Bob Shellman, the founder, president and CEO of Danbury’s Odyssey Logistics & Technology Corp., pulls few punches when it comes to talking about practically any subject.
Speaking in a conference room at Odyssey’s headquarters at 39 Old Ridgebury Road — long known as the Matrix Corporate Center, now being renovated and rebranded as The Ridge at Danbury — Shellman is forthright about his privately held firm’s continued strong performance: Fifteen consecutive years of continued growth, including 17 percent year-over-year in 2018 and over $1 billion in gross revenue.
“We’re a solutions provider on a global scale,” he said. “And we’ve been able to consistently build through organic growth, acquisitions and innovation.”
The most notable of its acquisitions was last year’s $465 million deal for AFF Global Logistics, based in Fife, Washington. A third-party logistics provider and freight forwarder operating in global markets, AFF was a market leader in providing door-to-door domestic forwarding for U.S. offshore markets such as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico.
The deal — Odyssey’s largest to date — added 35 locations and 600 employees to its network of 37 locations and 1,800 employees. About 150 work at the Danbury location. Not bad, Shellman noted, for the firm he started in 2003 “with five employees and no customers.”
The Southbury resident launched Odyssey via his personal assets and some venture capital investments on what he and other employees refer to as a poorly lit space on the Matrix/Ridge’s first floor. Today it commands some 25,000 square feet on its airy fourth floor. Cosmo Alberico, chief operating officer and CFO, said there is room to expand further, which both he and Shellman indicated could be in the cards.
Odyssey has introduced the patent-pending “flexitank,” an intermodal solution for the bulk liquid industry. Available in 20-foot and 40-foot models, the flexitanks are designed to minimize liquid dynamics and is the only American Association of Railroads (AAR)-approved single compartment 40-foot unit available on the market.
The product helps with safety, sustainability and cost savings, Shellman said, noting that by using flexitanks for long-haul shipments — either by train or ship — rather than trucks, carbon footprints are decreased and overall cost savings are achieved for its customers.
And bulk liquid is a big part of Odyssey’s business. The company is responsible for transporting a significant amount of orange juice from Mexico as citrus greening disease — wherein the fruit falls to the ground still green — continues to affect domestic product. In 2017, the U.S. imported 34.8 million and 17.9 million single strength-equivalent gallons of orange juice from Brazil and Mexico, respectively, accounting for 99.3 percent of orange juice imports.
And thanks to the AFF deal, Odyssey is also benefiting from transporting milk from California to Hawaii, and carrying volcanic water on return trips, again relying on flexitanks for much of that business.
Alberico said Odyssey is “constantly” looking at other possible acquisitions, based largely on “whether they would further enhance our customers’ positive overall supply-chain experience.”
Shellman hardly just happened to stray into logistics — or, for that matter, into Danbury. He previously was CEO of UniGlobal Logistics, which managed transport and logistics for over $9 billion in global product sales for such clients as Honeywell, BP and Shell Chemical. UniGlobal was a subsidiary of Union Carbide, which made the Matrix/Ridge its corporate headquarters.
While he remains enamored of Odyssey’s Danbury headquarters – and believes that the improvements already taking place there under the aegis of Southport-based Summit Development, which acquired the property last October for $17 million, will return it to its former glory as an attractive home for other companies – Shellman is decidedly less so when it comes to Connecticut at large.
“I’m very disappointed” by the current state of Connecticut, he said. “When I moved to Connecticut in 1986, there was no income tax, booming employment — over 3,000 people in this building alone — and the state was viewed as a shining star.”
Shellman blames failed policies — and a continued nonbusiness-friendly attitude — in Hartford as the cause for much of the resulting troubles. M. Jodi Rell, the Republican who was governor from 2004-11, had no vision for how to encourage companies to come to Connecticut, he said.
As for Democrat Dannel Malloy, who served from 2011 to January 2019, “he sounded wonderful on the telephone,” Shellman said.
“We all saw those jobs and economic wealth leaving the state” during Malloy’s tenure, he said. “It matters little to us if the governor is a Democrat or a Republican. We just want someone with common sense when it comes to relating to business.”
Although Odyssey thought about leaving the state as little as 18 months ago, Alberico said the decision to stay came largely due to the disruption that would have meant for many of its employees.
Shellman warned, however, that may not be the case when Odyssey spins off WIN (Web Integrated Network), a scalable, no-cost/no-fee, web-based transportation management system that promises shippers savings opportunities, freight-spend visibility and process efficiencies.
Shellman said WIN will likely be spun off by the end of this year or early next year and warned that, while Odyssey’s patience with the state may continue, the same may not be true if a suitor takes a majority stake in WIN.