After 76 years, Hassett Express continues to be a leader in freight transportation services. “We are committed to our core values and are a solid, very long-term company,” CEO Michelle Halkerston says.
In 1939, Hassett opened its doors as a local and interstate moving company. Operating as Hassett Moving & Storage, it became one of the original agents for Allied Van Lines in Chicago. In the 1980s, business evolved and it began offering air-freight services. The company then moved to its current location in Elmhurst, Ill., becoming Hassett Air Express. In October of 2013, Halkerston purchased the company that now operates as Hassett Express.
Today, under Halkerston’s ownership, Hassett offers a full menu of transportation services. “We’re recognized as a leading air freight forwarder,” she notes, adding that it offers ground services with its own trucks and drivers. “We also offer third-party logistics as well as white glove and specialty services.”
Hassett Express serves a diverse base that ranges from Fortune 500 clients to modestly sized customers. “Our customers value service and reliability,” Halkerston says, noting that its markets include publishing, eCommerce, gaming, retail and entertainment. “We ship a little bit of everything.”
The publishing market is a dominant niche for Hassett Express. Although the percentage of publication shipments has declined in recent years due to the popularity of e-publications, “It is still an important piece of what we do,” she says, noting that its clients include The Economist magazine.
Daniel Surette, vice president of finance and operations for The Economist, adds that the publication has used Hassett for more than 20 years. “They’re great from a service-level perspective,” he says.
Hassett Express can accommodate the weekly magazine’s tight distribution requirements. “Hassett has been more than a vendor,” Surette says. “They’re a partner and they work with us very closely so that our priorities are met.”
Hassett Express also has strong relationships with commercial airlines, which have been critical to serving its e-commerce customers during the holidays. “The holiday season is a very important part of the year. There are a lot of packages moving and a lot of people who are counting on receiving them on time,” Halkerston says.
A New Role
Halkerston has an extensive background in third-party logistics and previously worked for Penske Logistics. “Our team designed transportation management systems including integration to onboard computers,” she says, noting that she joined Hassett in 2001 and then bought the company 12 years later.
Hassett attracted interest from private equity and strategic buyers, but Halkerston felt her ownership better fit the company. “This way we could keep our history, our team, our values and our customers intact,” she explains.
Halkerston has enjoyed her leadership role. “When you have confidence in your services and ability to execute, it’s a great experience.”
A staff that shares that vision also helps. “We have a great team who are committed to our customers, to our community and to each other,” Halkerston says, noting that 60 percent of Hassett Express employees have been there for more than a decade with 21 percent of that team being drivers. “[We benefit from] their extensive knowledge and expertise.”
It is that very expertise, Halkerston emphasizes, that has allowed Hassett to be able to maintain its top safety rating. “Safety is a priority for us and our drivers take that seriously. Many of our drivers receive an annual safety bonus, some for 10, 15 and even 20 consecutive years. That is something we are very proud of.”
The transportation industry has evolved, and Hassett Express has changed with it. “We have adapted to make sure that we’re strong on the ground and in the air,” Halkerston says.
This has included adopting state-of-the-art technology. “We recently implemented new customer relationship management software that allows us to better support and communicate with our customers. We are now working on new software for our freight brokerage operation,” she explains.
Halkerston is committed to supporting industry initiatives. She was elected president of the Airforwarders Association for the 2015-2016 term. Her involvement has also led her to participate in the DuPage County Workforce Board and AWESOME, an organization focused on advancing women in supply chain. Halkerston says, “We support each other in our roles in the industry while recognizing the need to attract new talent into the field.”
An ongoing support of women in business also prompted Halkerston to get Hassett Express certified through the WBENC in 2014. “We are excited to be certified as a women-owned business enterprise, and are pleased to offer this as an additional benefit to existing and future customers,” Halkerston states.
Being the Best
Halkerston sees a strong future for Hassett Express, even though it operates in a competitive market. “I think competition is good,” she asserts. “We all have to be accountable and be the best company that we can be.”
Hassett Express will need to be thoughtful as it grows. “It needs to be managed growth, so we don’t lose any of our core values,” she explains. “We also need to get big enough to stay independent and I am confident that we can do that.”