And a Werner may no longer lead them.
It hasn't happened yet, but Werner Enterprises Inc.'s announcement Friday that Gregory L. Werner, the son of founder and chairman Clarence L. Werner and the truckload and logistics carrier's CEO since 2007, planned to retire and that C.L. Werner would groom Derek J. Leathers, the company's president and chief operating officer, for a larger role indicates that, for the first time since Werner's founding in 1956, a non-family member may soon be sitting in the CEO chair.
Omaha-based Werner said that Gregory Werner will remain as a board member. Earlier this month, the company said Gary L. Werner, another of C.L.'s sons, would step down as chairman and be replaced by his father. Gary Werner was elected the company's vice chairman, replacing his brother.
C.L. Werner, 78, founded Werner with one truck—which he drove—using his car as a source of funds for a down payment for the vehicle. Today, publicly held Werner is on track to generate more than $2 billion in annual revenue.
Leathers, 46, is considered one of the trucking industry's shining stars. Ivy League-educated, Leathers entered the transportation field in 1991 as vice president of Mexico operations for Schneider Logistics, the logistics arm of Green Bay, Wis.-based truckload and logistics giant Schneider National Inc. Leathers joined Werner in 2006 as president of its global logistics unit. He became COO in 2008 and president in 2011.
Over the years, Leathers has become Werner's public face. Intelligent, articulate, and candid, he is considered a must-have on panels at transportation conferences. Within Werner, he has been adroit at maneuvering through its insular, family-driven culture to put his imprimatur on the company, according to a source familiar with the company. Leathers is expected to be the first executive not named "Werner" to take the CEO role, and is seen as perhaps the only individual outside of his family tree with whom C.L. Werner would entrust the company. "There's no other place for (Leathers) to go," said an industry executive who asked not to be identified.
While many trucking companies have family ties, nowhere do the roots run deeper than at companies like Werner, Salt Lake City-based C.R. England Inc., and Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., where the Congdon family has held sway in one form or another since 1934. Each one has managed to grow into large companies while retaining the founding family's unmistakable presence.