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January 5, 2021 1:30 PM, EST

Daseke CEO Chris Easter Retires

Don Daseke and Chris EasterChris Easter (right) with Daseke founder Don Daseke in 2019. (Daseke)

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Daseke Inc. announced that Chris Easter has retired as CEO and as a member of the board of directors.

Jonathan Shepko has been appointed interim CEO until a permanent successor is hired. Shepko is director for the specialized transportation and logistics solutions company. Easter’s retirement was effective Dec. 31.

“This has been a very difficult decision for me personally, but I have a number of family-related obligations that need my full attention,” Easter said in a statement. “As a result, I made the decision to retire from Daseke.”

Brian Bonner

Bonner

Easter also applauded his team for successfully executing a dramatic turnaround in company performance while navigating a global pandemic. He believes the company is poised to continue forward with this momentum.

“The company spent a year rationalizing its platform through consolidation of 16 operating companies down to nine,” Shepko told Transport Topics. “We’re on track to deliver strong financial results for our stakeholders. It was a tremendous year and really 2021, how we’re looking at that, the company and the board, the main priority is continuing these improvements.”

Shepko added those improvements included driving operational efficiency, consolidating back-office functions, coordinating business development efforts among the operating companies and building a unified platform. He expects continuing that will lead to positive topline margins.

“We were grateful to Chris for his leadership, and we extended thanks to him for everything he did to get us to a point where this transition was very feasible,” board Chairman Brian Bonner told TT. “In the meantime, Jonathan has been named as the interim CEO by the board of directors until a permanent successor can be found.”

Bonner added that he, too, will be taking on additional responsibilities until then. He and Shepko will work to ensure the strategy Easter helped spearhead continues and to find a permanent successor.

“We want to make sure we’re making the right choice for Daseke,” Bonner said. “What we’re going to be looking for is someone who can continue to respect the culture that we have. The company has a great culture with a number of strong-performing operating companies. What we want is that respect as well as respect for the strategy that we have in place.”

The board has hired an executive search firm to assist in the search for a successor. Easter was named the permanent CEO in February 2020. He was interim CEO for six months starting when company founder Don Daseke retired in August 2019.

“It was certainly a surprise to us,” Stifel analyst David Ross told TT. “When I talked with the company yesterday, they confirmed it was Chris’ decision to spend more time with family because I guess there are some family issues that needed to be tended to. And knowing Chris as being a good guy who has his priorities in a certain order, it didn’t surprise me he basically made the decision to walk away from what he was doing and a good opportunity to spend time with his family because it was important to him.

“It’s not good news for Daseke shareholders because I thought Chris was a good CEO.”

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Ross added that because of the turnaround, Easter’s departure isn’t as disruptive as it might have been earlier last year. He noted the company is on the right track and the question is who will be named the successor.

“I think it’s going to be easier to recruit a new CEO than it would have been a year ago because the company is fundamentally in a better position,” Ross said. “For us, the bottom line is, all else equal, we would rather have Chris running the company. But that’s not an option, because Chris has priorities and his family is important, and we understand that and respect that. I know he would do both if he could.”

Daseke also said preliminary results indicate it performed well in the fourth quarter. It expects to release earnings and host a conference call at the end of January. The company also announced that it signed cooperation agreements with Lyons Capital and Don Daseke regarding the composition of the board of directors.

Daseke ranks No. 23 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

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