Schneider National: Paint the town orange

For 76 years, the bright orange “pumpkin trucks” of the Schneider fleet have been a common sight in every American state. But the company is also making efficient gear changes on the world’s biggest trading lanes – including China’s vast domestic road network.

Next time a still family-owned Schneider National truck comes into the rear view mirror, give a nod to Al Schneider. When Al sold the family car in 1935 to buy his first truck, it’s a safe bet that he couldn’t foresee a phenomenal network that covers five million loaded miles a day and sits in a business worth a staggering $3.1 billion.

The former one-man-business has become one of the largest haulage companies in the U.S. and is still privately owned. Don Schneider, Al’s oldest son, succeeded Al as president in 1976 and served in that role for 27 years. In 2002, Christopher Lofgren was named Schneider National’s third president and CEO.

Headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin – 180 km north of Milwaukee – Schneider is now represented in more than 28 countries worldwide and manages a gigantic fleet to deliver tailored transportation solutions for a growing clientele in the truckload, intermodal and logistics sector. In fact, the company offers the broadest portfolio of services in the industry, including Van Truckload, Dedicated, Regional, Bulk, Intermodal, Transportation Management, Supply Chain Management, Warehousing and International Logistics services.

So, how does a mega company emerge from such humble beginnings? While the company has grown steadily through expansion of services and acquisition, it really came into its own when the US Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which deregulated the trucking industry.

Until that time, growth in road transportation was stymied by prohibitive regulations established by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to protect the railroad industry in 1887. Truck operators were brought under the control of the ICC in 1935 after lobbying by state regulators, the ICC and the railroad, which had been losing business to trucking companies.

The Motor Carrier Act of 1935 required those wishing to enter the transport industry to seek a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the ICC. Trucking companies already operating in 1935 could automatically obtain certificates through a process of documenting prior service, but the ICC was very restrictive in interpreting that proof of service. Those wishing to establish a new trucking venture found it extremely difficult to have certificates granted.

But, 1980 saw that change and the following year Schneider was authorised to operate in 48 states – a huge step forward for the company.

Though building the road across America was long and complex, the Schneider management refused to rest on its laurels and kept pushing ahead with a global expansion plan. In 1990, the company opened an office in Canada; two years later, the Mexican operation began.

In 2006, the company entered the promising, but extremely demanding, Chinese business environment. By 2007, Schneider’s Shanghai division was granted authority to operate as a domestic carrier and logistics service provider on the mainland, making Schneider the first North American truckload provider to establish a domestic business in China.

To strengthen that position, it acquired the key operating assets of Bayoun Logistics, ranked in the top 100 of logistics enterprises in China and one of the top 30 private logistics companies. This resulted in a comprehensive service offering in domestic China, including transportation, warehousing, cross-docking, third party logistics and consulting services.

Schneider’s most recent international move was the launch of its Canada Direct service. By leveraging the company’s intermodal expertise and railroad relationships, this new service is eliminating the headaches that have traditionally been associated with cross-border intermodal shipping between the U.S. and its neighbour to the north.

“From the outset, Canada Direct was intended to be a premium door-to-door service offering that would make doing business across the US–Canadian border – the largest international trade lane – much more seamless for shippers and that is exactly what we are delivering,” says Steve Van Kirk, Senior Vice President of intermodal commercial management.

The launch of Canada Direct and Schneider’s China branch continue to build out Schneider National’s cross-border expertise and help the company grow.

Schneider National’s customer base includes more than two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies – blue-chip customers who expect nothing but premium service. That’s why Schneider is continually investing in research and development to maintain its leading role in transportation. Every facet of Schneider’s business is systematically analysed to deliver the best outcomes in dispatch, route planning and scheduling for the huge fleet, and technology is continually further developed to meet growing customer demand.
In 1986, for instance, Schneider took a lead in trucking and became the first carrier to install two-way satellite communication in its, at that time, 6,000 over-the-road vehicles. This innovative edge was further enhanced by the introduction of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions, which delivered a quantum leap forward in control systems. In 2010, Schneider became the first U.S. fleet to implement the next generation of in-cab technology, the MCP 200 by Qualcomm. These devices come complete with Electronic Onboard Recorders (which replace paper logbooks) and offer drivers helpful features such as Wi-Fi Internet access, online training and text-to-voice, turn-by-turn navigational assistance.

Schneider is also working closely with the trailer manufacturing industry to develop equipment that can boost productivity and efficiency across all aspects of the operation.  Constant equipment development has seen Schneider introduce specialised designs for a variety of difficult freight to not only improve efficiencies through improved handling, but to continually promote safety throughout the business.

Through the years, the Schneider brand has become synonymous with safety, with its world-class safety program recognized industry-wide and beyond.  The company culture of “safety first and always” runs deep, and the credo “Nothing we do is worth hurting ourselves or others. Nothing.” are more than words for the company that today has over 13,000 drivers on the road. Drivers are recognized and rewarded for their safe driving practices.

Therefore, Schneider has taken a lead in addressing industry safety issues like sleep apnea, distracted driving, driver training and freight security. Just last year, Schneider was recognized for its commitment to safety by a coalition of public safety advocacy groups – the very people who have historically been at odds with transportation companies and their safety efforts. The recognition was a first within the industry and stands as a strong testament to Schneider’s commitment to keeping its drivers and the motoring public safe.

However, the foundation for such success is laid at the grassroots level, where dedicated drivers and management personnel are all focussed on personal service. In that sense, even unusual distribution services that demand specialised equipment can be fine-tuned to suit customer requirements and delivery schedules.

Based on such personal commitment, Schneider has become one of the most highly awarded companies in the United States. Last year alone, Schneider earned 43 awards for customer service and solutions from customers, government and industry media.

The company has also been heralded for its commitment to the environment. In 2010, it won the Environmental Excellence Award for the fourth consecutive year from the US Environmental Protection Agency. It is one of only two transportation companies to win the award every year since its inception. In addition, Schneider was named “Green Fleet of the Year” by Fleet Owner Magazine that same year.

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