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Today’s Pickup: Daseke names Chris Easter CEO

Daseke has found a permanent replacement for its retired founder and namesake Don Daseke, naming interim CEO Chris Easter to the position. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Good day,

After six months of searching, Daseke (NASDAQ: DSKE) didn’t need to go far to find its new CEO, naming Chris Easter, the acting CEO, to the position permanently. Easter took over on an interim basis following the abrupt retirement of founder Don Daseke in August.

The board of directors made the decision Friday.

“Chris’ deep industry knowledge and leadership skills have been apparent to everyone at Daseke since he joined us as COO in January of 2019,” Brian Bonner, executive chairman, said. “However, his outstanding performance as our interim CEO since August of last year clearly set him apart from the other candidates we reviewed. Over the last six months, Chris acted with a clear sense of urgency to implement immediate change and transformation by significantly accelerating and expanding his previously announced operational and cost initiatives.”

Easter joined Daseke as chief operating officer in January 2019. His background includes more than 30 years of operational leadership serving in key transportation and logistics roles with the U.S. Army, Walmart and Schneider National. From 2012 to 2017, he served as CEO of Keen Transport, a specialized transportation, warehouse and logistics company focused on serving the industrial equipment market. 

In November, Easter expanded on his vision for Daseke in an exclusive interview with FreightWaves.

“So much of the immediate actions we are taking are so fundamental and so clear and obvious that I don’t know if it mattered who is sitting in the [CEO] chair,” he said at the time. “I take the title seriously, and the fact that it is interim [just means] it is a period of time. Myself and my team are working to get these clear things done. I don’t see that limiting us.”

Easter did not provide a timeline for when the transformation would be complete but did say that acquisitions – the thing Daseke is most known for – are on hold.

“Our focus is absolutely on the transformation,” he said. “For any serious contemplation of acquisitions, you want to have a really well-run operation before you embark on that path, and that is where our focus is right now.”

Bonner acknowledged Easter’s leadership during this time of transition.

“He … created a new leadership structure to better leverage the talent at our operating units and rallied our team around our new operational/cost goals, which allowed us to deliver strong financial performance in the face of soft market conditions. Most importantly, he’s pulled our organization together through a time of great change and developed a sense of passion and pride in our employee base that will help Daseke grow and thrive in the future,” he said. “He’s the right person to lead this organization and we all look forward to seeing him and our industry-leading team drive long-term value for all of our stakeholders.”

Easter thanked the board for the opportunity to lead Daseke moving forward.

“I am honored by the board’s decision to appoint me as CEO of Daseke,” he said in a statement. “The board has been very engaged and supportive of our management team’s work during the short six months since we launched our transformation plans. I am very fortunate to work alongside a team of leaders who are the best operators in our industry. These seasoned leaders are not only fantastic operators but they have successfully built and grown businesses. As we look forward, we believe it is critically important to keep this work simple and execute aggressively. We will continue to act with a sense of urgency and make the necessary changes to drive immediate and sustainable value for our customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. We are just getting started.”

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“It’s been very rewarding. It is my belief that the future of Daseke is stronger than ever. It’s exciting and I think we’ve got a team that is highly energized and excited to move forward.”

— Chris Easter, former interim CEO and newly named CEO of Daseke, on the future of the company in an interview with FreightWaves in November

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Final thoughts

When Chris Easter took over as interim CEO of Daseke in 2019, the company was in a state of transition. Known for its acquisition strategy, Daseke had grown to more than 16 operating companies, many of which continued to operate as separate entities. Easter told FreightWaves the company would focus on driving more operational efficiency and combining some functions where it made sense. The approach was met with enthusiasm by investors. “The Daseke story has gone from one of a high-risk roll-up that was poorly managed to an operational turnaround with some integration of companies and functions ahead,” wrote a Stifel research note released on Nov. 21. “While it’s too early to tell how well this team will execute, we applaud the company’s ‘cleaning house’ to signal their seriousness of becoming better.”

Easter was named permanent CEO on Friday, and it is clear the investment community will be watching closely.

Hammer down, everyone!

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]