Dart Transit Company

By Drew Wood

The height of the Great Depression hardly seems like a good time to start a business, yet that's precisely what Earl Oren did in 1934 when he purchased a truck and trailer and started hauling canned foods throughout the five state area.

The trucking industry was small, newly regulated and Earl saw prime opportunity to capitalize. However, success did not come quickly and Earl had to keep a second job full time for the first 20 years of Dart's existence. 

"He was an entrepreneur for sure," says Don Oren, Earl's son, former Dart president and current chairman of the board. "He couldn't sit down in a chair without taking out a [piece of paper] and working."

And innovating. With no money to actually buy trucks Earl decided to lease from owner-operators, a wholly new and, as Don says, somewhat unusual notion at the time. The independent contractor model worked and by the mid-1950s Earl was full time at Dart and only Dart, and was able to hire Don, then a student as Augsburg, part time.

However, things were far from perfect as Don says when talking about his choice to go full time and, thus, perpetuate the Oren family business to generation two. "Here was my dilemma, very, very plain," says Don. "I wanted to do it, but I wasn't sure the company was going to survive. I mean, when I kept the check book, the company was always minus, never a plus."

Don Oren stuck with it and with the help of his wife Beverly-former executive vice president at Dart-was able to grow the company from five or six trailers and a handful of contractors to a 600 employee, 2,600 independent contractor empire. By the 1970s Don and Bev's sons, Dan, Brad and David, had joined the company, a calculated decision by Don and Bev who even attended Wharton School of Business seminars on the subject of succession planning.

And perpetuate Dart has, now solidly in control of the third generation and gaining steam.

"We are a company that is always looking for and encourages continuous improvement," says Dart president David Oren, Don's son, of their continued emphasis on innovation. "And we also tolerate failure pretty well. We're not afraid to try things, we're not afraid to fail."


Family BizBrief 

Dart Transit Company

Headquarters: Eagan

Inception: 1934

Type of ownership: C-Corp Revenue: $557M in 2008 Employees: 600 employees, 2,600 independent contractors Description: Provider of truckload transportation and related services that include logistic management services, load brokerage, warehousing and temporary storage to markets within the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Principal owners: Oren family 

Family members employed by the business: 4

Family members involved with the business: 6 

Number of generations involved since inception: 3

Generation currently running the business: 2nd and 3rd