Gregarious, passionate, unfiltered and “the most interesting person in the trucking world” is how the late Steve Russell is described. Founder of Celadon Group, Inc.—one of Indiana’s largest employers—Russell, who died in April, was a self-made man who detested wasting time. The son of a New York City taxicab driver, Russell built his business from a small operation to a billion-dollar, publicly-traded company moving freight throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. His parents died when he was young—a tragic, but defining moment he often cited for shaping his life and his livelihood.

“He believed life was short, due to his parents’ death,” says Jon Russell, Steve’s son and Celadon Logistics president.  “That resulted in him living life for every minute and pursuing whatever he could at a rapid speed.”

It was a trait that took root at a very young age: he finished high school at 16 years old and earned an undergraduate and graduate degree from Cornell University by the time he was 21. He spent about 20 years sharpening his business acumen at Ford Motor Company and Hertz Trucks, among others, then co-founded Celadon Group in 1985 in New York before bringing the corporate headquarters to Indianapolis.

The company began as a van carrier transporting automotive components to Mexico, but Russell—an eternal strategist—identified a better path for Celadon.

“There was a time when automotive was such a significant piece of the business, and he would always say, ‘If you have too much with one customer, you don’t own the customer, the customer owns you,’” says Celadon Group Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Paul Will. “The next big step was diversifying away from one big customer to a more diverse mix.”

The company now employs more than 4,000 people and operates 5,000 tractors and 12,000 trailers. Friend and colleague Cathy Langham says “in all the blocking and tackling of growing a trucking business,” he lived his personal motto.

“He had a saying I think we can all learn from, and that was, ‘Live your life so you can’t wait to get to work in the morning and can’t wait to get home at night,’” says Langham, president and owner of Langham Logistics and longtime board member for Celadon. “Anyone who knows Steve well will know that saying.”

Despite the thousands of drivers at Celadon, Jon says Steve insisted on meeting each one during orientation; he says “every company claims they have an open door policy, but Steve truly lived it.”

In addition to guiding his own company, Steve was influential in the state’s logistics landscape; he held leadership roles in many industry groups and led the charge for Indiana to adopt Daylight Saving Time.

“From an economic development perspective, he’s had a huge impact on the state of Indiana,” says Langham. “And as a company, Celadon handles a lot of the freight in and out of Indiana for all of the distributors and manufacturers throughout the state.”

Steve is also described as a tireless philanthropist. His efforts focused on education and the arts; locally, he heavily supported Herron High School and formed a fund at Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis that provides tickets to area students. At Cornell, he established four scholarships, including the Russell Family First Generation Scholarship for students who are the first in their family to attend college.

“He was the first generation to go to college in his family, and he believed that opened the door for him to lead a great life,” says Jon. “He felt if he could give that same opportunity back to others, it’d go a long way.”

Described as “a real character,” Will says “people always remember him because of the things he said,” which were often “unfiltered.”

“And a lot of it is led by…I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who hated an uncomfortable silence more than Steve,” says Jon. “He felt the need to fill it, and he would fill it with deep philosophical questions just to get people talking and learn more about each other. He did not want there to be silence in a room.”

The absence of the seasoned leader perhaps leaves silence of a different sort in Indiana’s logistics industry. While business will continue to hum along, there will always be rooms that are a bit quieter without Steve Russell.

Jon says being passionate about what you’re doing was one of Steve’s guiding principles in work and life.

Jon says Steve had a heart for giving people a fresh start in the workplace.

Langham shares a memory that shows Russell’s witty side.

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