Richard J. Schnieders, 70BA, rose to the upper echelons of Houston-based SYSCO, the largest food service marketing and distribution company in North America, by staying true to the highest standards of integrity and by earning the unwavering trust of his employees and peers.
In a corporate climate often perceived as characterized by greed and cold calculation, Schnieders has managed to maintain warmth, personal accountability, and a value system based on fairness.
Growing up in Remsen, Schnieders operated the cash register in his family's small grocery store. His Iowa childhood instilled in him a deep sense of respect for others, as well as an interest in agriculture and food production. He went on to earn a B.A. degree in mathematics from the University of Iowa in 1970.
After graduation, Schnieders worked in a regional grocer's meat department, eventually selling meat for a national company and serving as a general sales manager for a foodservice distributor. In 1982, Schnieders joined the executive development program at Hardin's-SYSCO, a subsidiary of SYSCO in Memphis. He quickly received promotions to increasingly responsible positions within SYSCO organizations, and, in 1992, he moved to Houston when he was elected to serve as a corporate director, followed by appointments to executive vice president, president, and chief operating officer. On January 1, 2003, Schnieders became chairman and chief executive officer, the position he holds today.
Thanks to Schnieders's visionary leadership, SYSCO is more than a large, successful company. It is a corporation widely recognized for its enlightened governance and an atmosphere of mutual admiration among its workers, shareholders, and customers.
Early in his career, Schnieders sought out University of Memphis philosophy professor David R. Hiley for tutoring in philosophy. He felt the pursuit would help him better understand how to create a positive work environment within the company—and to position SYSCO as a good community and world citizen. The two men established a lifelong friendship, and, together, developed a values statement and ethics policy that was put into meaningful action at SYSCO.
In keeping with these ideals, Schnieders advocates sustainable agriculture and emphasizes its importance in fostering a better world for future generations. His dedication includes a program he initiated at SYSCO that supports small, local farmers and their high-quality products. When plans were in the works for a new SYSCO world headquarters in Houston, Schnieders made sure that the company set a good example for other businesses by building to the highest possible environmental standards.
Schnieders's interest in philosophy is just one example of his commitment to lifelong learning and the benefits of a liberal arts and sciences education. Many times, he has returned to the Iowa campus to address mathematics classes and other student groups, emphasizing in his talks how his UI liberal arts degree has been critical to his business success.
Richard Schnieders is a true exemplar of the honest, forward-thinking citizens who hail from the Hawkeye State. In the words of close friend David Hiley: "At a time when we tend to identify corporate leadership with its excesses and abuses, I can't imagine anything more important than recognizing a highly successful business leader because he is deeply thoughtful and deeply moral."
Schnieders is a life member of the UI Alumni Association.