The first time I became aware of the respect Don Schneider had in the logistics profession was when I was assigned to cover his session at a Council of Logistics Management annual conference. I was on time for the session but could not get in: The audience filled every chair and spilled out the door. This was in the late 1980s, less than a decade after the trucking industry was deregulated and the company he ran, Schneider National, had rapidly grown into one of the most successful trucking businesses in the nation.
So it was for the remainder of his career. Don Schneider was about the nearest thing the transportation industry had to a superstar, although the ever self-effacing Schneider would have dismissed any such characterization. He was an astute executive and a business visionary. Early on, he saw the potential for deregulation to allow the trucking industry to reinvent itself, for technology to transform the way it did business, and for carriers and customers to work together. For just one instance, his early embrace of satellite-based communications technology, considered by many to be foolhardy at the time, helped launch a revolution in the industry.
And yet he remained a man of great humility. I had the opportunity to interview him many times before his retirement, and he would always rebuff any effort to make the story about him. It was about his drivers, his managers, and those around him. It was about the trucking industry he loved. It was never about Don Schneider.
I once met him at his office in Green Bay, Wis., and was surprised at just how modest that office was. It seemed the trappings of success meant little to him. My sharpest recollection of that visit was sitting in on his remarks to a group of new drivers, welcoming them to the company. There was nothing perfunctory about it: Those drivers were important to him, as were all the other employees he greeted throughout the day.
For Schneider, trucking and logistics were about far more than moving goods from one point to another. I had a number of conversations with him over the years—those of us who wrote about the industry were forever in pursuit of an interview, and he was ever accommodating—and those conversations often veered away from the topic at hand toward his passionately held view that an efficient transportation system was essential to our prosperity. He believed that transportation and logistics formed the links in the economy that allowed businesses to thrive to the benefit of us all. He believed that the trucking industry—and by extension, the entire transportation industry—was doing great good. I always left those conversations persuaded that Don Schneider was not just a talented executive but an extraordinary man.