlas Chairman and CEO Jack Griffin went on camera for clients. He explained the reasoning behind Price Reset and assured them Atlas would continue to meet their expectations for service.

“A change of this magnitude demanded a consistent message, without fail, for every client constituency,” says Jack.

Price Reset took effect with private clients in 2017 and RMCs this year. The changeover will be complete with direct corporate-client contracts in the spring of 2019.

“Our message has been well received,” says Ryan. “We did our homework and customers and clients understand why it is necessary.”

Turning Complexity into Simplicity

Demographic shifts to younger professionals and smaller families, coupled with rising expectations for service, have had a big impact on the moving industry. Atlas has answered these market demands with SimpliCity,™ containerized transportation for moving smaller shipments more quickly.   

“The revenue model had to be right for SimpliCity to be feasible,” says Ryan. “The small-shipment space is an entryway for new providers in the household goods arena. It has the greatest potential for disruption, and we are proactively engaged.”  

Proactive engagement extends to diligence in monitoring costs. “We’re looking at different ways to approach general rate adjustments,” says Ryan. “We want to be careful not to get out of whack with the real costs of delivering service.”

"Technology has the strategic potential to disrupt our industry. If that happens, we intend to be on the winning side.”

Ryan McConnell
Vice President, Strategic Planning

One of the best outcomes from the development work on SimpliCity may be the door it opened to creative thinking.

“We’re not locked into doing things the way we’ve always done them, or even using the same modes of transportation,” says Ryan. “If we can move a shipment from point A to point B, on time and without damage, it merits consideration.”  

Technology: AKA "Customer Expectations"

As sure as business relied on land lines and Yellow Pages in the 1980s, the Internet is the dominant arena for commerce today. Customer expectations are shaped by billions of dollars of investment by firms with capital valuations approaching or exceeding one trillion dollars. Atlas® may not have the coffers of a Silicon Valley tech giant, but it has not shied away from investments in technology (see “Giant Tech Leap” p. 14).

One of the biggest investments was introduced about 15 years ago, the web-based RADS (Rating and Distribution Services). It has paid for itself in spades.

“We are committed to making business easier for our Agents,” says Mark Spiehler, Senior Vice President Account/Agent/Claims Services. “With the introduction of RADS, we were able to optimize our internal system in order to ensure a more timely settlement process for our agents.”

Today, about half of all interstate household goods shipments are inventoried electronically—a one-time data entry for paperless work flow through rating, invoicing, payment, and claims settlement.

"When the going gets tough, leaders figure it out.”

Mark Spiehler
Senior Vice President Account/Agent/Claims Services

In the fourth quarter of 2017, Atlas® Customer Portal launched, aggregating and simplifying business functions for customers and clients. Now it’s leveraging the power of RADS to sweeten the deal.

“People like to do things on their own schedule, not depend on regular business hours for answers,” says Ryan Parmenter, Director, IT. “We’re adding real-time claims status to the portal. Customers can check on a claim whenever they like and see where it is in the process—sort of like ordering a pizza and being able to see when it comes out of the oven.”


Before the year is out, customers will also be introduced to PVO Profile. The feature is similar to what you might expect with popular ride-sharing apps when you request a driver.


“When the PVO is assigned, the customer can see a photo, even read a little about the operator who will be handling their move,” says Ryan. “Agents and PVOs will have the ability to upload photos and bio information. For instance, a PVO might like chocolate chip cookies—or enjoy listening to classical music. Knowing a little about the person coming to their home can help the customer make a connection. It can help put them at ease.”

“Technology is great, but business depends on human interaction,” says Joab Schultheis, Vice President, Atlas IT. “We build tools to support interaction and strengthen relationships between our agents and customers.”

What You See Is What You Can Get

Earlier this year, Atlas introduced Planning Manager, a tool for agent planners to find shipments and fill their trailers. Now, a feature called “Smart Tonnage” shows available shipments as pins on a map. Planners can visualize exactly where opportunities are in relation to their routes.

