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Moving in the blood

Mar 10, 2016
There are many family businesses in the international moving business, but few, perhaps, as successful as The Paxton Companies from Washington DC. Steve Jordan caught up with Freddy Paxton, the company’s chief marketing officer, to find out more.

There is a saying that if a family business survives the third generation, it will survive forever. Freddy Paxton and his brothers, Bill and Chris, represent the fourth generation of the Paxton family to run moving companies.  So, it looks like they are here to stay. 

It was way back in 1901 that Frederick D Paxton founded what was then District Transfer, a furniture moving business in Washington DC with mules and donkeys providing the pulling power.  Sadly Frederick died young so was unable to pass the business on to his son Albert Lee Paxton. 

However moving must have been in the Paxton genes because, after the war in 1947, true to the family legacy, Albert too got the moving bug and established Paxton Van Lines; a single truck operation that grew quickly on the strength of the federal government’s need for relocation services, fuelled in part by the enactment of the Marshall Plan. The moving industry has always been full of characters and Albert was no exception.  As well as being a first-class golfer, Albert had also worked as a page for Huey Pierce Long, Jr., the American politician who served as the Governor of Louisiana and was assassinated in 1935 shortly after announcing that he was running for president.  If it hadn’t been for another project he was working on for Mr Long, he would have been with him on the fateful day and the history of the moving company might have been very different – and shorter. 
In 1953, the company became an agent of Atlas Van Lines, the nation’s second largest household goods carrier, allowing it to provide a national service. By the 1960s, the company broadened its portfolio to include a wide array of commercial clients and office moving services. In 1971 under the leadership of Albert’s son, Frederick Paxton II, Paxton Van Lines formally became The Paxton Companies, complete with an array of new business endeavours: Paxton Record Retention, Office Moving Division, Corporate Relocation Services and Paxton International. 
In the 1980s, Frederick was instrumental in orchestrating the agent-led buyout of Atlas Van Lines.  Frederick is still an Atlas board member and the company has been one of the top bookers for over 30 years. 

Today the company looks very different, it’s moved on again.  It now has Bill as its COO, Freddy handling marketing and Chris managing the domestic operations.  “It’s still very much a family business,” said Freddy.  In the US the company has its head office in Washington DC, a further office in Richmond, Virginia, and sales teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville and coming soon in Dallas.  It employs around 400 people. 

But it is outside the USA that Paxton has its USP.  It has offices in London and Singapore, no great surprise there but, more unusually it has operations in Baghdad, Erbil and Basra in Iraq; Juba in South Sudan; Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan; Doha in Qatar and Peshawar in Pakistan. In fact Kabul was its first overseas office and currently employs over 60 people.  “Until recently we had an office in Tripoli as well,” said Freddy. “Unfortunately we can no longer provide a service in Libya.  Everywhere else the process is difficult, but at least they have a process.  But when there is no process it becomes like the Wild West.” Freddy explained that they opened these offices because it was often difficult to obtain services there that reached the standards required by corporations and governments. “They can be difficult places but they can also be very promising. They might be going through hard times but they have great people there and a strong hope for the future.” 

The Paxton adventure into these more remote locations began in the 1990s when John Connelly and Shannon Viveiros joined the company.  They had the international experience necessary to drive the company’s international expansion.  

Most of the work in these areas is for relief workers and those involved in development.  “They are wonderful people there,” said Freddy. “So many negative things are said about these countries but all the people want are a life, a job, to feed their families and for their children to be educated.  It’s amazing!  We always think people are dissimilar all the time but ultimately they are not.”   

Freddy came into the industry after completing business school.  He attended his first FIDI conference in London in 1999 and fell in love with the industry.  “I did EIM [Essentials in International Moving] with Ernst Jorge or Packimpex and a light bulb went off for me on the international side,” he explained. “It changed my direction.”   

He soon joined the FIDI 35 Club and became a member of its Board.  He became a trainer for EIM and warmed to the task. “It let me get to know the students around the world and help them learn and love what they do. Now, as a member of the FIDI Board, I oversee the development and growth of the FIDI academy.”  Freddy explained that the EIM allows students to learn face-to-face with their piers however, for some, it’s not possible to spend the time out of the office or afford the costs involved. “So we now also have the FIM [Fundamentals of International Shipping] which is all done online and helps to keep the cost down. It’s about improving the industry and the services we deliver.”  FIM is a requirement of FIDI/FAIM.   

What plans does Freddy have for the future?  There will be further expansion of course but only into areas where there are not already reliable FIDI agents.  Personally, Freddy plans on hanging around for a while longer.  “I love the industry, the people, and the customers,” he said.  “I’ll probably be working in the industry until I am 90.” 

Paxton has successfully survived the ‘third generation test’. As Freddy said, it must be in the blood. 

Photos:  Main photo: Freddy and Bill Paxton; middle right: Shannon Viveiros; bottom left: the Paxton Companies now employ over 400 people.

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