January 23, 2012 8:00 AM, EST

Editorial: Trucking Visionary Don Schneider

This Editorial appears in the Jan. 23 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today. 

There used to be a remarkably well-known advertisement for a now-defunct stock brokerage that went, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

In trucking, it can be said, with little fear of contradiction, that “When Schneider talks, the industry listens.”

Don Schneider, the man behind the fleet with those ubiquitous orange trucks, who turned his father’s small freight-moving business into one of the largest truckload carriers in the nation, died on Jan. 13 after a long illness.

But Don Schneider didn’t just build a profitable business, one that ranks as the sixth-largest for-hire fleet in the United States. He built a company that became known in the eyes of many observers as one of the most forward-looking, innovative fleets.

Schneider, who started at Schneider National as a mechanic’s helper in the 1950s, grabbed onto technology earlier than most of his peers and put it to work. And as a result, his company became the place where vendors with new ideas and products often went first.

And selling a new product to Schneider became the closest thing trucking has to a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

There are a lot of people in the trucking supply industry who live for the days when they can begin their sales pitches to a prospect with the magic words, “Schneider National uses this, and . . . .”

Don was a soft-spoken, polite and private gentleman, whom one reporter in 1994 aptly called “just another working guy . . . who happens to be president of one of the largest trucking fleets in the world.”

But Don also was “the first trucking executive to use scientific logistics, making sure each truck was filled and not just running traditional routes. In a conservative industry, Schneider wasn’t afraid to commit to up-front costs if he believed in the potential payoff,” in the words of the Wharton School of Business when it honored him in 2007.

While Don Schneider’s voice had not been heard in trucking in the past few years as he battled Alzheimer’s disease, he and the company he built continued to have a strong influence on our industry.

As Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations, put it, “The transportation and logistics industry has lost one of its most passionate and influential voices. Don Schneider was a visionary, bringing business acumen and technology to blaze a trail and set the standard in the modern-day development of our industry.”