For a man who appreciates a challenge, things were going a bit too well at Schneider National.
Marc Rogers, then a senior vice president at the Wisconsin-based trucking company, said recently that he wasn’t looking for a new job, but he did hear from a corporate headhunter. Rogers had taken Schneider, he said, “from being barely profitable to the return they expected.”
Rogers’ family — wife Allyson, three daughters and two sons — liked the idea of moving.
“Our family wanted to be out West,” he said.
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The headhunter had an opening at a company called Interstate Distributor, based somewhere called Tacoma.
Rogers started checking.
“You hear rumors,” he said. “I really didn’t have a good picture of how bad it was. I knew I had a management problem. I knew I had a morale problem. I knew I had a profitability problem that I had to go fix.”
He took the job, happily.
What he found, he said, “was shockingly bad.”
The company had been purchased about a year before by Saltchuk Resources, a Northwest holding company that also owns Foss Maritime, TOTE and other transportation-based companies around the country.
After Saltchuk bought Interstate for more than $100 million in 2011, the former owners discussed why they had chosen those investors from among more than a dozen other serious suitors.
“Saltchuk was the only company that asked about safety, and we could tell this was a different company. They were interested in our employees, our family,” said Renee Trueblood, then an Interstate senior vice president and corporate counsel.
Saltchuk is not known as an owner that flips companies to make a quick profit. Instead, it buys companies that provide a service that “will be needed 50 years from now,” according to Mark Tabbut, Saltchuk chairman.
“We were making a decision like we were going to own this business for forever,” he said after the sale.
And so Saltchuk went looking for someone to lead the newly acquired operation.
They chose Marc Rogers.
A few years after making that decision, Saltchuk has assessed their choice.
“Marc had a vision for what Interstate could be, and we shared the expectation that he was in it for the long haul,” said Tim Engle, Saltchuk president, in a statement. “The turnaround in safety is the area we are most proud of. Marc’s focus has been on hiring the right team and changing the culture of the operation. It’s something that takes time and constant attention, and Marc’s dedication to safety is paying off.”
The average age of the fleet stood at five years when Rogers arrived. Now, he says, “it’s less than two years,” with Saltchuk proving its own commitment by replacing its tractor fleet since Rogers arrived.
“My goal is to get Interstate to $1 billion in revenue five years from now,” Rogers said.
But that’s not the greatest goal.
“What’s more important to me is to make this a great place to work,” he said. “My passion is to help advance people in their careers. I get excited about the opportunities we’re creating for others.”
Rogers said the company’s success, so far, “has pleased our customers but frustrated our competitors.”
He said he does not plan to rest on that success.
“We’re looking to acquire other trucking companies,” he said. “We’ll look to grow organically as well.”
He said he expects to focus growth within the company’s current footprint, especially in the West and the South.
“We’re open for business and looking to expand,” he said.
Along with increasing the routes Interstate represents, Rogers said a new offshoot, Interstate Logistics, has grown from its beginnings last year to a predicted $40 million in 2016 revenue.
On business leadership, he said, “It’s building trust, it’s setting an example, it’s being a good coach.”
Another goal, he said, has been to empower his employees.
“It’s hard to teach people that,” he said. “It comes back to trust. You have to trust your employees.”
When Rogers heard that he had been named Business Leader of the Year by the University of Washington Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business, he said, “I was shocked. I was surprised. Obviously, I was humbled. The recognition is less about me than about the team. As a leader, you can’t be successful without a great team.”
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Along with its Business Leader of the Year award, the University of Washington Tacoma Milgard School of Business also has named recipients for other awards.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Melanie Dressel, president and CEO of Columbia Banking System.
Born in Colville and educated at the University of Washington, Melanie Dressel joined the banking industry in Tacoma at the Bank of California. A switch to Puget Sound National Bank followed, and Dressel followed Tacoma banking pioneer Bill Philip as he formed Columbia Bank.
Dresel has remained with Columbia since its founding and now serves as president and CEO. She has overseen growth to more than 150 branches, bringing Columbia into Oregon, Idaho and Eastern Washington.
Her honors include being named Community Banker of the Year by American Banker Magazine, and as an industry leader she has served both the Washington Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association, as well as serving with several local nonprofit organizations.
SMALL BUSINESS LEADER OF THE YEAR
Chris Johnston of Sparks Firehouse Deli in Puyallup.
Any parent of a high school student in Puyallup is likely to know Chris Johnston and the Sparks Firehouse Deli.
Among the comments from those who nominated him for the award:
“The guy is just amazing. Chris is truly one amazing Puyallup business owner.”
“As principal of a local high school, I have personally seen our community rally behind Chris’ support and enthusiasm for high school youth and athletics and activities. Chris is a leader-by-example for our students and for our entire community.”
“Chris shares his time and his business as a community resource. In addition to tireless support of the local community, Chris has made an effort to hire and train students with disabilities to work in his business. Chris and his business are not ordinary in any way.”
“Chris and (the) Deli remind you of what a small town is all about.”
NONPROFIT BUSINESS LEADER OF THE YEAR
Tanya D. Andrews, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma.
In 16 years, Andrews has built the Children’s Museum of Tacoma into a vibrant, necessary addition to the growing slate of amenities in the Tacoma area.
In its nomination, the museum’s board of directors describes Andrews as “strategic, inclusive, innovative and a true thought leader with regard to children’s early learning.”
Andrews had joined a museum with one location that served some 40,000 children and their families. Today, the board says the museum serves more than 100,000 children and families from several locations.
Under Andrews’ leadership, the museum completed a $5 million capital campaign for relocation, and the annual budget has grown from $500,000 to $1.6 million. She serves as secretary with the national Association of Children’s Museums and has been active in local groups including Rotary 8, the Arts and Culture Coalition of Pierce County, and the Northwest Association of Youth Museums.