This story appears in the Jan. 23 print edition of Transport Topics.
Don Schneider, chairman emeritus and former president and CEO of Schneider National Inc. — and one of the nation’s most influential trucking executives — died Jan. 13 in De Pere, Wis., after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 76.
Schneider transformed a trucking business started by his father in 1935 into one of the largest truckload freight carriers in the United States, one known for its ubiquitous orange tractors and trailers and its willingness to invest heavily in technology.
Schneider National was one of the first motor carriers to adopt satellite-based mobile communications devices for its trucks and to establish a logistics subsidiary to provide transportation management services for shippers.
Schneider National, Green Bay, Wis., ranks No. 6 on the Transport Topics Top 100 listing of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers and No. 3 on the TT Top 50 Logistics Companies list.
Revenue of the privately owned company grew from $82 million in 1976 — when Schneider became president — to $2.6 billion when he retired in 2002.
“The transportation and logistics industry has lost one of its most passionate and influential voices,” said Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations. “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.”
Schneider’s father, A.J. “Al” Schneider, used proceeds from the sale of the family car to buy his first truck. He would later buy Bins Transfer & Storage and change the name to Schneider Transport & Storage.
Don Schneider was Al Schneider’s oldest son. He started working for the company in the early 1950s, while he was still in high school, first as a mechanic’s helper and then as a truck driver.
After graduating from St. Norbert College with a degree in business in 1957 and serving a 13-month military tour of duty in Korea, Schneider enrolled in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Master of Business Administration degree.
In 1961, Schneider returned to the family business as a manager and, over the next two decades, he helped it to expand by acquiring other carriers and securing authority to haul new products, such as paper and auto parts.
After passage of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated many aspects of trucking, Schneider greatly expanded the company’s nonunion over-the-road truckload operations, launched an intermodal rail service and created Schneider Logistics to help companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors and PPG Industries to better manage freight shipments.
Schneider had a knack for attracting and developing top talent.
For example, Christopher Lofgren, who succeeded Schneider as company president and CEO, holds a Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
“Don Schneider was one of the finest individuals I have ever known,” Lofgren said. “He was true to his convictions and committed to his values. He entrusted our management team to continue his vision of providing exceptional transportation and logistics services at a fair price, while enhancing the standard of living worldwide.”
Steve Duley, vice president of purchasing for Schneider, is regarded as a top expert on equipment maintenance and technology. And Don Osterberg, the company’s top safety executive, has played a key role in development of federal safety and security regulations.
A profile published by the Milwaukee Journal magazine in 1994 described Don Schneider as “just another working guy” who “happens to be president of one of the largest trucking fleets in the world.”
“To friends and others who know him well, he is honest and ethical, a Roman Catholic so serious about human values that some call him ‘Father Schneider.’ He is a very private person, not especially social, and has only a small cadre of close friends,” reporter Richard Kenyon wrote.
“He hunts, skis, runs and loves to care for trees, and to be with his wife, five children and seven grandchildren. He also loves the Green Bay Packers, and he serves on the organization’s executive committee.”
In 2007, officials at the Wharton School recognized Schneider as one of the school’s most influential graduates.
“Deregulation in the 1980s could have killed Schneider National, but Donald Schneider was determined that if he could stay ahead of his newly deregulated competitors, he could survive and thrive,” the school wrote as part of a series honoring 125 influential people and ideas for the school’s 125th anniversary.
“He 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 upfront costs if he believed in the potential payoff.”
In 2011, the Transportation Research Forum presented its President’s Award to Schneider in recognition of his contributions to the practice of transportation management, operations, planning, finance and public policy.
For a time in the 1990s, Schneider served as a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and was once described by prominent trucking investor John Terry as “a trucker who thinks like an economist.”
“Don Schneider was that combination of economic competitiveness and high moral standards that was perfect to build the great trucking enterprise he built,” Terry said last week.
Forbes magazine lists Schneider as one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of $2.5 billion in 2011.
Schneider founded the Schneider National Foundation and contributed time and money to many charitable causes. including a capital campaign for Notre Dame Academy and the annual campaign for United Way of Brown County. An outdoor athletic complex at St. Norbert College is named in his honor.
Schneider is survived by his wife Patricia, five children, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A ceremony to honor Don Schneider will be held Feb. 15 at the Byron L. Walter Theatre on the campus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., at 6 p.m., Schneider officials said.