Message from the President: Celebrating the life of a visionary

Feb. 21, 2012

To our alumni friends:

The other night the college was privileged to a host a memorial service for one of its most illustrious alumni and someone who touched the lives of people all over the world, Donald J. Schneider.

The Walter Theater was jammed with hundreds of friends and employees – associates, as they are known at Schneider National – to celebrate the life of the visionary who built a small regional trucking company into an international logistics powerhouse.

As the lights in the hall dimmed, a huge screen flickered to life with images of Don exhorting his associates about the mission of Schneider National. That mission far transcended the mere delivery of goods from one point to another. Every shipment was a commitment to be performed with pride, professionalism and excellence. And, Don added, it must be done as efficiently as possible, because that helps keep the cost of those goods more affordable for everyone – a core value for both Don and his company.

At St. Norbert we had the good fortune to be connected with Don and his family throughout his life, in a variety of ways. He graduated from here in 1957, and later in his career came back as an adjunct professor of business – one with a reputation for being tough but fair, and who not coincidentally hired lots of our graduates. He was a member of our board of trustees for 34 years. And he and his wife, Pat, and their family have been incredibly generous in their financial support as well. They were the primary underwriters of our beautiful new Schneider Stadium, for instance, but that is only the most conspicuous example of their longtime support.

As his son Paul reminded the audience, Don was a great believer in education – and lifelong education, at that – and he supported that conviction every way one could.

Don was a brilliant strategist, a risk-taker and a pioneer. The founder of Qualcomm, Irwin Jacobs, was on hand to testify to all three of those attributes. He described how back in the late ‘80s, when Qualcomm was a small startup in electronic communications looking for its first major sale, Don rolled the dice and installed Qualcomm’s still-new communication and tracking technology in every Schneider National cab. That innovation quickly became the industry norm.

Don was energetic, demanding, devout, highly competitive, and ethical to his marrow. And he was as passionate about his associates as he was his customers. Judging from the turnout at the Walter, the feelings were definitely mutual. The program for the memorial service listed one moving memory or testament after another. This one, from veteran driver Charles Walsh, was typical: "I met Don at the Green Bay Training Center 12 years ago during my intro training. He shook my hand and made me feel as if I was going to be a valuable part of Schneider National. Every mile I have driven, over 1.5 million, has been for Don and every mile this day forth will be for Don."

But I will give the last word to another wonderful St. Norbert alum, Wayne Lubner '71, who was one of the key lieutenants at Schneider in helping Don build such a remarkable company, and culture.

"It is a funny paradox that the leader of a trucking company sometimes ventured into territory without a clear roadmap, but he knew that success followed smart risk-taking, and failure at times was expected. But failure was not a deterrent – he was always moving forward," Wayne told the gathering.

"The way Don led taught me a lot, and I carry many of those values yet today. Do what you love to do, work with passion for the company, be tough at the crossroads, take meaningful risks and care deeply about the people around you."

It takes a special person indeed to build a multibillion-dollar company of 18,000 employees, located all over the world, but whose corporate culture is nonetheless an unmistakable extension of its leader's personal character. Rest in peace, Don.

Tom