Atlas Amplifier®: Let us get started by talking about the strategic planning happening at the Atlas® subsidiaries and why those plans are so important for your teams to have.
BARRY SCHELLENBERG, President & COO, Atlas® Van Lines: We recently unveiled our Atlas® Van Lines & Agency Family Strategic Roadmap, which I am happy to report has created a huge level of engagement from our teams both internally and externally. “We are excited the company has this direction” is a comment I hear a lot, and everyone is pleased that we have our Priority Initiatives set and that we know what we can focus on, execute, and drive value for. I could not have asked for a better result.
JANELLE PIATKOWSKI, Founder, President & CEO, Cornerstone Relocation Group®: The people at Cornerstone are laser-focused on strategy. Our goal is to grow Cornerstone’s prominence within our sphere as a leading provider of relocation management services. We have watched the market evolve, and are dedicated to innovating in a way that leads the industry—and have as much fun as possible in this journey.
PHIL WAHL, President & COO, Atlas Logistics®: When the van line started the strategic planning process, they communicated to the rest of us what they were doing. My team and I had several conversations among ourselves about it and were inspired to create our own. Some of our priorities are different from the van line's simply because we are a different business, but we have followed a similar style and structure to keep things streamlined here at the Evansville headquarters we share.
STEVE TRENSCH, President, General Manager & Founder, TopHAT Logistical Solutions™: I have been in this business since 1987 and with Atlas Logistics for a couple of years, so we still set a lot of our strategy internally. However, I have been working with Phil Wahl and his team more frequently to see which of our strategies overlap. We are starting to see our priorities align more than they already were.
FRED HALADAY, President & COO, Atlas® Van Lines Canada: We had an incredible amount of volume in Canada in 2021, and my team and I made it through a good year with terrific support from the Agents, their staff, and our customers. The strategic plan we have in place really helped us get through the tough times, but I do not want to get a big head or rest on my laurels after our successes. There is always room to grow and improve our strategies, no matter how amazing we are doing.
TIM HALL, Vice President of Business Development, Atlas® World Group International: There are moments in time that open your eyes to new ideas. We have had amazing challenges these past two years, but what it taught us is invaluable. We have taken those lessons and enumerated them into strategy, so we never find ourselves back at square one. We have learned through our strategic planning how to manage our company differently and create a better customer experience.
JESSICA NICHOLS, Director, Avail Move Management®: I firmly believe that without vision, you perish. We must be striving toward the same goal and make sure we are all going in the same direction, in the same way. We focus heavily on the Atlas Van Lines & Agency Family Strategic Roadmap at Avail because we are here to support our Agents. Our highest level of focus is to be their support and make sure they succeed.
DANIEL ROOS, Senior Director & General Manager, Atlas® Terminal Company: A lot of what we are doing right now is reexamining how we do things and figuring out how to do those things better and more efficiently. The ultimate idea behind our strategic planning is to make sure we are all on the same page and not doubling up on our efforts. Leaner thinking coupled with increased confidence within our team results in added value.
RUDY PLANAVSKY, President and COO, Champion International Moving, Ltd.™: Our approach to strategic planning has always been more informal and involved ongoing and direct communication. We joined Atlas® in 2019, and seeing their more formalized process has inspired my team and me to reimagine how we do things. The gathering of two different companies with two different mindsets has been very beneficial in many ways to our strategic outlook.
JENNIFER BUTLER, Manager, Atlas® World-Class Travel: We work with our Professional Van Operators, our leadership, and salespeople throughout Atlas® World Group (AWG), and then also corporate relocation transferees from every corner of the world. We must adapt our strategic approach here and there to make sure we accommodate unique circumstances of each of those groups, but our larger strategy is to do the best for everyone, whoever and wherever they are.
MATT VAN DER LINDE, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Atlas Logistics®: The Atlas Logistics® Strategic Roadmap we have developed will serve our subsidiaries like Titan Global Distribution™ and others for all our business units. I think it’s tailor-made to work well across the majority of all that is logistics because it is about building a culture and having everyone going in the same direction regardless of which verticals they are working in.
