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Michelle Halkerston began her career as a database specialist at NASA, and she never dreamed that she’d eventually make the leap to owning a logistics business. But as owner, president, and CEO of Hassett Logistics, Halkerston combines a technology background with the leadership skills she’s built over three decades to take her company to new heights.
Although unexpected, Halkerston’s career journey was a natural evolution. After three years at NASA, she left to join a large logistics company that used the same database and programming language. She eventually became director of logistics systems and developed a deep interest in creating transportation software solutions.
That foundational era showed Halkerston the potential for combining logistics and technology. Halkerston was part of a team that developed a logistics management system (LMS) supporting dedicated fleets and complex dispatch and routing operations. The company was among the first to have telematics systems installed in truck dashboards which, when integrated with their custom LMS, provided real-time visibility of products and vehicles.
Creating these innovations helped Halkerston expand her business expertise. “In order to design effective software solutions, you have to ask lots of questions and learn the business and the industry you’re supporting,” she says.
Halkerston then transitioned to Caliber Logistics as director of e-commerce strategy, a move designed to help her step further into the business side of the industry. FedEx acquired Caliber in 1997, and Halkerston stayed on for a couple more years before leaving for a brief stint at a start-up.
Her career at Hassett began in 2001 when the airfreight forwarding company was the recognized leader in the transportation of time-sensitive magazines. Company owners were looking for someone to lead the organization’s marketing and strategic planning efforts, and Halkerston was one of several candidates in a nationwide search.
Halkerston believed she had more to offer than her competitors. “I saw that Hassett focused on operations excellence but needed to leverage technology in order to be efficient and meet customer expectations,” she says. She pitched herself as the right logistics leader with the right technology background and got the job.
“I saw that Hassett focused on operations excellence but needed to leverage technology in order to be efficient and meet customer expectations.”
She focused on learning the specifics of airfreight and traveled the country meeting with customers to understand their distribution challenges. Halkerston led Hassett through a months-long initiative to map internal workflows and functions, resulting in improved business processes. Two years later, Halkerston became president of Hassett. Under her leadership, the company diversified its customer base and transportation modes.
Then, in 2013, Hassett’s longtime owners had decided to sell. Halkerston, fearing that new owners would disrupt the culture and limit opportunities for the existing team, took matters into her own hands. She talked to the owners and worked with a legal advisor and a bank on funding before deciding to buy the company herself. “It was a unique opportunity to bet on myself and my team,” she says. “We would be able to protect our culture and autonomy. Plus, it gave a sense of stability to our team.”
As Halkerston took the reins, she thought a lot about the team and bringing on new talent. “Our team was known for their long tenure as well as strong operations and customer service experience,” she says. “I wanted to build on that foundation and strengthen our team by recruiting people with different experiences.”
Halkerston made a few key hires to complement her existing team but says she didn’t focus on MBAs and data scientists as other logistics companies often do. “Certain roles require specific skills and training, of course,” she explains. “We look for people who are dedicated to our customers and who are savvy problem-solvers, and who also support each other and have a healthy sense of fun. That’s what sets us apart.”
The approach is a bit unusual, but Halkerston, who grew up in a two-traffic-light town, says her parents demonstrated the importance of resiliency, a positive attitude, and a strong work ethic. Both parents were impacted by mill closings in the late 1970s, losing good paying jobs and forced to find work in other industries. “I grew up seeing both of my parents work to support our family,” she says. “They found ways to adapt in the face of challenges and taught us the value of not only working hard but doing it well.”
“It was a unique opportunity to bet on myself and my team.”
With Halkerston’s team in place, it was time to scale the business. “We are probably the biggest domestic airfreight forwarder that no one has heard of, but we’re ready to shed that image and share our story. We focus on providing an exceptional customer experience through a combination of deep industry knowledge, technology and strong partnerships,” Halkerston says.
In early 2019, Hassett restructured around service verticals to support customers in areas including e-commerce, events logistics, self-service kiosks, retail rollout projects, education, gaming, and publications. Hassett Express rebranded as Hassett Logistics to better reflect the company’s offerings.
The new structure is designed to support growth while also enabling the company to withstand downturns. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and one major business segment—live events—shut down, Hassett redeployed personnel to its other service verticals. Halkerston says 2020 also underscored the strong culture of teamwork and trust built over many years.
Leaders devised plans to keep essential workers safe and personally communicated with team members. Managers worked to source and purchase personal protective equipment, sometimes from existing customers. The entire team came together to keep Hassett open for business. And now, with an experienced leader at the helm and a new structure in place, the company is ready for what lies ahead.
BMO Harris congratulates Michelle Halkerston and her notable accomplishments. As one of the oldest and largest banks in the U.S., we are proud to be a financial partner to Hassett Logistics.