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  September 29th, 2017 | Written by


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  • John Ruan’s example resonates throughout the company.

Ruan Transportation Management Systems—Ruan to its friends and customers, of which there are many—recently celebrated its 85th anniversary. We thought that was reason enough to catch up with one of our favorite corporate citizens, a company that started with one truck driven by founder John Ruan and has grown to become one of the top 10 privately owned transportation companies in the U.S. with more than 5,200 employees.

What makes Ruan special is not just its rags-to-riches legacy but that the legacy is actually, rags to riches to far-reaching philanthropy that has helped feed millions through Mr. Ruan’s founding of the World Food Prize.

We caught up with CEO Ben McLean and asked him to chew on where Ruan has been, where it is today and where he sees it in the future.

Global Trade: Does your company’s 85th anniversary (celebrated on July 4) have any special significance for you?

Ben McLean: Well, it reminds us not only that John Ruan started the company in the depths of the Great Depression but that it would not have around for 85 years if being willing to change and evolve with our customers was not a core part of what we do. It’s that which continues to allow us to thrive in the markets we service.

What I think is equally exciting is that for the last 20 years, from a growth standpoint, we’ve not only been involved in moving freight on dedicated assets with our professional drivers but also have become involved in planning of the effective, efficient movement of goods, what’s become more of our supply chain solutions business. In those two decades we’ve invested deeply in technology and the growth of our team and experts who use those new platforms to elevate the service we provide to our customers. We’re involved in significant supply chains where we are the intelligence, the people, the process and the technology of the movement of that freight.

Technology is funny; you want to give people the latest, cutting-edge version, but it’s also got to work. How do you balance providing the latest tech with taking the proper time to test it actually does what it’s designed to do?

I’m in my 11th year at Ruan, and I’ve been so impressed by the job that our tech teams have delivered. We’ve replaced just about every major system we’ve used. We moved from building everything in-house to really looking at the broader market and a lot of great partners that are providing new, cutting-edge tech that we need to get to our customers. We’ve evolved a bit so that we still do custom tech building that we test on our own, but now we work a lot with great partners who provide tech that we can integrate and offer to customers much quicker than we could do on our own.

You know, we have our annual list of the “Best Cities in America for Global Trade” in this issue. Ben, you are chairman of the Iowa Business Council; I wonder what you look for in cities, and states for that matter, when it comes to having a great public sector partner?

As we look at the public sector, I think you can view Des Moines as a key city; it’s had a lot of success because it’s surrounded by a great state. There is something special about Iowa, a healthy and collaborative relationship between public and private where there is a shared belief that solid jobs, solid careers really create solid communities. We look for markets where regulations are sensible and conditions to create new jobs and for companies to expand exist. I think that shared belief is something our area has done well.

Ruan does a great job of being a terrific corporate citizen, whether it’s John Ruan’s creation of the World Food Prize or your trucks recently rolling down to hurricane-affected areas with supplies. How important is John Ruan’s legacy in how Ruan conducts itself in the community?

[John Ruan] was an incredible individual. His father died when he was young and the family lost all its money in the stock market crash. He had to leave Iowa State, trade in his car for a truck and started hauling gravel on July 4, 1932. He later said those early times, when he remembered what it was like to be hungry, drove much of what he did in business and philanthropy. It moved him not only to start the World Food Prize but widen the company’s interests from trucking to banking to real estate, etc.

He took that success and endowed the food prize and now, 85 years later, you’ll see so many Ruan employees volunteering in the community. You’d see it in the water shipments we’ve sent south after the hurricane. John’s example resonates throughout the company. I’m always looking for a way to foster that and to continue to follow the example of our first driver.