In It For The Long Haul

Von Todd Datz

Head Trucker

Don Schneider - who happens to serve on the Packers´executive committee - is a CEO unadorned by all the typicalCEO trappings. On the day of his interview with Darwin, he´soutfitted in blue jeans and a denim shirt with the orangeSchneider logo, which speaks volumes about thedown-to-earth, Midwestern character that permeates thecompany. All the executives´ offices, including Schneider´s,are the same size (not big); employees are known asassociates; and drivers are just as welcome in the CEO´soffice as are senior vice-presidents (he makes a point ofregularly chatting with drivers). He sits at his small tableand discusses technology´s role both at Schneider and in theeconomy as a whole. "How can you continue to get an economygrowing so close to full employment without driving upinflation?" asks Schneider, who as a former member of theFederal Reserve Board´s Midwest board of governors thinksoften about such issues. "[Alan] Greenspan and theeconomists [at the Fed] have surmised that it probably hasto do with the increased productivity from technology? A lotof it has to do with the fact that when you have information[as a result of IT], you take the risk out of decisionmaking that you used to have when you didn´t haveinformation."

Schneider´s embrace of IT manifests itself throughout hiscompany. However, the coolest technologies - the ones thatmake trucking feel as technologically sexy as its airline orautomobile brethren - can literally be found where therubber meets the road.

Location, Location, Location

Schneider drivers aren´t just behind the wheel of big,orange trucks - they´re driving 65-foot-long mobiletelecommunications units. Each cab is outfitted withOmniTracs, a satellite-based communications and positioningsystem from Qualcomm, a wireless communications providerbased in San Diego. Schneider was the first fleet to adoptthe technology, rolling it out in 1988. Don Schneider stuckhis neck out, convincing the board of directors to investUS$30 million in OmniTracs. "There was a lot of financialrisk involved. But the upside was so great that we couldn´tbypass the opportunity," Schneider says. The gamble paidoff. Customers were willing to pay for the real-timeinformation it brought them. Drivers, frustrated by years ofhaving to stop at phone booths every few hours to report toheadquarters, loved it. "We thought drivers wouldn´t knowhow to use it or want to use it. What we found was exactlythe opposite," he adds. Today more than 1,250 fleets in theUnited States use OmniTracs. "[Schneider] looked at thecapabilities it gave, and he had this fundamental beliefthat it would change the industry, his ability to servicecustomers and the life of the drivers," notes Chris Lofgren,CEO of Schneider Logistics, a separate business unitoffering supply chain management services.

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