“Hot shipments, which need immediate attention, show as red pins,” says Ryan. “All others are green. And users can still see the information in list view if they prefer that to the map.”

Work is underway on the next evolution of this tool—finding PVOs—also due to launch by year’s end.

“With ELDs now in every truck, we have access to realtime information on the location of PVOs,” says Ryan. “We can show all the trucks within an area, where they are going, and how much space is available on the trailers. This gives planners the ability to find options—potentially saving them lots of time.”  


You Can “Lead From Anywhere”

When CEO Jack Griffin took on the top leadership post at Atlas Van Lines in 2009, one of his first orders of business was to become acquainted with the leaders and potential leaders around him. He soon found a pool of rising talent, but it needed focus. Dubbed the G-Eleven, Jack fortified the group with purpose and discipline. It has become an incubator for ideas and skills across the Atlas enterprise. In a nutshell, it hatches leaders.

“Those who serve on the development group agree to work outside their job descriptions, across disciplines,” says Jack. “They put in extra hours, at no additional pay—but they get the kind of experience that brings forth their potential. The people who run Atlas today are all alumni of this group.”

“Graduates of the G-Eleven are the ones running the company,” says Jack. “They are the rising stars taking Atlas into the future.”

“About thirty percent of the Atlas workforce is eligible for retirement,” says Nancy Priebe, Vice President of Human Resources. “So leadership development is crucial. The future of Atlas depends on people who can think critically and carry responsibility.”

Employees in Evansville complete at least two training modules a year.  Managers are automatically enrolled in leadership courses, which are available to all employees regardless of position. Atlas subsidiaries have their own education requirements and enjoy access to classes via Atlas® Academy, a proprietary, web-based training environment. Atlas Agents, for example, receive onboarding and quality training this way.  



Pictured On Stairs Above (From Left to Right):
Brandi Johnston, Director of Claims Services, Atlas Van Lines; Kyle Puckett, Director of Transportation Services, Atlas Van Lines; Jason Kempf, Controller of Financial Reporting, Atlas Van Lines; Ryan Parmenter, Director of IT Development, Atlas Van Lines; Jessica Nichols, Director of Avail Move Management, Avail Move Management; Todd Suter, Senior Corporate Counsel, Atlas Van Lines

Inset Pictures (From Left to Right): Camille Stewart, Director of Finance & Corporate Controller, Atlas Canada; Michael Jackson, Director of Commercial Pricing, Atlas World Group International; Sean Ireland, Director of Global Supply Chain Management, Cornerstone Relocation Group; Amy Little, Director of Logistics Carrier & Project Development, Atlas Logistics; Ashley Saunders, Manager of Commercial and International Operations, Atlas World Group International

Succeed: Another Word for Mentoring

Involvement with the Association for Talent Development (ATD) led Corporate Trainer Kourtney Dunlap to develop Succeed, a formal mentoring program. Now in its third year, Succeed matches employees in 15 to 20 mentor-mentee pairs across departments.  

“Having strong benches is a priority for leadership at Atlas,” says Kourtney. “We used the G-Eleven as a focus group to determine the main competencies for mentoring. We zeroed in on communication, development (self and team), decision-making, and relationship-building.”

Participants in Succeed meet quarterly for collaboration and discussion. They also attend a speaker event and share their takeaways from the message. Formal participation in Succeed runs for a year—but the benefits extend long after.

“One of the best things coming out of this program is greater collaboration between people across the organization,” says Nancy. “We also see a benefit to career pathing—people finding out what they want to do and achieve in their work.”


Kourtney Dunlap, Corporate Trainer (left), and Nick Lindy, Manager HR/Training (right), work with employees throughout Atlas World Group to equip them for individual success and professional advancement. 


Many Ways to Achieve

As well as a formal curriculum for leadership training (Achieve), Atlas employees find doors to growth with a variety of opportunities:


The bulk of the Evansville management team has completed this course emphasizing diversity and creativity for the betterment of the community.