AA: Why is having individual strategic plans for your subsidiaries important, and how do those ladder back up to Vision 2025?
BARRY SCHELLENBERG: We always start with Vision 2025 and with Jack Griffin and our board’s vision for the whole organization, and then determine what our contribution value is in support of that. Our strategies are behavioral, cultural, and reinforced by leadership.
JANELLE PIATKOWSKI: To me, Vision 2025 is all about the collective strength of the AWG community. We need to bring our expertise, partner engagement, and global reach to the forefront through our strategic planning and help Atlas grow and cultivate deeper, lasting relationships with our customers and clients. AWG’s vision is Cornerstone’s vision, so it all feeds in together.
PHIL WAHL: There are individual entities here, and as leaders we are responsible for their performance. But we need to know where everyone in the organization stands from a strategy perspective, and then use Vision 2025—AWG’s North Star—as a helpful guide to keep our sights set on the big, collective picture.
STEVE TRENSCH: You must know your direction to grow efficiently. Your plan is created by your past, and you learn from the past to figure out what you want your future to look like.
DANIEL ROOS: It goes back to the team aspect that AWG has in place and to make sure what we are working in collaboration and coordination with all our fellow subsidiaries and our Agent network.
JENNIFER BUTLER: It is so important to have a strategic plan and to revisit that plan so the whole team has a clear picture of what our ultimate goals are for the company. That centers us on a common goal and defines the steps we need to take to get there. We cannot just come in each day and serve our clients without truly understanding our priorities.
AA: How about the Atlas® Agents? How have they responded to the strategies taking shape at the corporateleadership level?
BARRY SCHELLENBERG: We have only recently started broadening our Strategic Roadmap communication to our Agents. We have been holding focus groups with our Agents to repeat the messaging behind the Roadmap and what it represents and why, and to make sure they feel included because they are the ones who informed us what our priorities should be. They gave us those ideas, so we are putting focus on what is most important for them so that we can deliver upon their expectations. It is confirmation that our actions now match our words.
STEVE TRENSCH: TopHAT was brought in about one month before the pandemic hit, so we could not meet a lot of the Agents like we wanted and needed to. But at the Atlas® World Group Convention this past November, I was finally able to talk with a lot of those folks and realize how many of them understood our business strategy and had the capabilities to work with us to service our customers. The whole world of Atlas® and its Agents has really opened up for us and is creating a lot of opportunity for all involved.
FRED HALADAY: One of my major priorities in 2022 is to migrate our Canadian Agents to AtlasNet®. This gives our Agents a great opportunity to streamline their operations for things like billing, tracking, and communication with their customers because it is one central system with the same entry point and documentation for everyone. We want to utilize AtlasNet to break down barriers and help our Agents thrive in their business in the ways they envision they can.
TIM HALL: Any strategy we put in place is always with the Agent in mind because they are a huge asset for the international subsidiaries. Bolstering the Agents is the most important part of our makeup, and they are absolutely the key to our success.
AA: What are some of the things you are specifically focused on right now to keep pushing forward into an energized future?
BARRY SCHELLENBERG: Three Priority Initiatives from our Atlas® Van Line & Agency Family Strategic Roadmap we are focusing on this year are Containerization Solutions, Agile Pricing Strategy, and Safety & Risk Mitigation. We have determined through numerous conversations with stakeholders that these are of the highest priority for the moment based on ROI and resources, but we always keep all seven of our Priority Initiatives in view as part of the bigger picture.
JANELLE PIATKOWSKI: Cornerstone is focused on revenue diversification and digital solutions to process our efficiency—while still being profitable. We are rebuilding and expanding all the U.S. key markets and global regions as things begin to change and open back up. That is really the next step for my team, to create a broader operational reach globally and to be able to scale to service larger clients. Atlas is a big name and has some of the biggest and best clients in the world. We want to be able to service those accounts, but we must be able to manage them appropriately. So, scaling the company is a top priority.
