Group photo for horizon air freight staff

“A Mini United Nations”: An Interview with Steve Leondis Regarding Diversity at Horizon Air Freight

Over the last couple of years, Horizon Air Freight has experienced remarkable growth. During this period of expansion, we’ve added many staff members, and combined forces with powerful partners to elevate our global reach.

During a routine walk around the office recently, CEO Steve Leondis found himself noticing that this company growth has had multiple positive impacts. And a big one included the breadth of diversity among the staff.

“Even from the beginning,” he remarks, “Horizon has been multicultural. We are, after all, a global organization, founded by my father who was a Greek immigrant to the United States. But now I can really see that, as much as we serve global companies around the world, our staff members reflect that too.”

The team at Horizon has long included men and women from diverse backgrounds. But Leondis was struck by the sheer number of nationalities represented to date. Currently, the combined nationalities represented across Horizon’s New York, Miami, Seattle, Houston, and Argentina offices include:

  • Argentinian
  • Bangladeshian
  • Bulgarian
  • Chinese
  • Ecuadorian
  • Filipino
  • German
  • Greek
  • Guyanese
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • Jamaican
  • Puerto Rican
  • Russian
  • Serbian
  • Turkish
  • Ukrainian
  • Vietnamese

Leondis attributes this breadth of representation to a few simple things.

Common Respect & A Common Cause

“Historically the mindset has always been to hire for the job,” Leondis insists. “I learned that from my father. Whoever fit the job description was hired, period. That’s always how we’ve looked at things. Just hire for the job. So that’s in our backbone, but in the last year or so the applicants are even more diverse than before. It’s not just individuals from New York anymore, or even people from the logistics space. And I love this.”

Even when hiring from a more diverse pool, however, the common goal at Horizon has continued to remain the same.

“Our common goal is always to serve the customer,” Leondis states. “Recently we went through a DE&I exercise involving individual and team interviews over a couple of months. And at the conclusion, serving our customers came through loud and clear as everyone’s primary goal. That dedication is what unites every single person who works here. And I think that comes through to our clients, as well.”

Expressing mutual care and respect for one another has been another key element to the success of Horizon’s diversity.

“Historically we’ve been available for all of our employees 24/7. For a company of our size, that is an outlier,” Leondis admits, “but that’s who we are. My office door is open for anyone at any time, and my phone is available. Given the pressure and busy-ness we experience, we always take time to unite people with simple, but personal, things. We celebrate everyone’s birthday with cake and coffee, for example. We recognize everyone from A to Z.”

Beyond providing a pleasant, empathic workplace and competitive compensation, Leondis also believes “a big differentiator is that we treat customers and employees as individuals. Whether it’s a warehouseman, truck driver, or senior salesperson — everyone deserves the same respect. That’s how we’ve developed as a company, and that’s what we want to keep as we grow.”

The Benefits of a Blended Workforce

“I’m at the office very early each morning,” Leondis says, “so I see everyone come in. When I walk into the kitchen to have coffee, I see a very diverse group sitting and enjoying the start of their morning together. But beyond this friendliness, teamwork is required to meet the daily challenges. These diverse personalities all come together to create the best solutions.”

Combining diverse resources across the team to solve problems makes the company stronger, Leondis insists. But a multicultural workforce can also strengthen relationships with clients.

Leondis intends to build into that strength even more as the company continues to grow internationally. “As our services become more global, we may utilize even more individuals familiar with different languages and cultures to help grow our business in those areas, or even help us get new business in other locations.”

Thinking Like a Businessperson

Early clients of Horizon Air Freight were largely from Greece — homeland of founder Anthony Leondis. As the business grew to include more U.S. shipping companies, the elder Leondis would occasionally send another representative instead of himself. “He had a heavy Greek accent,” Steve Leondis explains, “and he didn’t think a Greek immigrant would serve well to pitch for the business. I don’t have that same feeling he did, but it has given me an understanding of moving between two worlds. And the biggest thing this larger worldview has helped me with as a CEO is to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”

For Leondis, this means when visiting a client in Germany for example, to consider their needs, demands, and expectations. And keep an open mind as to how they may be viewing you and your own culture, as well.

“In these situations,” Leondis asserts, “I don’t think of myself as an American. Instead I think of myself as a businessman, and try to relate to my customers that way.”

Leondis encourages this macro-level thinking for everyone at Horizon, regardless of their position or background. And he hopes that continued connection and collaboration will empower everyone to conduct their work similarly.

How else can Horizon benefit from and celebrate this remarkable diversity in the future? There are a multitude of ways. “For one,” Leondis says happily, “I think we should have a cultural food day where everyone brings something to share from their homeland.”

Given Horizon’s diverse team and global reach, that will make for quite a feast.