Our Founder, John Ruan

For a country that depends so heavily on trucks to keep its business moving, it is fitting that John Ruan moved his first load of gravel on July 4, 1932. 

That first truck was purchased with money gained from the sale of his family's car. Within months, he'd turned that one truck into three, and just two years later, at the age of 19, he was running a fleet of a dozen trucks throughout the Midwest.

An Early Innovator

Founder John RuanOne opportunity that he identified very early on was safety. Ruan was the first transportation company in America to have a formal safety program. Not only did Mr. Ruan view safety as a moral imperative for the well-being of his employees, he viewed it as a competitive advantage over his competition.

Under his leadership, the Ruan team developed the first truck capable of driving 1 million miles without major repairs. They introduced programs to reduce emissions. And, they developed and championed programs that rewarded safe driving.

In 1997, for his contributions to the logistics industry, the American Trucking Associations' Ruan Transportation Center building was dedicated in Washington, D.C., honoring Mr. Ruan's more than 50 years of service to the transportation industry.

Beyond Transportation

As John Ruan saw his and his company's fortunes increase, his thoughts turned to how he could improve the world around him. He began first with his home city of Des Moines. Rather than build a new corporate headquarters in the more spacious suburbs, he believed Des Moines could and should be a vibrant, thriving, professional city. So he built the 36-story Ruan Center office complex in the middle of downtown Des Moines, the tallest building in Iowa at the time. He brought the Marriott Hotel into the city and later erected Two Ruan Center. The result was the beginning of a downtown resurgence that continues to this day—and is championed by his son and daughter in law, John III and Janis Ruan.

Funding Research

Ruan HeadquartersMr. Ruan's life was affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) when his wife and his daughter were stricken with the disease. He responded by forming the John Ruan MS Charity. Its golf tournament quickly became the largest one-day charity golf event in the United States, and it began funding research in an experimental MS regimen at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

In the late 1980s, Mr. Ruan personally donated $2 million for the establishment of the Ruan Neurological Center at Des Moines' Mercy Medical Center, which cares for patients with MS as well as other neurological disorders, such as stroke and Parkinson's disease. 

Feeding the world

Mr. Ruan held the belief that if people around the world could simply get enough food to eat, they would have the opportunity to improve their lives. Another accomplished Iowan, Dr. Norman Borlaug, had been working toward this goal his entire career. The father of the Green Revolution, Dr. Borlaug dreamed of a Nobel Prize-level award for achievement in agriculture. When he could not persuade the Nobel Committee to add such a category, he started his own prize.

Mr. Ruan, unaware of Dr. Borlaug's ambition, had been thinking along the very same lines. So when Dr. Borlaug's sponsor backed out just three years after the formation of the World Food Prize, Mr. Ruan stepped in as its sponsor in 1990.

The World Food Prize became his passion. He worked with Dr. Borlaug to develop a symposium that would bring the brightest innovators in agriculture to Des Moines every October. They developed programs to promote agricultural study in schools and universities. And, they succeeded in making the World Food Prize the most prestigious, important and richest award in agriculture.

Mr. Ruan ultimately endowed the World Food Prize with $10 million to ensure that the prize would carry on indefinitely. The World Food Prize Foundation is now located in the restored, century-old Des Moines Public Library as the Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan III led the effort to restore the historical building, which opened its doors in October 2011 to diplomats, international business leaders, ambassadors, international heads of government and agricultural innovators during the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue and Symposium.

In Remembrance

John Ruan passed away on February 14, 2010, at the age of 96. He instilled our company with a respect for hard work, for integrity and for our customers. He treated his team members like an extension of his own family. His example—whether it was his positive attitude or the thousand little kindnesses he performed—will continue to enrich our lives in the years to come.