Trucking legend, innovator Myron P. “Mike” Shevell dies at 87

Myron P. “Mike” Shevell, who rose from driving a pickle truck to leading one of the most profitable family-owned trucking companies during his nearly 75-year career in the industry, died on Jan. 24 in Palm Beach, Fla. The indefatigable Shevell was 87.

Mike started in trucking doing deliveries for his father’s fleet in Perth Amboy, N.J., which transported seafood. During Prohibition, Shevell also hauled liquor. Mike was 14 at the time. That he lacked a driver’s license was viewed a mere technicality. He ferried groceries, returned home for breakfast before jumping on the bus to school.

After graduating from George Washington University and New York University, Mike assumed executive roles at Apex Express, the family-owned business. He went from there to Royal Motor Lines, which later merged with Eastern Freight Ways.

During the 1970s, Mike and brother, Daniel, turned the company into the gold standard of trucking and took it public. The brothers acquired Associated Transport, making it the third-largest trucking company in America. But the fuel crisis and merger complications caused the company’s collapse. In 1977, Mike acquired New England Motor Freight (NEMF) where he became the chairman and chief executive officer.

Despite the name, NEMF was based in Elizabeth, N.J. Shevell rode the rollercoaster from a regulated industry to one that was deregulated by the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.

Few trucking executives handled the transition more adroitly or profitably. At its peak, NEMF had 4,200 employees and operated 10,000 pieces of equipment with 40 terminals throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

In 2019, one year after its 100th anniversary, New England Motor Freight filed for bankruptcy protection. It ceased operations in 2020.

“I thought we had built a helluva company,” Shevell told LM shortly after announcing the bankruptcy. “But trucking is a brutal business. Shippers never were willing to pay rates that we needed to survive.”

When Mike said NEMF was a family-owned company he meant it. Mike loved trucks and he passed that enthusiasm to his children. On weekends, he brought Nancy, Jon and Susan to terminals, giving each a quarter for every one of his trucks they spotted along the way.

He ran his businesses with warmth and the personal touch. He usually greeted NEMF drivers by name, and began his annual company address with a notable rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

Despite his passion for trucking, Mike did not look the part. He dressed in made-to-order suits and lavished himself with Pucci aftershave lotion. But he didn’t hesitate to crawl under a vehicle. He started each morning in the maintenance shop, ate a sandwich at his desk, but dined at a classy restaurant, usually Il Mulino, Elio’s, Fresco or the Friars Club in Manhattan, every evening.

Mike’s career highs included roles as vice chairman of the New Jersey Transit Corp. and president of the New Jersey Trucking Association. He received Master Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. He served on the board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities for over a decade.

Shevell is survived by his daughter, Nancy McCartney and son-in-law Sir Paul McCartney, daughter Susan Shevell and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is predeceased by his wife of 34 years, Arlene Walters Shevell, and son Jon Shevell.

In lieu of flowers, a donation may be made to the Arlene Walters Shevell Scholarship Foundation, Parents Support Group, 31 Hathaway Lane, Essex Fells, NJ 07021.

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