Donald (Don) J. Schneider, who took over the family trucking business in the mid-1970s, shepherded it through trucking deregulation, and made Schneider National Inc. one of the industry's most recognizable and successful brands, died today in De Pere, Wis., after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 76.
Schneider was born the same year his father, Al, sold the family car to buy his first truck. The younger Schneider joined the family business in the early 1950s as a mechanic's helper and then became a driver. After leaving to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, and to serve a tour of duty in Korea, he returned to the Green Bay, Wis.-area to rejoin his father's company as a manager.
In 1976, he became president of the then-$82 million-a-year company, a position he held until he retired from day-to-day operations in 2002 and turned the president and CEO duties over to Chris Lofgren, the company's then-chief operating officer.
Schneider continued as chairman emeritus until 2007, when he reached the board's mandatory retirement age.
An influential voice
During his long tenure, Schneider led the company through the challenging transition to deregulation in 1980, and built sizable logistics and intermodal enterprises to augment its traditional truckload business. Today, privately held Schneider, which operates 9,800 tractors and 32,000 trailers, generates about $3.4 billion in annual revenue.
Schneider became, along with his chief rival Johnnie B. (J.B.) Hunt, one of the trucking industry's earliest and strongest supporters of intermodal rail service as a way to move customers' freight more cost-effectively than over the road. "J.B. Hunt may have been one or two years ahead at the start of recognizing intermodal's value, but eventually they were right there together," said Charles W. Clowdis Jr., head of supply chain advisory services at consultancy IHS Global Insight and a former long-time trucking executive who has known Schneider since 1977.
Schneider also became known for its trademark orange tractors and trailers. Clowdis recalled that when the company was planning to expand into China, an outside consultant advised Schneider that he would be unable to paint the equipment orange because it might not belong to him. As Clowdis remembered, Schneider stiffened in his chair, thought for a moment, and said he would agree only if there was a Chinese law forbidding him to do so. The equipment was not painted orange.
"The transportation and logistics industry has lost one of its most passionate and influential voices," said Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, in a statement. "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 is survived by his wife of 53 years, Pat, five children, 13 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.