PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Gracious and humbled, Edward J. “Joe” Shoen accepted the W.P. Carey Executive of the Year award on April 19 before a packed room of Arizona State educators and decorated professionals at the J.W. Marriott Camelback Inn. But he wouldn’t accept the credit for his recognition.
“The essence of all this is the organization,” said Shoen, whose 30-plus years of leadership have fortified U-Haul® International as the industry leader in do-it-yourself moving and self-storage. “The organization is people. And people are what makes U-Haul successful.”
Shoen made it clear that individual awards are reflective of collective efforts. “Nobody gets anything done by themselves, and I’m no different in that,” he said to kick off his 28-minute speech, which was followed by an insightful Q&A session.
ASU’s prestigious business school is in its 34th year of honoring a business leader whose contribution is recognized as significant to the nation and world; whose inspired leadership has created and sustained superior organizational performance; and whose achievements exemplify a model for future leaders. Dean Amy Hillman presented Shoen with the kachina of leadership to conclude the luncheon.
“In his three decades as the chief executive at U-Haul, Joe Shoen has demonstrated the sort of vision and leadership that this award was designed to recognize,” Hillman said. “He’s overseen not just growth but also diversification, helping to grow and enrich the U-Haul brand along the way. And, of course, as an ASU alum leading a prominent Phoenix-based business, we couldn’t be more proud to honor Joe this year.”
Joining Shoen were his wife, Sylvia, brother and former U-Haul executive Mark Shoen, eldest sons and current U-Haul executives Sam and Stuart Shoen, U-Haul President J.T. Taylor, U-Haul Chief of Staff Jessica Lopez, AMERCO® board members and other members of the Company.
Shoen spoke on the values and philosophies practiced at U-Haul, where the operation has swelled from 4,600 rental locations in 1987 (when Shoen became AMERCO chairman) to 21,000-plus rental locations today with a fleet of 285,000 trucks, trailers and towing devices.
“Anyone who makes you more productive makes you worth more,” he said. “Anyone who makes you less productive makes you worth less. All values are created by work, and only values that are created can be shared. That says a lot in my judgment. … What we’d really like to do is free everyone to be productive.”
Keeping the chain of command short was a talking point for Shoen, who stressed that decisions should be made at the lowest levels possible. With only five levels in the command chain at U-Haul, Shoen said he is able to receive detailed customer feedback.
Another way in which Shoen receives customer feedback is through his published cellphone number – an eyebrow-raising detail that baffles many people. He noted that most of the calls he receives are very respectful and appropriate.
During the Q&A, Shoen explained that U-Haul tailors its products and services to what customers want, rather than trying to tell customers what they need.
“U-Haul, as a group, kind of ran a little bit off the road in the early 1980s and (instituted) some products and services that didn’t resonate with the public,” he said. “U-Haul thought they were good ideas. The customer rejected them. So, my brother Mark and I kind of have a pact, which is we’re going to find out what the customer wants, and we’re going to give it to them. And if that’s different than what we think we ought to have, we’re going to give it to them.
“We’re not going to give them what we think they ought to have.”
Shoen, son of U-Haul co-founders L.S. “Sam” Shoen and Anna Mary Carty Shoen, has resided in Phoenix since the 1960s. He is a graduate of Holy Cross, Harvard Business School and ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Check out Russ Wiles’ recap of the Executive of the Year event in the Arizona Republic by clicking here.