Happy 100th Birthday, New England Motor Freight! What a ride, chairman says
New England Motor Freight. NEMF, whose maroon colored trucks and trailers are ubiquitous in the Boston-New York-Washington “Acela Corridor,” hits the century mark this year as the company celebrates 100 years of operating during its year-long centennial celebration.
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In an era of cutthroat competition and profit measured in pennies on the dollar, if a trucking company lasts ten years it’s worth celebrating. Only a handful of carriers operating today have ever logged 50 years in existence.
Then there is Elizabeth, N.J.-based New England Motor Freight. NEMF, whose maroon colored trucks and trailers are ubiquitous in the Boston-New York-Washington “Acela Corridor,” hits the century mark this year as the company celebrates 100 years of operating during its year-long centennial celebration.
NEMF, along with 111-year-old UPS, are the only freight companies of any size and scope to reach the century mark while operating continuously in North America. Like publicly held UPS, privately held NEMF is solidly profitable under the leadership of Myron P. “Mike” Shevell, its indefatigable 83-year-old chairman of the Shevell Companies, NEMF’s parent company.
“It’s a helluva jump from even 50 years ago, let alone 100,” Shevell told LM. Shevell’s fascination with the trucking business began in childhood. At age 13 he was making pickups and deliveries in and around his native Perth Amboy, N.J., for his father’s trucking company, Apex Express in 1950. The elder Shevell started that company in 1923.
The origins of NEMF can be traced back to 1918 to a small New Jersey-based trucking company that delivered products for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), then headquartered in New York City. Over the years, the company moved beyond biscuits and hauled other products such as pre-prohibition liquor and cigarettes, according to legend.
They even delivered milk to merchants from a small N.J. dairy farm that at the time was known as Fair Lawn Dairies, which would later be acquired by the larger Farmland Dairies. Farmland eventually wound up purchasing the trucking assets of their delivery provider which by then was known as New England Motor Freight.
Mike Shevell entered the executive ranks of the industry in 1953 as vice president of Apex Express. In 1958, he became president of Royal Motor Lines, another family business in Perth Amboy. He remained in that position until 1963, when the company merged with Eastern Freight Ways. He became vice president and COO of Eastern, which still operates as a truckload unit of the Shevell Companies.
Shevell and his brother, Daniel, ran Eastern and greatly improved that carrier’s operations back in the regulated era of trucking. In an eight year span, Eastern increased its gross revenues from $6 million to $50 million and its net worth from $1 million to $9 million.
In 1974, Eastern received a grant of temporary operating authority from the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission to manage Associated Transport and to assume permanent control one year later. Shevell was elected president and CEO of both companies.
In 1976, beset by the financial difficulties inherited with the acquisition of Associated, the companies entered bankruptcy and requested to be dissolved.
Out of the ashes of bankruptcy, Shevell’s fortunes rose like a phoenix. Shevell then bought New England Motor Freight, a troubled Northeast regional less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier, from Farmland Dairies.
Under his leadership, NEMF was built into profitability following the deregulation of the industry through the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. While giants such as J.B. Hunt, Schneider and Swift Transportation began shortly after deregulation, NEMF’s fortunes began to rise prior to 1980 and really took off in the deregulated environment.
There are only a handful of companies from the regulated era to survive in deregulation. Of the top 50 trucking companies in 1979, the final year before deregulation, only YRC (parent of Yellow Freight and Holland and two other regional carriers), ABF and two other smaller companies, exist today. NEMF was not among the top 50 trucking companies then, but is now—ranking 17th in LM’s list of the Top 25 LTL carriers.
NEMF has grown from 55 units and five terminals prior to 1980 to more than 4,000 pieces of equipment and 30 terminals throughout the Northeast. It is now the region's fastest-growing family-owned LTL carrier. NEMF also boasts terminals in Florida, Puerto Rico and Canada and reaches 80 percent of the U.S. population through service partnerships.
“Now it’s a whole new ballgame,” Shevell said when asked the difference between operating in the regulated environment where routes and rates were set by the government and today’s free-for-all, entrepreneurial-driven deregulated era.
Thomas W. Connery, president and COO of NEMF, said his team is “extremely proud of our long heritage” and its hard-working and dedicated employees. NEMF is poised for the future with the third generation of the Shevell family now actively involved in the management of the company.
“Today there’s a shortage of drivers, all the (non-economic) regulations, it’s not even close as same thing before,” Shevell said.
Asked what happened to the carriers who did not survive in deregulation, Shevell quipped: “A lot of these guys took the money and ran.”
Instead, Shevell has put his nose to the grindstone and worked. He still toils relentlessly either directly at the Elizabeth headquarters or working remotely from his homes in Florida and elsewhere.
During his illustrious career, Shevell has won too many awards for any single trophy case. In 1999, he was named “Master Entrepreneur” in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. That was for “management excellence” over a sustained period of time. It is one of the most prestigious awards that can be given to an independent business owner in the United States.
Shevell also is chairman of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association and vice chairman of the board of directors of New Jersey Transit.
But he says he still gets the same charge from seeing one of his trucks rumble down the highways as he did while loading trucks as a 13-year-old.
“Every day I see one of my trucks I thank God that we were able to accomplish what we did accomplish,” Shevell said. “The number of people we were able to hire, their families, the kids we helped put through college because they had a good-paying steady job for decades. It’s just a tremendous feeling.”
NEMF is celebrating the occasion with special 100-year logos on its trucks and trailers. It also plans several mid-year worker appreciation celebrations on site with terminal workers and drivers.
In other words, exactly Mike Shevell’s kind of people.
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