In 1948, the American Broadcasting Company began broadcasting from New York City, with “Candid Camera” as a breakout hit. A food critic named Duncan Hines started a company selling cake mixes. A new board game called Scrabble® hit shelves for the first time. And in America’s heartland, a moving company called Atlas® Van Lines was founded. What do these things have in common? They are all icons of their respective industries that have stood the test of time for 75 years.
Today, in 2023, Atlas® not only sustains—it flourishes. Through its decades of service for people who move and those who move them, the company has strategically navigated a long road paved with challenges and achievements. You may think that after 75 years of success the company could rest on its laurels. But if you talk to any one of the thousands of people employed by Atlas and its Agent family, they will say this is only the beginning.
A THOUSAND MILES BEGIN WITH A SINGLE STEP
When the 33 founding Agents came together in the late ’40s in French Lick, Indiana, and discuss the incorporation of their transfer and storage companies into a singular entity, little did they know that within three short years they would form an operating authority covering 37 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that would report $1 million in revenue by the end of the decade.
“The goal of our founders was to create an organization centered around ideals of equality, mutual respect, open communication, and democratic control,” says Jack Griffin, Chairman and CEO for Atlas® World Group (AWG). “Those ideals still endure to this day at this company.”
The current market may be vastly different in our modern age, and multiple generations have come and gone, but by rooting itself in those original values, Atlas always has a solid foundation to start from. “There’s an old quote of ‘Serve the customer or serve the one who does,’” says Ryan McConnell, Atlas® Van Lines’ newly appointed President and COO. “For us, it’s always about the customer and the Agent. We keep our values in mind with every decision we make, and they have steered us well to where we are now.”
DESTINY TURNS ON A DIME
After years of growth with expansions into global territories and the addition of several subsidiaries, Atlas became the target of a hostile takeover in 1984. The company fell into the hands of a private equity firm but was seen as little more than a line on a balance sheet.
But Atlas wasn’t built that way. It was created as a customer-centric service provider dedicated to its Agents. Once again, inspired by their predecessors, a group of Agents took action to put ownership back where it belonged. “During our 60-year partnership with Atlas, I think the Agents buying back the company in 1988 is my favorite memory,” says Gary Weleski, President and CEO of Weleski Transfer (2151) in Pennsylvania— an Atlas Agent since 1963. “It allowed us to work for ourselves again. To have a voice and create our own paths in an industry that provided such a strong legacy for us. Keep in mind, many of us have been doing this for three or four generations.”
While Atlas is not technically a co-op, Griffin notes that everything is done for the greater good. Says Griffin, “Our job is not to maximize earnings. We have earning targets, of course, but our goal is to help the Agents be more profitable, be competitive, and invest in technology and marketing to achieve that. I know we are all grateful to those visionary Agents who took back control of their company and passionately continue to grow it to this day.”
THE INFORMATION AGE
Advancements in technology may be the norm in today’s world, but the transportation industry has traditionally viewed its craft through a pen-andpaper
lens. Not Atlas. In keeping with its long history of bold moves and thought leadership,
the company took a leap into the nascent World Wide Web in 1996 and became the first major van line to launch a public website.
What began with that first URL has now splintered off into numerous websites across AWG and cutting-edge technological solutions within the Atlas Digital Ecosystem that act as valuable conduits between customer and Agent. But why stop there? “We were invested in technology long before ’96,” says McConnell, “and it’s still a top priority today for us to continue that investment for both Agents and subsidiaries in the enterprise to keep pushing those solutions forward. However, we’ve come to realize that we don’t need to be the best builder of everything. There are so many partners who do what they do as well as we do what we do, so we continually search for and adopt the best-in-class tools that are available to fulfill the needs of our customers, Agents, and those at headquarters.”
PUTTING A FACE TO THE NAME
In 2011, Road Day, a company event initiated in 1988, becomes BRAVO - Boosting Recognition for Atlas Van Operators- to honor the hard-working men and women putting in the miles. As the face for Atlas’ customers, the company wanted to formally celebrate them and all that they do to drive the mission forward. Because, as McConnell puts it, “Nothing happens until the wheels turn.” “Without them, we don’t have jobs. Next question,” Griffin jokes. “Without these men and women who literally do the heavy lifting, it doesn’t matter how good the executive or marketing teams are. If we don’t have quality Professional Van Operators (PVOs) showing up to Mr. or Ms. Smith’s house in North Carolina to move them to the Bay Area without breaking everything or making a bad impression, we have nothing.”
Over the years, Atlas has created many recognition programs and awards to highlight the great work being done across the organization. For Don Hill, CEO of Alexander’s Mobility Services (0207) in California, one in particular holds special meaning. “We’ve been a part of the Atlas family since 1981 and have many fond memories to look back on,” says Hill. “But when they honored my father by naming the Milton M. Hill Quality Award for the Atlas World-Class Commitment after him, that meant a lot to me.” These awards don’t just recognize outstanding Atlas team members, they create a sense of community for the Agents, both new and old.
Terri Palmer, CEO of Palmer Moving Services (1641) in Michigan, joined Atlas in 2018 and says it was the best decision her team ever made. Says Palmer, “Becoming a part of the Atlas family has been vital to our success. The welcoming spirit and incredible support that surrounded us from headquarters and our fellow Agents provided a true feeling of family amongst us that is not universal across all van lines.” “We’ve been an Atlas Agent since its inception, so it’s in our DNA,” says Larry Lammers, CEO of Ace Relocation Systems (0062) in California. “I can’t say enough about what the long-term friendships with fellow Agents, PVOs, and Atlas staff has meant for us. It’s a very celebratory feeling.”
HERE’S TO THE NEXT 75
If you can make it to 75 years, a lot can—and does—happen. In that time, Atlas has faced many roadblocks such as recessions, wars, housing crashes, and even a global pandemic— to name a few. But Atlas never takes a “The sky is falling!” stance. In fact, if you ask McConnell, he’ll tell you just the opposite. “The sky isn’t even the limit, quite frankly,” McConnell says. “When I look at what we’ve accomplished, it’s a multitude.
The strategy implementation Jack and the Board of Directors have in place with our Vision planning and the Strategic Roadmap we’ve developed at the van line has positioned us for the future better than any of our competitors. Every day we innovate with new solutions that solve problems for our customers and Agents. That isn’t to say we’ve solved all of them, but if we continue to put our hearts and minds behind our mission, that is what will continue driving us forward into the next 75 years.”