PHIL WAHL: One of the main priorities for us right now at Logistics is capacity management. We are putting focus on our carrier base and growing the base of carriers we use to broker traffic outside the Atlas network. As I said earlier, we are in sync with the van line on many of the other Priority Initiatives within our strategic plans like containerized service solutions because we are a main provider for that, and revenue diversification—which is why we acquired TopHAT.
STEVE TRENSCH: We are in an exceptional position at TopHAT right now in terms of growth—but controlling that growth smartly is our goal right now. We are being more strategic about which clients we work with and are focusing our energies on clients who are profitable and can be good partners with us. We are going after some major names right now and think that by landing one or two of those we will be able to grow and scale appropriately and give them the best service in the industry. But when we land that big client, we have to service them right. Because if we do not, we may not get the opportunity again. Reputation matters in this business.
FRED HALADAY: Atlas® Canada has four pillars of focus right now. The first is the AtlasNet® transition I mentioned earlier. Second is our Operational Execution Plan that will help clean up and simplify operational and communication tactics for our North American Agents. Third is revenue growth. We need to continually strengthen our position on where our pricing is in the marketplace to attract customers, but also to make sure that we are attracting great talent in the market with so much competition happening. Speaking of that talent brings me to the final pillar, succession planning. We are making sure we are developing the folks that are here now to be the leaders our company needs in the future.
TIM HALL: Atlas® International’s strategic plan for this year and moving forward is a continued investment in technology. We recently developed a brand-new website that invests more in consumer business, creates a better customer experience, and redefines our personality in the marketplace to drive more leads for our Agent family. The consumer channel continues to be one of the leading drivers of the international bounce-back. We are seeing a lot of folks from the private side starting to make international moves, and we are taking full advantage of that.
JESSICA NICHOLS: Avail has been focusing on being a solution for our Atlas® bookers and our cost base to have scalability within the organization. We want to continue to support the subsidiary and Agent efforts in growing and diversifying their business lines by being that additional support staff they need through things like our Customer Care program, which can help them be financially responsible and create sustainability within their growth while providing the same level—if not better— service to their customers.
DANIEL ROOS: Supply chain issues have been and will continue to be a huge focus for Atlas® Terminal Company, but we are also putting a big push behind our training programs. We are creating more certification programs to add value to our team and, as a direct result, to our customers. We are seeing great success in cross-training by utilizing our experienced employees to train newer team members, sharing their talents as related to repairs and larger trailer refurbishing. Also, customers may not realize we offer packing materials and supplies at ATC. I am excited to get the messaging out into our network that we offer many cost-effective options.
RUDY PLANAVSKY: Champion has four primary strategic areas of focus right now: sales, operations, information technology, and human resources. Each is led by someone with experience in our industry, and their teams are examining how to tackle and execute on those areas in support of our overall plan. We are also working closely with the domestic Agents while international volume has cooled and have found these newer partnerships to be successful in gaining new business opportunities.
JENNIFER BUTLER: We are finding ways to bring more value to our travelers. One way we are doing that is a monthly “Travel Talk,” which is a newsletter we’ve put in place informing travelers of changes to the travel industry—of which there are many. We are also strengthening our relationships with suppliers and generating new ones to help find further value to pass along to our clients. Again, it is all about focusing on what value we can bring to them.
MATT VAN DER LINDE: For Titan, one of the things we are examining right now is how not to be as reliant on the hospitality business as it seems to be impacted quicker and longer whenever there is a downturn in the economy. We have learned that anything can happen, but we are being very optimistic and planning a very aggressive growth pattern over the next five years to rebuild stronger.
AA: The transportation and household goods industry has faced unprecedented challenges in the past two years, but there seems to be a sense of positive change happening. What signs are you seeing that the roadblocks you have encountered are starting to fall away?
