I recently finished reading “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s a wonderful biography of Abraham Lincoln that was the foundation for the 2012 movie “Lincoln.” I learned a great deal from this book about the life and times of Lincoln. One of the things that impressed me most was the great lengths that Lincoln went to in order to restore and preserve unity. He set aside ego, political ambition, personal grievances, and even the safety and security of himself and others, with the unwavering mission of unifying the nation. My recent immersion into the life of Lincoln may explain why I seem to be finding him everywhere I go, but I’ll let you be the judge.
My September travels began with a trip to Washington DC for the NationaLease 71st Annual Meeting. We had two days of awesome speakers, excellent discussions, and a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. It was an opportunity to celebrate the success of NationaLease and recognize and acknowledge some of the individuals and groups who contributed to that success. You can read all about it here. While in DC, I made sure to take the time to visit my favorite monument. You guessed it…the Lincoln Memorial.
However, the “road” portion of my trip began when I returned from DC, headed south, and drove to Remington, Indiana. On this trip I had company, as Terry Kletting, our newest National Account Executive, joined me for my quick visit to Indiana. Terry is based in Downers Grove, and has responsibility for the Midwest, including Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas. He comes to NationaLease with an extensive background in truck leasing from both Ruan and Penske. As the drive from Chicago to Remington quickly took us out of the city into a seemingly endless expanse of corn and soybean fields, I was glad to have someone to chat with, as well as the very large cup of coffee I had brought along.
Remington was first laid out in 1860, the year Lincoln was elected president. It was originally called Carpenter Station, named for the railroad station which became the hub of the town. The name was later changed to Remington, after the founder of the general store. The main trade was in grain, as the area consisted of excellent prairie farmland and the town’s position on the railroad made it a good location for such trade. By 1883, the population was about 900. Today, it is just over 1,100. Very much in line with the town’s transportation heritage, Schilli NationaLease has its headquarters located here. Terry and I met with Tom Schilli and Jake Rudisill to discuss several of NationaLease’s programs for our members. I shared updates on our Supply Management programs and other news from the Annual Meeting, and Terry gave them some updates on the National Account program and customers. Around lunchtime we moved the discussions from the Schilli offices over to Bob and Connie’s, a local restaurant where Jake and Tom knew everyone in the place. We left Remington with full stomachs (the chicken tetrazzini was delicious) and headed east to Fort Wayne.
After a couple more hours of corn and soybean fields, we reached our destination. Just a short distance from the Ohio border, Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana. The U.S. Army built Fort Wayne in 1794 and it quickly established itself as a trading post. We were in Fort Wayne to see the folks at Parrish Leasing, Inc., a NationaLease Member. We caught up with Chip Parrish and filled him in on the latest offerings and opportunities with NationaLease, then stopped in to see Josh Parrish, as well as Chuck Miller, who was out on the lot helping with a repair when we found him.
Visiting these prairie towns and bringing them the latest news made me think about Lincoln riding the circuit. In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, lawyers and judges, including Lincoln, traveled the “circuit” from small town to small town, trying local cases, swapping stories, discussing the issues facing the country, and building lifelong friendships. I also found out that Fort Wayne has its very own Lincoln connection. Lincoln spent his boyhood in the southern part of the state, but Fort Wayne in the northeast corner is home to a statue of the young Lincoln. In 1905, the founder of Lincoln National Life Insurance Company obtained permission to use Lincoln’s image on stationery and in marketing, an agreement that ultimately resulted in the commission of a bronze sculpture for its Fort Wayne headquarters. The sculpture depicts the young Lincoln with a book, a dog, and an axe. The dog was one the boy had allegedly rescued from the Wabash River during the family’s move from Indiana to Illinois. The Lincoln Financial Group of Philadelphia, which grew out of the Fort Wayne insurance company, still uses Lincoln’s image in its branding.
It was time for dinner when we left Parrish Leasing, so on a tip from Chuck Miller, Terry and I found Cork ‘N Cleaver. The salad bar was enormous, and the food was great, but the most unique thing about the restaurant was the menu. Our waitress thumped down a huge meat cleaver on the table with the entire menu listed on its two sides.
Back on the road and heading toward home, I felt a bit like a circuit rider. Fortunately, I don’t have to try any cases, but I certainly get to swap stories, discuss issues, and build tremendous friendships. And I can also understand Lincoln’s passion for unity. It’s the very thing that makes NationaLease so unique and so resilient. After 71 years, NationaLease still embraces the founding principle of individual members working together as one to provide incomparable service to their customers. Unity was the beginning of NationaLease, and what has sustained it ever since. I think Lincoln would approve.