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Real estate mogul Sam Zell acquires perishables forwarder Able Freight

Self-made billionaire Sam Zell’s investment company has acquired Able Freight, a Los Angeles-based international airfreight forwarder that specializes in transport of perishable goods.

Equity Group Investments, Chicago,  this week said it purchased a majority stake in Able with management participation from CEO Orlando Wong to tap the growing cold-chain logistics sector. 

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Able Freight focuses on temperature-controlled shipments, especially exports, of produce, meat, seafood, pharmaceuticals and flowers. It has 400 employees across eight facilities:  three at Los Angeles International Airport, including cold storage and freezer areas; two in Mexico; and one each in San Francisco and Hawaii.

The forwarder, which also manages ocean freight, offers a host of digital technologies designed to facilitate cold-chain logistics decisions, shipment visibility, truck transfers and workflow, and equipment such as commercial-grade air purifiers to extend the shelf-life of perishable goods

“We’re particularly drawn to entrepreneurial and innovative niche logistics companies which profile as strong growth platforms,” said EGI President Mark Sotir, in a statement. “Able has built a leading industry platform defined by its powerful global network of strategic partnerships including airlines, associations and more than 75 local service agents. Orlando is a strong steward and we look forward to supporting the company through its next phase of growth.”

Managing Director Evan Harwood, added: “The non-discretionary and time-sensitive nature of perishable goods has proven to be recession-resistant relative to traditional dry freight. We see strong potential for Able to expand its footprint as it pursues growth in different product verticals and geographies.”

Able is EGI’s fourth logistics in the past 28 months. In 2018 it bought Pasha Group, a domestic ocean shipping and logistics company with substantial operations processing automobiles at ports, stevedoring and automotive distribution. The same year it took a controlling stake in RailUSA, a holding company with two short-line/regional railroads. In 2019, it acquired Lanter Delivery Systems, an overnight trucking company serving automakers, heavy-duty truck manufacturers, industrial supply and equipment distributors and agriculture producers.

Family-run EGI uses Zell’s private capital rather than raising funds like typical private equity firms to invest in businesses.  

Zell has been interested in transportation and logistics since the 1980s when he invested in rail cars and shipping containers. He made his fortune buying distressed properties and then pioneering real estate investment trusts, sold his office-space holdings to Blackstone Group in 2006 for $36 billion and then tried to become a media mogul with the leveraged buyout of newspaper group Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy in the Great Recession. 

EGI’s current portfolio includes investments in energy, waste and infrastructure, manufacturing, healthcare, agribusiness and real estate.

“EGI’s history of growing businesses was highly attractive to us in selecting a partner,” said Wong. “The team provides strong operating expertise and understands the logistics sector. At the same time, they offer a breadth of knowledge across multiple industries for a broader perspective of best practices and insights.”

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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