Don J. Schneider, chairman emeritus and former president and CEO of Schneider National, Inc., died Jan. 13 in De Pere, Wis., with his family by his side following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 76.
"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. "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 was born on October 19, 1935, the same year his father, Al (AJ), sold the family car to buy his first truck. Don started working for the family business while in high school in the early 1950s, first as a mechanic’s helper and then as a truck driver. He continued in this capacity while attending St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., in the late 1950s, using the job to fund his college education.
Julius Borley has been working for Schneider National for more than 60 years and remembers Don’s down-to-earth style. “Don thought of himself as a regular guy and always wanted to stay in touch with the drivers. When I stopped driving and became a company tour guide, he always asked us to bring the drivers to his office during the tour. Don’s door was always open. He wanted to meet the guys behind the wheel to let them know how much he respected how hard they worked and to thank them for working for Schneider. That’s the kind of man he was.”
Schneider graduated from St. Norbert College with an undergraduate degree in business and married his wife, Patricia (Pat) O’Brien, in 1957. After serving a 13-month military tour of duty in Korea, Schneider returned to the United States and enrolled in graduate school at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Upon earning his master’s degree from Wharton, he returned to the Green Bay area in 1961 to join his father’s trucking company as a manager. He also taught finance at his alma mater, St. Norbert College, during this time. In 1976 Don officially became president of the then $82 million company. His father, Al, passed away in March of 1983.
Schneider led the organization bearing his family’s name for more than 25 years. During that time, the company grew, survived and thrived during some of the modern trucking industry’s greatest challenges, including deregulation in the early 1980s. Schneider brought both business savvy and a keen ability to anticipate customer needs to the business, as well as a steadfast belief that with innovation, hard work and the commitment to excellence of associates, anything was possible. Through the years, Don was responsible for creating thousands of jobs and providing a livelihood for many.
Don’s commitment to technological innovation was instrumental to the company’s success. Schneider National was the first in the industry to adopt satellite-based communications and positioning in its trucks. Don’s vision extended beyond trucking as Schneider was a pioneer in providing intermodal and logistics services. In 1993 Schneider founded Schneider Logistics as a wholly owned subsidiary of Schneider National. Today Schneider Logistics is a leading solutions provider, enabling customers to effectively manage the flow of materials, funds and information throughout their supply chains. His vision and talent extended beyond the transportation industry as he formed Schneider Communications, a regional telecommunications company, in 1982.
Schneider retired from the day-to-day responsibilities in 2002, selecting then chief operating officer Chris Lofgren to succeed him as president and CEO. Don continued on as chairman of the board for the privately held firm until 2007 when he reached the board’s mandatory retirement age.
“Don Schneider was one of the finest individuals I have ever known,” said Lofgren. “He was true to his convictions and committed to his values. I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to work for and be mentored by Don. 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. Our Schneider National family of associates shares our deepest sympathies with his wife, Pat, and the entire Schneider family during this sad time.”
Schneider shared his time and talents with a wide range of academic, industry, business and community organizations. Most notably, he served as chairman of the Business Advisory Committee for Northwestern University’s Transportation Center, was a member of the Advisory Board for the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, was a director on the Federal Reserve Board in Chicago and served on the Board of Directors at Fort Howard Paper Company and Franklin Electric. He was also a member of the Board and Executive Committee of the Green Bay Packers and sat on the Board of Trustees for St. Norbert College.
“Don was a very valuable member of the Packers executive committee for over 20 years. His business skills were extraordinary. He was a great sounding board for me, and I relied on his advice on numerous occasions,” noted Bob Harlan, chairman emeritus of the Packers. “Don also had a tremendous passion for the Packers and was as enthusiastic as any fan we have on game day.”
Schneider is survived by his wife of 53 years, Pat, five children, 13 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and 18,222 members of his Schneider National family around the world.
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