Deregulation the 1980s could have killed Schneider National trucking, but Donald Schneider was determined that if he could stay ahead of his newly deregulated competitors, he could survive and thrive. Instead of fighting deregulation, he thought, he would find the best ways to innovate.
Under Schneider’s leadership, Schneider National became the largest full-load trucking company in North America. His father Al had started the company by selling the family car, and since the younger Schneider joined the company in 1961, he had grown it steadily through acquisition. But it was Donald Schneider’s embrace of technology that transformed the company.
Schneider National was the first big trucking company to use satellite tracking for its trucks and their loads. 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. With smart investments, Schneider was so far ahead of the curve that it created a new business area: selling its logistics programs to other industries.
Schneider made human investments as well. He advocated giving employees flexibility, and his investment in logistics technology allowed more drivers to set their own routes with greater efficiency. And he made work more comfortable: Schneider National essentially created the modern truck stop at the company’s Memphis hub, where drivers had showers, game areas, and even bedrooms for long-haul trips. In the process, he took Schneider National, a $35 million regional carrier out of Wisconsin when he succeeded his father as CEO in 1974, to a multibillion-dollar national power. When he retired in 2002, the company employed 19,000 people and had more than 42,000 trailers delivering goods each day.