1212 CLUB

Employees hold offices and serve on committees in this club that promotes the vitality of the Atlas employee family.


Atlas people support this community fund monetarily and through hands-on engagement. Atlas World Group encourages servant leadership and underwrites employee volunteerism in the annual “Day of Caring.”


This group bolsters networking among Atlas agents, subsidiaries and headquarters staff, with a focus on growing leaders in their 20s and 30s.


Atlas sponsors a leadership outreach to Cedar Hall Elementary School in Evansville. It provides monetary support to a student leadership club in the school and encourages and rewards student achievement.  


Atlas World Group strives to provide a career ladder for every professional and facilitates professional advancement between subsidiaries.

Is Your Business Sustainable?

Some talk about being green, but Atlas is lighting a way to a sustainable future. Since introducing Sustainable Agent in 2015, 56 Atlas Agents have achieved certification for their efforts in materials management, transportation, administration, facilities, and community involvement. Now, they have another bar to aim for.

“New this year, Sustainable Agent offers a level two certification,” says Jenna Deisher, Marketing Specialist. “It gives those who have achieved the basic certification a way to demonstrate their further commitment and achieve greater efficiency.”

For example, the level one standard for materials keeps common recyclables out of the waste stream; the level two standard measures an actual reduction in waste. For facilities, the level one standard requires improvement in building energy efficiency; the level two standard requires water conservation and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

“For 2018, seven Atlas Agents qualified as Level One certified sustainable agents, and eight qualified for Level Two certification,” says Jenna. “The next opportunity to submit an application for certification is Spring of 2019.”

A Conversation with Joe Stackhouse

Joe Stackhouse joined Atlas® as President and COO of Atlas Van Lines in 2017. Coming from outside the moving industry, he brings new thinking in a key leadership role. For this 70th anniversary year of Atlas Van Lines, The Amplifier® sat down with Joe to get his thoughts on leadership and its importance at this moment in the company’s history.

Joe, what do you see as the essence of leadership? 

I think it’s simple. Leadership is based on service. Serve your teammates and serve the customer. Taking that a step further . . . if you don’t serve the customer, serve the one who does. That mindset creates a powerful organization focused on the customer at all levels and disciplines in the company. That organizational mindset leads to improved performance across all key performance metrics and creates a significant competitive advantage. This means we must be willing to change the way we’ve always done things before. Atlas can’t continue to lead with old thinking. We’re making progress—but we have more to do.

What impresses you as the biggest strength of Atlas?

Hands down it is our people. We have people who are long-tenured and know the business backwards and forwards from all aspects of the moving process. We need to take those strengths and harness them in this rapidly changing marketplace to meet the demands of our customers. We all need to be open and embrace new ideas and processes that will meet customer demands. At the same time, we need to ensure that we attract new talent to our Atlas family who will bring new ideas and challenge our thinking about why we do what we do. Diversity—of thought, experience, gender, tenure and ethnicity—will continue to be a positive in building on this strength.

Who are the leaders at Atlas?

Good organizations look to people with titles or positions for leadership. Great organizations have leaders in every part of the organization. Great organizations expect, encourage, develop and reward leaders throughout the organization, regardless of title. They listen to their teams and ensure great ideas and leadership come from all levels in the company.

How would you describe your own leadership style?

I strive every day to be a servant leader who inspires others. I am not yet there but I continue to develop, grow and evolve. The leadership process is a journey and not a destination. I focus on creating more leaders. My responsibility is not to create followers but to enable more leaders.

As John Maxwell has written, ‘a leader touches a heart before they ask for a hand.’ Additionally, accountability is critical. I hold myself accountable and have the same expectation from my team.

What can Atlas do to strengthen a culture of leadership?

We need to be focused externally on the customer and how we can best serve their needs. That will require us to leverage everyone in the organization to understand our strengths and where we have opportunities. That type of focus creates incredible alignment throughout the entire organization and makes our decision-process and priorities crystal clear. Then we allow those great ideas and leaders to be embraced, implemented, and woven into our fabric as an Atlas family.