Outstanding Alumni Award

Managing director for China mixes UW practicality with international experience

Martin Winchell portrait
Martin Winchell

Schneider, a $4 billion firm headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers clients “sure, smart access to the expertise and modes to keep your mainland China cargo supply chain running without a hitch.”

Making good on the marketing is College of Agriculture and Natural Resources graduate Martin Winchell, who heads Schneider Logistics (Tianjin) Co. Ltd, one of the largest wholly-owned foreign transportation and logistics firms in China.

The company serves domestic clients and multinational firms such as IKEA, Wal-Mart, and Chevron.

Winchell says a professor told him, “You have to develop something better than what graduates from other universities offer.”

“I was lucky to fall into a niche where I used agricultural and applied economics to learn about transportation,” says Winchell.

Enters Uncharted Territory

Steven Matheys, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Schneider National, Inc., points to Winchell’s ability to build relationships from the warehouse floor to the highest positions in China’s Ministry of Transportation.

“He has been a catalyst for change in China’s rapidly evolving transportation and logistics sector,” says Matheys.

Roger Coupal, professor and former department head for agricultural and applied economics, says when Winchell moved to China in 2005, it was uncharted territory for the industry.

“He used his keen business acumen and thoughtful intercultural awareness to establish Schneider Logistics (Tianjin) as the transportation and logistics industry leader in China.”

Under Winchell’s direction, Schneider developed ground, ocean, and air operations and a logistics network that includes port logistics, supply chain management, and energy transportation services.

“Martin has helped implement innovation in a transportation market yearning for efficiencies of scale,” says Matheys. “His insight, flexibility, and relentless perseverance are helping mold China’s transportation and logistics model for the future.”

Becomes a Useful Chinese Hand

After graduating from high school in Gering, Nebraska, Winchell earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1995.

“I think there’s a good balance that comes with being UW-practical,” says Winchell. “Mix that with complex international experience, and it gives you a good sense of how to get things done.”

Winchell credits the early direction he received from agricultural and applied economics Professor Ed Bradley, who encouraged him to pursue a study-abroad experience in France.

“I was a small-town kid, and he opened my eyes.”

Winchell, back on the UW campus in May, drinks a tall cup of green tea from Starbucks as he shares views from a now-seasoned perspective.

“In a lot of ways, the longer you live in China, the more complex it becomes. A few colleagues – business execs from other companies who’ve been there 25 years or longer – told me, ‘Now you are finally becoming a useful Chinese hand.’ Once you reach that level of confusion, you have the experience you need to make decisions and find solutions.”

Likewise, Winchell says America’s relationship to China will become more challenging as it becomes stronger. He says in China, there is recognition that in the last 25 to 30 years, U.S. business leaders have been very accommodating of the country’s development.

Now, America has to develop new tools and policies to remain competitive, he says. “We need to trade, and we need our businesses to invest in other countries, but we need to do it in a more fair and balanced way,” he says. “The relationship needs to be reset based on the current China, not the one from 25 years ago.”

Human Relations in Technology’s Next Wave

Winchell is on Day 10 of his U.S. visit, and sleep is in short supply as he addresses situations in China by nightly emails and conference calls.

Schneider has more than 600 full-time and contract employees in China. During Winchell’s visit to the college in 2015, he told agricultural and applied economics undergraduate and graduate students, “I need managers who can manage people and inspire them.”

That rings true today, he says.

“While data is important, there is also a shortage of people management skills. Part of that is not being able to relate because we’re dealing with data, with technology, all the time.” he says.

The era of big data is here, says Winchell. It’s time to ask, ‘What do we do with all this information?’

Winchell urges the college and university to train students to process information on a human as well as system level. He asserts that in a future where artificial intelligence and virtual reality are commonplace, students’ need for training in effective human interaction will intensify.

“I’m not a technologist by any stretch, but it’s going to be quite fascinating.”

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