Original shareholder Leonard Shapiro passed away on March 12; colleagues remember a confident leader and family man who always kept his word.
By Hilary Reeves
Ev Trout first met Leonard Shapiro on April 1, 1976.
Trout had flown to Seattle from California to interview for a position at the burgeoning startup Totem Ocean Trailer Express.
“Leonard was one of the first people I met when I arrived at the office,” said Trout. “He sat in on one of the first interviews I had. It was very exciting. I thought the company had a lot of spirit and high morale. I thought its system for moving freight to Alaska was amazing.
“When I got back home, I was optimistic, but I didn’t hear anything. I thought maybe I’d misread the situation. Three weeks later, I received an envelope. In it was a letter from Leonard about a number of potential opportunities with the company. They had wanted to reach out to me sooner, but I had forgotten to put my phone number on my resume,” he laughed.
A member of the original Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock. Co. team tasked with launching TOTE, Shapiro moved his family from Chester, Pennsylvania to Seattle in 1975. He and eight other company executives, including Trout, joined outside investors to buy TOTE in 1982. Shapiro died on March 12 at the age of 74.
“We lost Bob (McMillen) in 2002,” said Trout. “With Leonard gone, we’re down to four.”
The early years
Shapiro was born in New York City on Oct. 8, 1942. After the war, his parents left Missouri, where they lived during the war years, for Brooklyn, and then moved to the new suburban community of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
“Len was always proud of his New York heritage,” said his wife, Pat Shapiro. “He always had great stories about growing up in the suburbs during the 1950s, the casual way of life for children: riding bicycles everywhere, playing in nearby farmers’ fields not yet demolished for new houses, knowing all the neighbors, and shopping in neighborhood stores. He liked having a garden, even when he was young – so much so that he even subscribed to farming magazines as a child.”
Shapiro graduated from Florida Southern College, then joined the army as a Second Lieutenant, a tank unit commander. After his service, he graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked at several different jobs to help pay for his education, including stints as an agricultural inspector, valet parking-lot attendant, and elementary-school substitute. He met Pat at a college mixer, and they were married on Jan. 11, 1969. He was hired by Sun Shipbuilding out of college, and was sent to Seattle in 1975 for a “three-week job.”
“After a year on that ‘temporary’ assignment, I joined him, and we never left,” said Pat. “Our twin daughters, Sarah and Rachael, were born in 1977. I believe the girls were the first ‘TOTE babies,’ and Len was an extremely proud ‘TOTE dad.’ He took great pride in the company’s success, in business and in personnel.”
Four decades of friendship
Trout spent his initial years with TOTE based in California, but he traveled to Seattle often and was frequently invited to dinner at the Shapiro home on Queen Anne.
“Their daughters were in junior high at that point,” said Trout. At the time, Leonard thought he would get TOTE up and moving, and once it had really established itself he anticipated going back to the parent company. Once, it came up and one of our former colleagues said to Len, ‘You’re going to have to get something to remove Pat’s handcuffs, because she’s going to handcuff herself to pine tree before she moved back!’ He seemed to talk less and less about going back over time.”
Trout eventually moved to Seattle and became the company’s Vice President of Sales and Operations. Shapiro was the Vice President of Pricing.
“I learned over time that Leonard was really his own person,” Trout reflected. “You never had to scratch your head and wonder what his position was on any particular issue. He would let you know very clearly and without any doubt. Most of the time, we would be on the same side.”
Until, Trout said, there was a question of special rates.
“As the VP of Sales, with Len the VP of Pricing, we’d get proposals sometimes that would require special rate packages. I’d sit down with him and try to work it out. But he was vehemently opposed. ‘We have the best service in the trade,’ he’d say, ‘There’s no reason to make a rate cut.’ There’d be times we would be so much on different sides that we’d stomp off to our respective offices red in the face. But maybe something else would come up the same day, and I’d go back to Leonard, and it would always be treated as a separate issue. There was never any carryover. He always looked at the next proposal on its own merits.”
Trouts remembers Shapiro as a positive force during the purchase of TOTE.
“There were six of us, originally. Leonard was extremely confident that we would be successful, and very detail-oriented. Part of the sale arrangement was that Sun maintained a 20-percent interest for 10 years. But out timing was amazingly fortunate. The 10-year warrant was paid off in 19 months.
“Leonard was somebody that I thought very highly of. He was his own man, but he was a very important partner and asset to the company from the very beginning.”
’He was an old-school guy, and enjoyed the game’
Harry McDonald met Shapiro in 1994 in Alaska, when Carlile Transportation Systems purchased K&W Trucking from Anderson Trucking. McDonald co-founded Carlile in 1980, and currently works as Saltchuk’s Alaska Director.
“K&W was a significant customer of TOTE,” said McDonald.
“There was considerable concern within TOTE that Carlile wouldn’t have the sophistication or control to know how to do business in the inter-state market. Len gave me a lot of ‘coaching,’” he laughed. “The relationship was always positive, and lasted from 1994 until Len retired.”
Though McDonald acknowledged he didn’t have a choice when it came to doing business with TOTE, contract negotiations were often heated.
“One went on for a number of hours at a hotel bar (near Seattle),” he said. “We had pretty much agreed on all the issues, except the amount of the increase we were being given. We were 2 percent apart. I was worn out, and finally suggested we flip a coin, which we did. I won the toss, and the deal was made. Len always liked to keep negotiations very confidential, to the point where sometimes even people within TOTE or my company were on a need-to-know basis. Whenever an issue came up concerning the contract interpretation, Len always made sure that our intent was carried out. Not once did he ever back up on a deal he made with me. A couple of times, the TOTE people dealing with me didn’t believe what I was telling them, but when I told them to talk to Len it always got it cleared up. He was an old-school guy, and enjoyed the game.”
A life of adventure
Trout said he’ll remember Shapiro as a man of integrity who went above and beyond.
“We fished together in Alaska on a number of occasions. I was into fly fishing, and Leonard got into that too and he got really hooked on it. After two or three years of trips, he was not only fly fishing, he was making his own fly rods.”
According to Pat, Shapiro had an extensive collection of tools – “his garage was a mess, and he could never find exactly what he was looking for; naturally that meant another trips to the hardware store and even more tools!” – and loved fishing, deer hunting, and duck and dove shoots.
“He just wanted to be out there,” she said. “He loved hiking and trekking, and had completed half of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. He planned to complete the route this spring. At the end of the trek, the hiker is asked whether the reason for his trip was pleasure or spiritual. Len was proud of his Jewish heritage, and the hike is more of a Catholic pilgrimage. He told me he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say.”
Shapiro enjoyed traveling. He and Pat first traveled to Europe, to Italy, in 1970, and continued to travel throughout the world. The couple have six grandchildren – five boys and one girl. Shapiro enjoyed teasing them with a trick from one of his favorite TV shows.
“He always tried to give them a ‘Vulcan Mind Meld’ from the original Star Trek, and the kids thought it was great fun to duck away, or try to catch him on the head instead,” said Pat.
When he retired from TOTE, he began hiking the Appalachian Trail. The 2,200-mile hike took him almost four years to complete; he liked hiking for a couple weeks every spring and fall. His next treks were in Patagonia, Nepal, Everest Base Camp, the Inca Trail, and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail.
“He loved sharing stories about all those trips, and encouraged everyone he met to join him on his next adventure,” said Pat.
“He was a person of Saltchuk in the highest regard,” concluded Trout.