Don R. Daseke
Class of 2018
- Founder & Chairman Emeritus Daseke, Inc.
Don Daseke was born in 1939 in a small town in Indiana, where his father had two jobs as a real estate agent and insurance broker. "My father never attended college," says Daseke. He grew up with the challenge of having two deaf-mute parents. His father worked as a cobbler in a town of only 500 people, and their income was always very low. "My father supported not only our family, but also supplemented his parents' income. I'm sure it wasn't easy growing up with parents who were hearing impaired. I know there were times when my grandparents were teased, so their situation taught my father to be sensitive to the needs of others. My father was a man of common sense, and his word was his bond. He was highly respected in our small town."
Daseke credits his mother for his keen intelligence. She had a college degree and taught high school before her marriage. She instilled in her son a love of learning, and he rewarded her efforts by being a top performer in school. Daseke had a sister, Ruth Ann, who was two years younger. Unfortunately, she developed an affliction that affected her mental development. As her condition worsened over the years, her medical expenses strained the family's finances. Daseke's mother largely spent her days caring for her daughter and her evenings keeping the accounts for her husband's small business. Over the years, as Daseke watched his sister struggle with her disabilities, he learned the importance of perseverance in the face of life's great challenges. Ruth Ann died at age 38.
Daseke viewed his father as an entrepreneur and was proud of his efforts to find ways to boost income. He flipped houses, making a small profit each time, but this practice caused the family to move 15 times in Daseke's youth. "I think it was my father's influence that made me think from the time I was a kid that I, too, was a businessman," he says. "Even when I started my paper route at age nine, I treated it like a business. When I was older, I had an ice cream business that essentially consisted of a large tricycle with a box full of dry ice in it to keep my popsicles cold. I pedaled it to the park in the summertime and did fairly well with it, but it wasn't easy pushing that bike up hills."
Daseke's ice cream bike gave his father the idea of opening a soft ice cream drive-in restaurant, which he called Bill's Park & Eat. By then, Daseke and his sister were in high school, which allowed their mother to work at the drive-in. The business wasn't successful. Then, just before his father sold it, Daseke, who was in the ninth grade, asked if he could manage it. He worked in the drive-in throughout high school and college, which, coupled with a scholarship, allowed him to finance his higher education and receive a degree in economics from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. "I had always admired the man who did my parents' taxes," Daseke says. "Math came easily to me, so I thought becoming an accountant would be a good career."
Daseke took his studies seriously. Upon graduation, he received DePauw's sole annual scholarship for graduate school at the University of Chicago. He earned his MBA in 1963 and went to work as a CPA for Arthur Andersen. Two years later, he felt he needed to find a position that would challenge him more. "I wanted to give sales a try," he says. "In particular, I wanted to sell computers. I wrote to IBM, asking for a sales job. They wrote back and told me they hired only engineers for sales. I kept up a conversation with them and eventually convinced them I would be a good hire." Three years later, he was the leading computer salesman for IBM in the United States.
Daseke left IBM to found a real-estate investment business in 1972. His first project was an apartment complex in Tulsa, which was hit by a tornado soon after purchase. Within four years, the complex was hit with two floods, but Daseke never gave up and expanded beyond that unfortunate property to eventually build 50,000 apartment units across the Sunbelt. He was doing well until 1987, when a combination of collapsing oil prices, a change in tax law that negatively impacted real-estate investments, and overbuilding in virtually all southern markets created a perfect storm that resulted in Daseke's company becoming insolvent.
Understandably, this was a difficult period for Daseke, who decided he needed to take some time to internalize what had happened and how best to move forward. He signed up for a winter camping trip in northern Minnesota with the Outward Bound program. Daseke used a dog sled, which he often had to push over rock outcroppings as the Outward Bound group traveled between lakes in the frozen Boundary waters between northern Minnesota and Canada. "That trip was equal parts enlightening and empowering," says Daseke. "I learned that I'm not a quitter; I'm a survivor. I returned with the plan that I would work through my business problems one day at a time. And that's exactly what I did."
It took Daseke nearly five years to work through his financial challenges, but he was gratified that his investors continued to support him throughout. It was during this time that his philosophy of "investing in people" took shape. He restored his real-estate investment trust company to strength, eventually taking Walden Residential Properties public in 1994. He grew the company to 1,700 employees and 42,000 apartment units and then sold the company in 2000 for $1.7 billion. Ever grateful for those who stood by him in his challenging times, Daseke says, "Anyone can invest in real estate or other physical assets, but in life it's people who will ultimately make the difference between success and failure. If you have the right people by your side, success will always rise from the ashes of adversity."
In 2008, Daseke founded Daseke, Inc., with Smokey Point Distributing becoming the first trucking company under its umbrella. Over subsequent years, Daseke, who serves as chairman and CEO, has consolidated 16 elite carriers to make Daseke, Inc. the largest owner of flatbed and specialized logistics in North America. In 2014, he was recognized by Ernst & Young in their Entrepreneur of the Year program. He took his company public in February of 2017 and anticipates revenue to surpass $1.2 billion in 2018.
Looking back over his career, Daseke believes it helped him early on to realize he is a survivor. "I was hit with natural disasters and a collapsed oil market when I first started," he says, "but I never gave up. I think it's important to never compromise your values as you work through challenges. I learned to be true to myself no matter how bad things seemed at the time."
When asked about his views on success, Daseke says, "To me, success is being a builder, helping the people around you grow as a result of what you have done. In everything I do, I try to Invest in People."
With a firm belief in serving his community of Addison, Texas, Daseke has served as a member of the Addison Planning & Zoning Commission, the Addison City Council, and was mayor pro tem of the town. He also served as president and chairman of Addison's Water Tower Theatre. He and his wife, Barbara, support the Dallas Symphony, the Dallas Museum of Art, The Arts Community Alliance (TACA), the Dallas Zoo, and the Cattle Barons Ball.
As for DePauw University, Daseke has never forgotten that first scholarship and the role that financial support played in helping him to be a successful college student. He has served on the board of trustees of DePauw University for more than 30 years and has committed $20 million in scholarships to the school. "I'm a big believer in what a scholarship can do for a student," he says. "That is why I think the Horatio Alger Scholarship Program is so important. I am honored and proud not only to be associated with the Members but also to be a part of an organization that recognizes the benefits of helping motivated students achieve their goals."