FRED HALADAY: Before the pandemic we were seeing a decline in long-distance moves in domestic Canada. But business is booming again in that sector due to the housing market, and we are seeing demand that is sparking job growth and opportunity for the workforce to get into this business and help make a difference for customers. All of that is going to keep us very busy as we move into 2022 and beyond.
TIM HALL: There is still much that is out of our control as we navigate our way back to “normal,” but what we do have control over is the way we communicate any service hiccups with our customers. We have had to keep them updated of their move progress in a very different way from what we have historically had to do. But because of that communication, we have been seeing many customers coming back to us, and using us repeatedly because they trust our brand and our company and know that we are doing what we can to make things happen for them. That has been a nice treasure to find in all of this.
JESSICA NICHOLS: We have seen a continued uptick in volume of shipments. And in talking to customers and clients about their willingness to move domestically or internationally, we have heard that they are being more open to that as things return to quasi-normal. We are seeing growth, we are seeing developments, and we are having conversations about the future now with our customers and clients that feel tangible.
JENNIFER BUTLER: We had corporate clients in the past that would book with us every now and then, but now it is every single time they travel. And they are directing their teams to do the same because of the value we have been able to provide them through these challenging times. It just goes back to those great relationships we have with our vendors to be able to offer our customers certain options that are harder to come by these days. It has been invigorating to see that change happen after feeling static for so long.
AA: Finally, there is a palpable sense of positive, kinetic energy driving all of Atlas® right now. What are you and your teams most excited about for what is happening now and what is coming next?
BARRY SCHELLENBERG: We are seeing wins come out of what we are doing, which is driving and reinforcing the message that we have chosen to work on the right things. We are seeing the execution value come through in the results. We are truly creating business leaders here rather than siloed management that only focuses on one piece of the business. Everyone here is one component of a process that involves everybody in this facility and our Agents in the field, and our people are understanding the relationship between what they do and the departments around them. Their excitement is a recognition of the work that has been done, and it has been rewarding for me as a leader to provide that kinetic energy to get that ball rolling.
JANELLE PIATKOWSKI: In my opinion, this is no time for “Chicken Little” pessimism with all the morphing and new opportunities we see emerging. Two years of focused strategic adjustments have really paid off, as evidenced by the recent industry survey results that put us in the No. 2 spot overall. Retaining the Cornerstone culture as we scale, not being afraid to make bold moves, being unified and innovating are how we will lead the way for the next iteration of mobility. Our team couldn’t be more excited about our future!
PHIL WAHL: We had a lot of momentum before the pandemic and then hit a wall very quickly. But we are seeing that momentum building again and are very optimistic about the positive signs we are seeing. Both my team and I are also excited to be meeting in person more again, see more cars in the parking lot, and have fresh new talent join our ranks to help us service our clients in a better way. At the end of the day, it is all about that human aspect. You cannot put a price tag on that.
FRED HALADAY: It is kind of like coming out of hibernation! Our clients are excited to attend Forum this year in Chicago. We are human beings, and human beings need to interact. We have all adapted well to the Zoom way of doing things, but nothing beats the original. It is vital for building our culture.
TIM HALL: Challenges bring critical thinking to the table, and it has been inspiring to see our team approach service problems with unique solutions. That is energizing in and of itself.
DANIEL ROOS: With all the strategic planning happening throughout AWG, it has been a great time for our employees because they really feel like they have a seat at the table. And that is not to suggest in any way that they did not have that voice before, but the collaboration across every corner of AWG has really ramped up. They feel like they are heard and that the strategies being put into play are thoughtful, positive, and support the culture they have all built. It is a huge benefit for everybody.
RUDY PLANAVSKY: Yes, we can feel that fog lifting. We are back in the office seeing new faces and old friends. That is all creating this level of energy that we can all sense by being together and being excited about what lies ahead. It is nice to have that kind of outlook again.
JENNIFER BUTLER: Everybody is ready to travel, and we are excited to be there to walk through the changes that have happened since they may have traveled last. A couple of years ago we were not sure when or if it would return at the corporate level. It is nice that it has come back and we are ready and eager to go new places!