Andy Clarke of Panther Expedited
Mr. Dan Sokolowski said, "I have worked closely with Andy and have a high regard for his leadership abilities, wealth of experience and superb business acumen. The Panther board and I are confident he has the creative and strategic vision, as well as a deep base of industry knowledge, to take the company to the next level of financial and operational excellence."
So reads part of the April 26 Press Release announcing the promotion of Panther Expedited Services President Andrew C. Clarke to the additional role of CEO.
In assuming the Chief Executive position of the largest independent non-asset based provider of expedited transportation services in North America, Clarke continues on a career path that began in 1989.
Originally from the Cincinnati, Ohio area, Andy Clarke (36) did his undergraduate work at Washington University in St. Louis and received his MBA from the University of Chicago. Ironically, when he was in school in St. Louis, he met a girl from Cincinnati and married her. The couple have three children aged 8, 6 and 4.
Clarke says that the children are already transportation-conscious and enjoy pointing out Panther vehicles when traveling the interstates.
Prior to joining Panther in 2006, Clarke was the Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Director of Forward Air Corporation, a non-asset based provider of time-definite ground transportation services to the air cargo industry.
Prior to joining Forward Air in 2000, Clarke was an investment banker with Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown in the Global Transportation Group.
He reflects on that avocation: "As an investment banker, I advised companies on mergers and acquisitions, debt restructuring and equity offerings, among other subjects. I worked with companies in different industries -transportation, chemicals, oil and gas and publishing."
"I enjoyed that line of work, but I gravitated towards transportation because I dealt with "real" people in that business. They were people who treated me well and who expected the same in return. I found that your word and your reputation meant something."
His work as an investment specialist and later with Forward Air, took him to stops in St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Baltimore, Atlanta and Greenville, TN.
After several missed connections, ExpeditersOnline was able to catch up with Andy Clarke and conduct a comprehensive phone interview. As he states in our conversation, the CEO is "bullish" on the expedited freight industry and of course, Panther Expedited Services in particular.
"To me, expedite is absolutely critical to the supply chain in the U.S.," says Clarke.
"The supply chains are getting shorter, the world is getting smaller, things are moving around and you have to be adaptive to fit the needs of your customers. We are very excited about our growth and what we're able to do for our customers."
"If you were to ask what was expedite fifteen years ago, to some people it was a dirty word! It meant that someone messed up. Today, and in the future, I think that expedite means time-definite supply chain management, a greater service level and greater visibility."
He continues, "That's what we're focusing on: how to utilize our resources, not just when there's a problem, but rather utilize us to manage a company's entire supply chain. For the last fifteen years, Panther has had a track record of continued growth, both in terms of the loads that we do as well as the miles."
"I have a saying that states, Our phone rings because our customers have a problem and it's our job to solve that problem."
"Our vision for the company's growth is well within the foundation of bringing to bear all the resources we have, that our owner-operators and partners provide to us. To me, that's what is exciting about the future of Panther."
Clarke adds, "We have been focusing on what we call hi-value products, where there is a high degree of care that needs to go along with that freight."
"Sure, it's time-definite freight, but what's really important when you're dealing with the government, or the Department of Defense, or the CDC or Microsoft - any customer with very valuable products on the back of our trucks - it's important that you're established and recognized as a high-quality, high-service provider/carrier."
Clarke tells us that "We absolutely love" Panther's automotive customers and its Midwest-based manufacturing customers, but "we understand that we have to branch into other verticals such as the Life Sciences and Hi-Value Products. They require those specialized services that we're able to provide."
"I believe automotive freight will continue to be an important part of expedite," says the CEO.
"Would I love to see the return of 0% financing? Absolutely! I think we all would, but barring that happening, there are automotive companies and suppliers, both foreign and domestic that use expedite in a total supply chain context."
Clarke explains that there will always be disruptions in the supply chain and that supply chains will shrink and companies are going to move production and distribution from place to place.
"Because companies will always move these things from place to place, there still have to be people who will solve those problems and manage that supply chain and get those products where they need to be. We continue to service that industry and grow our business with our clients in that field."
ExpeditersOnline: Is managing Panther a radical departure from your past experience and work history?
"Not really. Forward Air was an owner-operator environment as well and what I've been most impressed with since joining Panther is the quality of the people here (in Seville) as well as the quality of our partners, the owner-operators."
