Stephen Bruffett joined Schneider one year ago, on April 29, 2018, as executive vice president and chief financial officer.
In his CFO role, Steve is responsible for all aspects of enterprise financial functions, including planning, treasury, tax, accounting and controls, investor relations and internal audit.
His one-year anniversary is the perfect time to check in and see how it’s going. We posed a few questions to him, and you can learn a little bit more about the newest member of the executive team through his answers.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
“I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, which is where I met my wife and where I still have family and friends. As an undergrad, I attended the University of Arkansas, and then I went to the University of Texas for my MBA.
“After that, my first job was in transportation, working for a small company in my hometown called Arkansas Freightways, and my first big project was to help change their name to American Freightways.
“I’ve been in the industry ever since and held leadership positions at American Freightways, YRC and most recently I was CFO at Con-way Inc.
“Con-way was acquired by XPO in 2015, so I helped work through that transition and then retired.
“It’s funny, back when I was still in business school in 1989, I wrote two goals on a piece of paper: 1) become the CFO of a public company, and 2) retire by age 50.
“Technically, I was 51 when I retired, but I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had achieved the goals I had set all those years before, and I was looking forward to a new chapter in my life.
“During the time I was retired, recruiters would periodically reach out to me and share opportunities, but I just wasn’t interested. I was happy playing golf, traveling and living a more low-key life.
“But then… two years into my retirement I was contacted about the opportunity at Schneider, and it really made me stop and think.
“On one hand, my wife and I had built a home we loved in Dallas, we had lots of friends and connections there, and we were content.
“On the other hand, the role at Schneider was so interesting – with the company having just gone public and still working through that transition. I’d worked at large public transportation companies, so it felt like a great fit.
“After talking it over with my wife, we made our own ‘leap of faith’ and made the move. In other words, I failed at retirement!”
What did you think about moving to Green Bay?
“Well, we’d never been this far north in Wisconsin – I’d been to Milwaukee and Madison – but never to Green Bay. However, we’d lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan for seven years, so the weather here wasn’t a complete shock. Now that we’ve been here for nearly a year, we find that we like it a lot.
“There’s a real sense of community, and it’s big enough that there are things to do and activities going on, but not so big that it’s over crowded.
“And before you ask, yes I’m a Packers fan. There is no professional team in Arkansas, so my dad actually picked the Packers as his team to follow, which meant I grew up watching the Packers of the 1960s, and those were some great years.”
What do you find the most challenging about your CFO job or the transportation industry?
“To me, the transportation industry is like golf: some people love it and others do not – for most of the same reasons. You can never truly master it; you always tinker with your technique and try to get better.
“There are constant challenges and changes; it’s complex and competitive. You either like that or you don’t. I happen to like both.
“For example, the operating environment so far in 2019 has been quite different than in 2018 – and it’s a challenge, but you have to embrace, and to some degree enjoy, that level of change.
“We always have to be ready to adjust to economic conditions, competitive pressures and customer needs.”
What did you find most surprising about Schneider after joining the company?
“Nothing – which is a good thing. Sometimes, especially with larger organizations, you might have one perception of a company based on its public persona, but then when you get the chance to know more about it from the inside, you realize that the perception was not the reality.
“I’m happy to report that was not the case with Schneider. We have a sincere culture, a strong team, a compelling brand and effective strong platform for continued growth – exactly what I expected.”
What is one thing you wish all current and prospective associates at Schneider understood?
“It relates back to my answer about what’s challenging in our industry. We need to find ways to be nimble, and that’s more difficult for mature companies because there’s a certain amount of inertia that comes with that maturity.
“So, we all have to recognize the need to adapt and change over the course of time to keep us vibrant, relevant and growing. We need to reexamine the ways we’ve been doing things and decide if they’re still the best ways. Look for ways simplify and streamline. Look for ways to help us be more agile. Let’s spend time on things that are truly value-added.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
“I love spending time with my wife – she’s an amazing person. Beyond that, I like running and playing golf – probably because one is social and one is not, so it’s a nice balance. Running really gives me time to organize my thoughts.”
Read any good books lately?
“Primarily I read non-fiction and most recently I read Truman by David McCullough. It’s a great read. You really get some insights into his character – from World War II through the Korean War – he was making decisions that would affect millions of lives, and he was under intense pressure from all sides. It puts some of the decisions facing me into perspective.”
“I feel really fortunate to be a part of this organization. It’s great platform to work from – we’ve got a fantastic team of people and an extremely bright future.”
Looking for more C-suite insights?
Check out the blog post series we featured last year by incoming Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mark Rourke about a new company-wide initiative.