by Emily Olson
Dina Hall is the president & CEO of the Illinois-based Champion Logistics Group, a 40-year-old family business and market leader in full-service, third-party logistics. The company specializes in the transportation of tradeshow exhibits and retail environments, and its reach extends nationwide.
With Hall at the helm, following her father, Lance Lucibello, who founded the company, Champion recently earned the Certified Women’s Business Enterprise designation. ECN spoke with Hall about the process of earning that designation, her vision for the company and how her team has weathered the extraordinarily challenging past year.
ECN: What was it like growing up in a family business?
Dina Hall: My father founded the business in 1980 when I was in junior high. Although there were a couple of summers in high school when I helped in the office, I never really saw myself working there. In college I majored in economics and thought I would be working in finance at a large corporation. That’s why it was so surprising that I got pulled into it. I was quite fortunate that I did.
ECN: How did that transition take place?
DH: The summer after I graduated from college, my father asked me to create an employee benefits program because he knew my strengths with organization. I fell in love with the culture he created and decided to stay. I headed up Champion’s human resources department, before moving into the roles of CEO and then president & CEO.
ECN: What did your role as VP of human resources teach you about the organization?
DH: I learned the importance of placing people in positions that play to their strengths rather than simply hiring someone to do a specific job. We often move individuals into roles that are more in line with a unique skill set or personality type they may have instead of the experience they bring on board.
ECN: Your brother, Drey Lucibello (pictured left), is in national sales development for Champion and shares ownership of the company. Do family politics ever play a role in Champion’s operation?
DH: Drey has been in sales long enough that a lot of his clients are business owners themselves. And they’re always shocked at how well the business is run. We are very good about setting boundaries and making sure we have that work/life balance.
ECN: How has the company evolved under your leadership?
DH: Prior to, and at the beginning of my career, Champion cast a wide net and serviced any type of freight we could make money moving. We realized in the early ’90s that we were especially good at servicing more specialized types of industries, like tradeshow, and began focusing on these areas of business. Niche markets have continued to play to our strengths through the years; however, through my leadership tenure, we have gotten better at analyzing which of these specialized markets to concentrate on, and the exhibit and live event industries have become our primary focus.
ECN: What’s it like to lead in a male-dominated industry?
DH: Looking at Champion, you would never know that we work in a male-dominated industry. About half of our employees are women, and many of our longest-tenured and most-experienced staff members are female. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many smart, hard-working and industry-savvy women. I am so proud that Champion is an outlier in that regard.
ECN: That’s an excellent segue into Champion’s recent designation as a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise. Why did you choose to pursue that designation?
DH: It meant a lot to me personally to be recognized as a woman-owned and -controlled business. I am also excited about the opportunity to network and learn from other WBEs, and for opportunities to work with other WBEs.
ECN: I looked through the application requirements. It looks like a lot of work!
DH: It was a long process. It took months to put all the paperwork together.
ECN: And then you were turned down!
DH: We were turned down the first time due to a technicality. When my father retired, my brother and I—we have such an incredible relationship—we took equal shares of the business to protect our families. But the majority of the business has to be woman-owned. So, I bought an additional share of the business and applied again six months later. That’s when we received the designation.
ECN: Are there any requirements to retain it?
DH: We have to do a yearly recertification. They are very particular about making sure that the people who have this certification deserve it.
ECN: And I imagine that going through this annual process also proves that you really want it.
DH: Yes. And having the designation has helped me already. The association holds conventions and networking opportunities and I’ve listened to some really incredible people talk about their business challenges. They provide so many learning opportunities. And if I ever have a problem or issue that I want to talk through, there’s always someone to call. It’s nice to know that I have an outlet for those sorts of things.
ECN: Champion is a very respected organization, known for having its own fleet. What else separates you from the competition?
DH: Champion has always been client-focused and strives to be an extension of our customers’ business. This often involves taking a deep dive into understanding their product or service, really getting to know key personnel, and often assigning a specific internal team to work directly with them on communication, goals and expectations. We also know that our employees are our greatest strength and we deeply value them. Our average employee has been with us more than 10 years. Through our more than 40 years of growth, we have maintained the small, family-owned culture, and I know that our employees see and believe that we appreciate them as extended family members.
ECN: How has this last more than a year of lockdowns impacted you and your company?
DH: It has certainly been the most challenging time in Champion’s history, and I have grown more professionally and personally during this time than at any other point in my career. Leaning on other business owners, specifically in the exhibit industry, has made this challenge easier to navigate. I have learned to let go of things I cannot control and move on from things I cannot change. I have learned to appreciate small victories and focus on long-term progress rather than short-term success. We got really good at branching out during COVID and doing things outside of our comfort zone to make sure we’re positioned to ride out any other storm that comes.
Unique in the industry, Champion has a transportation division specializing in the coordination of tradeshows and special events. Founded in 1980, with the commitment to exceptional service, Champion Logistics Group has grown to become a logistics leader. By using the Champion fleet and network of specialized tradeshow carriers, we provide the most reliable tradeshow transportation services in the industry. For more info, visit www.champlog.com.