"My vision and our vision of partnering with high-quality people like our contractors help us provide the high level of service for our customers. That's what has been most exciting about joining Panther. That's not to say that all the other organizations I've worked for aren't great, it's just that I've been very impressed with the quality of the Panther people and the Panther owner-operators.â€
ExpeditersOnline: Are there any upcoming contractor-related initiatives that can be revealed at this time?
"We understand how important our owner-operators are to our success. For example, we'll be having our Driver Council meeting in conjunction with the Expedite Expo in Wilmington, Ohio. I'll be attending the show and will sit in on the meeting to listen to our drivers."
Clarke continues, "I think the best initiatives we have are the ones that come from the contractors themselves. I invite our drivers to come to our Driver Appreciation event; I'll be there all day and I look forward to sitting down with them and getting to know them."
"It's also a matter of getting back to basics - better communication with the fleet and our interaction with the drivers. The Driver Council is providing a wealth of information on fleet needs, perceptions and values that allow us the opportunity to come back to the table with strategies to address those issues."
"We have a number of new initiatives that will soon be revealed. We already have a host of technology improvements such as paperless logs with around 70% of the fleet using those logs successfully and the Omnivision equipment is being added to the fleet on a daily basis."
"We're beginning testing on the turn-by-turn navigation on the Qualcomm. The Qualcomm is becoming more like a laptop than ever before. Giving the driver Internet access in the truck will allow them to use the available web tools that will tell them where the hot freight areas are, where they need to reposition, etc. We have a number of great things coming down the pike very soon."
ExpeditersOnline: Does the cargo van have a future in expedited freight?
"Very much so. As an example, a few weeks ago we helped a pharmaceutical client with a very large distribution that was flown in on a plane. In this case, we were able to dispatch thirty cargo vans in one night to get the product to market the following morning."
"It was a very small product and there was no way we could have gotten the same number of tractors to do the job. We had the right piece of equipment in the right place at the right time, so we're very excited about our cargo vans. They definitely have an important role in expedite."
"If I might inject a recruiting note here, we could use another hundred trucks of all sizes at the present time!"
The personal side
â€œI developed an interest in cycling about five years ago. It's great exercise - a great aerobic workout but it doesn't beat up your body. I've cycled all across the U. S. and now I cycle competitively.â€
â€œPrior to that I was a runner but I've retired from that sport. I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2001. I like to say that I ran two races that day, my first and my last.â€œ
Of great interest to investors and Panther contractors alike is the timetable for the Panther IPO. Last June the company filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to take the company public, though it has not yet done so. Clarke said the company still plans to go public, though there is no time frame in place.
Clarke explains, "The issue is a matter of stability in the marketplace. We're going to go when we're comfortable in doing so. I think that with the growth we're experiencing, we just want to make sure we access it at the proper time. We don't want to rush it, we want to make sure everything is in place and that we're ready."
ExpeditersOnline: How would you characterize the relationship between Fenway Partners and Panther?
"Fenway Partners have been great business partners! We've been very pleased with the relationship that we have developed. Quite frankly, they allow us to execute our business strategy and they help to formulate that strategy. They provide very valuable insight, while at the same time they are a valuable partner and resource."
About Fenway Partners
Fenway Partners, Inc. is a middle market private equity firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles. Fenway invests in profitable businesses with significant upside potential.
Fenway companies typically have leading franchises and operate in two core industry segments, branded consumer products and transportation logistics. Its portfolio companies include sporting goods manufacturer Easton Bell Sports, school yearbook and class ring manufacturer American Achievement, transportation and logistics provider Greatwide, expedited ground transportation provider Panther Expedited Services, and intermodal trucking service provider RoadLink USA.
For further information about Fenway, please visit www.fenwaypartners.com.
The Panther fleet
"I think we have the best contractors in the country," says Panther's Chief Executive. The success of Panther is predicated upon our partners and our contractors who help us in being solutions providers for our customers."
"When they perform, we absolutely shine. I get a real sense of pride and satisfaction when a customer calls or shoots me an email to say 'this is what your team did for us, and it was over and above what we expected them to do. They kept our line up and running and they really saved us!' We rely on contractors like that to help our customers. The contractors have more to do with the customers' satisfaction than I do.
"We're very bullish on our contractors in cargo vans, straight trucks and tractors - we need them all!"
"I'm very pleased and honored to be part of such a great organization, from all the contractors to all of the employees and everyone associated with this organization. Those are the people who make it happen and who make us successful.â€