CRST founder Herald “Smitty” Smith, 91, dies

Herald “Smitty” Smith Jr. passed away on July 27 at his home in Door County, Wis., after a brief illness.  He was 91.

Smith founded Cedar Rapids Steel Transportation (CRST) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1955 when he was just 31 years old, from humble beginnings, having no trucks and no customers, the company said.

Looking for cheap office space, he set up business in a used chicken coop purchased for $125. Smith began contracting with owner/operators hauling livestock to Chicago to return to the Cedar Rapids area with loads of steel instead of empty trucks.

Though the trucking industry was strictly regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission at that time, Smith’s determination and entrepreneurial spirit enabled him to find ways to grow the company. Growth often came by way of strategic acquisition of other carriers to expand both its customer base and delivery footprint.

Smith stepped down as CRST company president in 1977, remaining as Chairman of the Board. Embracing the extraordinary change in the industry brought on by deregulation in 1980, he oversaw the company’s rapid transition into a highly competitive marketplace.

John Smith, Herald’s son and current chairman of CRST International credits his father for teaching him the value of persistence, hard work and going after opportunities.

“When you get into business, things aren’t always going to go right so you have to be persistent,” he said.

The first year after deregulation, CRST increased its gross revenue by 25%, the company said. “That same year, CRST was granted nationwide operating authority, only the third carrier to receive this privilege,” CRST noted. “Only months later, the company was serving every state in the continental United States.”

Herald Smith served as president of Iowa Motor Truck Association in 1979 and was chairman of Common Carriers Conference, Irregular Route in 1981. After his retirement in 1983 as chairman of the board, passing the leadership reigns to his son, John, he continued to attend board meetings, keeping the link to the company’s history of entrepreneurial growth strategy.

Smith believed in safety above profit. He once stated, “Our goal is to be the safest carrier in the industry. Profitability will follow.”

“He was an icon in the transportation business,” said CRST International president and CEO Dave Rusch. “He dealt with adversity after the industry was deregulated in 1980. He was a very good man, a born entrepreneur and philanthropist; he will be missed by many.”

“Smitty” is survived by his wife, Miriam, four children – John, Jim, Sharon Smith Konchar and Sue Smith-Johnson and numerous grandchildren, colleagues and friends.

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