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Lofgren, Rourke share same passion for Schneider, its culture, and its people

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Since its founding in 1935, Schneider has only known three leaders: founder Al Schneider, his son Don Schneider, and Chris Lofgren, the first non-family member to lead the company. Come April 2019, you can add the name Mark Rourke to that list.

Rourke, the current COO of Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), will have the task of following Lofgren, who in 17 years directing the company, has built upon the legacy of the founding Schneider family. Lofgren, who joined Schneider in 1994 before taking over for industry icon Don Schneider in 2002, joined at a time when Schneider was growing its logistics prowess, but was still known primarily as a truckload carrier.

Today, the company offers truckload, intermodal, brokerage, dedicated, final mile, bulk, high-value/time-sensitive, cross-border, logistics, port drayage, transloading, cross-dock and warehousing services.

The transition from Lofgren to Rourke was announced on Oct. 30. It is part of the company’s transition plan, with Rourke officially taking over in April 2019. Prior to his current position as executive vice president and COO, Rourke was president of the company’s truckload services division and general manager of Schneider Transport Management. He also served as vice president of customer service, director of transportation planning for customer service, Midwest area service manager, and director of driver training over his 30-plus years with the company. He has been COO since 2015.

Lofgren and Rourke recently spoke with FreightWaves about the transition and their respective times at Schneider.

“As prepared as you think you are, and what you’ve worked for, until you are sitting in that chair [you really never know],” Rourke, who has worked closely with Lofgren for the past 12 years, said. “The company has performed well when we’ve let it, and I certainly intend to keep that legacy going.”

Rourke, 54, began his career with Schneider in 1987, at the company’s Seville, OH, operating center. In 2015, the company created the COO position that Rourke slid into, allowing him to have more accountability for all of Schneider’s service offerings. During that time, the company has grown revenues by 20%, adjusted operating earnings by over 30%, and adjusted earnings per share by over 45%, it said.

Of course, leading the way has been Lofgren, who credits the entire Schneider team for its success, but said that Rourke’s time has come.

“I’ve had a very long run,” Lofgren points out, but “Mark deserves the opportunity to lead this company.

“He is absolutely ready; he will be iconic if he’s not already,” Lofgren added, implying that Rourke will be able to fill his shoes, much as he had to do when replacing Don Schneider. “When I shook Don’s hand, I said [I hoped] to leave the company better, and I think we have.”

Rourke said he will lean on his “environment” for the past 31 years, but that he will be his own leader, incorporating some of what he’s learned from Lofgren as well as lessons learned from both Al Schneider’s and Don Schneider’s legacies.

Both Rourke and Lofgren display the same passion for Schneider, with Rourke citing that passion specifically and Lofgren alluding to it when asked about his time leading the trucking and logistics giant.

“Leading a company is a very humbling experience, if you really care about the stewardship of it,” he said. “Looking back today, 17 years [later], at what I knew and didn’t know, I was pretty tenacious, and I probably still am, but I’ve probably softened a bit around the edges.”

During his tenure, Schneider has doubled its annual revenues to $4.4 billion. Lofgren also had the unfortunate pleasure of steering Schneider through the Great Recession while still building the company for the future. He did that successfully. Part of doing that was a seven-year journey to build its signature Quest technology platform. Quest connects every part of Schneider, allowing managers to understand metrics such as contribution per truck and contribution per order.

“That was no small task,” Lofgren pointed out. “Few people are able to cross that river, and that’s a testament to the people and Mark’s leadership [that we were able to do that].”

Another important milestone was the Initial Public Offering of stock in 2017. Lofgren noted that the offering was not done for “capital reasons,” but rather as a way to position the company to build for the future and help satisfy Schneider family trust needs.

Approximately $110 million of the offering was set aside to invest in the intermodal business, specifically the purchase of chassis as Schneider shifts to an intermodal model of owning chassis. It is the evolution of a business segment that was once looking for its identity.

“In the mid-2000s, the intermodal business was smaller,” Lofgren said. “We had to take that business and ‘relearn’ it. I’m real proud of that business because it’s leaders, like Mark, got that business [going].”

It was part of a refocusing of Schneider as a whole, which at the time was transitioning into a segment-driven business.

“That’s difficult because you have to make cultural change,” Lofgren said. “While it wasn’t easy, I think it positioned the company [well].”

Today, only about 50% of the revenues come from the legacy truckload operations. In its most recent quarter, Schneider reported operating revenues of $1.3 billion and net income of $70.7 million.

“We are very proud of our heritage, but we want to be more than a trucker [and truckload company],” Rourke added. “I think that is a story that still needs to be told.”

While there are many achievements that have taken place, when asked specifically what he felt were most important, Lofgren pointed to the aforementioned items, but also to the logistics business, noting its “impressive growth and impressive margin improvement that proves you can do it and it can stand on its own.”

For his part, Rourke expects Schneider to continue down the path it is on, saying that he hasn’t received any specific directives from the Board of Directors. He does believe that his varied experience in the company – something that Schneider attempts to do with its personnel to develop broad-based experience – will assist him in the new role come April.

“I do believe it’s a real benefit because our service offerings are very different, and they provide different value,” he said.

As to why he has stayed for 31 years, just as Lofgren has done (the current CEO has been with Schneider since 1994), Rourke pointed to the culture.

“I was just trying to find my way to learn; I was attracted to the company culture,” he said of joining Schneider. “The respect and integrity, all those things matter, which is why I’m so jazzed to come to work every day.”

As for Lofgren, he’s not ready to announce any post-Schneider plans other than to say that it won’t be anything that would harm the company that he has spent nearly half his life helping succeed. He does mention that he has a “long list of things I want to do and I just haven’t had the time yet.” He will continue to serve as on the executive committee of the U.S. Chamber.

“I do love the industry,” Lofgren said. “It’s not the easiest way to make a living, but the quality of the people, frankly, is so high, that it’s a very enjoyable way to make a living.”

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]