Chairman and chief executive officer, SYSCO Corporation
Born: March 6, 1948, in Remsen, Iowa.
Education: University of Iowa, BA, 1970.
Family: Married Elizabeth (maiden name unknown); children: two.
Career: SYSCO Corporation, 1982–1988, various positions for Hardin's Sysco operation including director of supplies and equipment, vice president of merchandising services, and executive vice president; 1988–1992, president and chief executive officer of Hardin's Sysco; 1992–1997, corporate senior vice president, merchandising services; 1997–1999, senior vice president, merchandising and multiunit sales; 1999–2000, executive vice president, food-service operations; 2000–2003, president and chief operating officer; 2003–, chairman and chief executive officer.
Address: SYSCO Corporation, 1390 Enclave Parkway, Houston, Texas 77077-2099; http://www.sysco.com.
■ Richard J. Schnieders spent his career in the food-service industry, eventually becoming the chairman and chief executive officer for SYSCO Corporation, the largest distributor and marketer of food-service products and services in North America. After he graduated from the University of Iowa in 1970, he worked in management with several companies in the food-service industry before he was hired in 1982 by Hardin's Sysco of Memphis, Tennessee, a subsidiary of SYSCO. He worked at the Memphis facility for 10 years, including four as chairman, chief executive officer, and president. The company moved him to its headquarters in Houston, Texas, in 1992 as a senior vice president. He assumed the position of president and chief operating officer in 2000, and three years later he became the company's chairman and CEO. Schnieders, like his predecessors, promised that the company would continue to be ambitious in its pursuit of growth.
Schnieders was born in Remsen, Iowa, in 1948 and grew up in Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics in 1970. For the next 12 years he served in various management capacities for other companies within the food industry. He caught the attention of Charles H. Cotros, who wanted to hire Schnieders at Hardin's Sysco, SYSCO's operation in Memphis, Tennessee. Though the Memphis subsidiary did not have an opening at the time, Cotros decided to create the position of vice president of business development, hiring Schnieders in 1982. Schnieders "was on his own from there," Cotros told the Houston Chronicle (March 19, 2002).
After starting in SYSCO's executive development program in Memphis, Schnieders moved on to positions as director of supplies and equipment, vice president of merchandising services, and executive vice president. During Schnieders's tenure at Hardin's Sysco, its parent company continued to grow at a steady pace. By 1988 SYSCO was the largest food-service distributor in North America, and it continued to grow. In 1988 the company acquired one if its competitors, CFS Continental, adding a large truck fleet and significantly increasing the geographic scope of its business.
Schnieders's rise to the top of the ladder at the Memphis facility became complete when he was promoted to president and chief executive officer of the local branch of the company. He was later named chairman. He ran the Hardin's Sysco operation for four years.
In 1992 SYSCO moved Schnieders to its company headquarters in Houston, appointing him to the position of senior vice president of merchandising services. After he had spent five years in that position, his responsibilities increased to include oversight of multiunit sales. In 1997 he was elected to SYSCO's board of directors. During the following year, he continued his rise through the company when SYSCO announced his appointment as executive vice president for food-service operations. In this position he was responsible for overseeing five senior vice presidents of operations, who were each responsible for about one-sixth of the SYSCO operating companies in the United States and Canada. He assumed this position on January 1, 1999.
SYSCO's growth continued through the 1990s, and the company made a number of significant acquisitions in 1999. Annual sales continued to increase, jumping from $15 billion in 1998 to $22.6 billion in 2001. In 1999 the company announced that Cotros would replace Bill Lindig as SYSCO's chief executive officer in 2000. SYSCO selected Schnieders to replace Cotros as the company's president and chief operating officer.
By 2000 SYSCO was providing services and products to approximately 400,000 customers, including restaurants, health-care and educational institutions, and other operations in food services. During Schnieders's tenure as the company's president and COO, the economy of the United States suffered a significant downturn. Schnieders recognized that the growth of his company, as well as the food-service industry in general, related to the "ability of several other industries to prosper" (Business Wire, May 16, 2002). Nevertheless, SYSCO continued its steady growth. During fiscal year 2002 the company experienced five record-breaking sales weeks, including sales of more than $500 million during the week preceding Mother's Day, representing the first time that the company's sales had surpassed a half-billion dollars in a single week.
Cotros, who worked in the food-service industry for more than 30 years, announced his retirement in March 2002. The company selected Schnieders to succeed Cotros as the company's chairman and chief executive officer, the fifth in the company's history. Like Cotros, Schnieders promised that the company would continue to be ambitious regarding its growth. "The industry we serve is now approaching $200 billion annually and I am bullish on the future of our industry," Schnieders said in a company press release. "I am equally excited about the opportunities that [lie] ahead for SYSCO" (March 18, 2002).
Analysts said that Schnieders had reason for optimism. SYSCO's plan for success involved a series of acquisitions as well as continued expansion of its products and services. Industry insiders marveled at SYSCO's achievements in the marketplace, with one executive commenting to the New York Times that SYSCO "is one of the great uninterrupted growth stories in American business" (April 27, 2003).
Schnieders said he would stay the course in leading the company. "We will continue to operate with the same direction and same strategy as we have in the past," he said in an article in BusinessWeek Online in April 2003. "Our biggest opportunity is to sell more to our existing customers and find new, good customers. We also want to identify good acquisition candidates that match up well to our business" (April 14, 2003). Schnieders surprised some industry analysts in 2003 by claiming that the company could double its revenues by 2008.
In addition to his position with SYSCO, Schnieders served on the boards of Aviall and the NRA Education Foundation.
See also entry on SYSCO Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .
Forest, Stephanie Anderson, "Sysco: Ready to Serve," BusinessWeek Online , April 14, 2003.
Kaplan, David, "Steady, Gradual Growth Keeps Sysco on Track," Houston Chronicle , April 29, 2003.
——, "Sysco Announces Promotion of One of Its Own to Top Spot," Houston Chronicle , March 19, 2002.
Murphy, Kate, "A Deft (Some Say Heavy) Hand in the Kitchen," New York Times , April 27, 2003.
"Richard J. Schnieders to Become Chairman and CEO," Press Release, SYSCO Corporation, March 18, 2002, http://www.corporatewindow.com/preleases/Archives/syypra.html#Mar18-02 .
"Sysco Names New Chair, CEO," Feedstuffs , April 8, 2002, p. 6.
"SYSCO Weekly Sales Eclipse Half Billion Dollars for the First Time in Company's History," Business Wire, May 16, 2002.
Wahlgreen, Eric, "Why Sysco Looks Appetizing," BusinessWeek Online , August 15, 2002.
—Matthew C. Cordon