John Ruan, the founder of Ruan Transportation Management Systems, passed away on Feb. 13 at the age of 96, the company announced.

Ruan is survived by his wife Elizabeth and sons John Ruan III and Thomas Ruan, all of Des Moines, IA, six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. He is predeceased by his daughter Jayne Ruan Fletcher.

“Our family is grieving. We have lost our mentor and dear companion,” said John Ruan’s son, John Ruan III, chairman & CEO of Ruan Transportation Management Systems. “My father’s influence in the industry and with his employees and customers built the strong foundation for the company that exists today.”

Ruan began his empire with a single truck in 1932, eventually growing the company into Ruan Transportation Management Systems, one of the largest transportation management companies in the country.

“John Ruan was a recognized leader in business, education, and community,” said Thomas Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “He was the visionary who formed the World Food Prize. But most importantly, he was a man of courage and conviction, a leader who made others stronger and better because they knew him.”

Ruan started his company on July 4, 1932 when his Iowa State University tuition money ran out. He traded in the family car for a truck and quickly found success, growing to three trucks hauling coal within a year. Today, Ruan employs more than 4,700, operates 3,300 power units, 5,400 trailers and manages over 550,000 logistics shipments annually with revenues exceeding $860 million.

Running a successful business was not enough for Ruan, who sought out ways to help the less fortunate. Recognizing that hunger and poverty remained a major challenge in the world, Ruan set up the World Food Prize Foundation in 1990. Each year, the organization awards the international World Food Prize to acknowledge individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. In 1997, Ruan endowed the World Food Prize with a $10 million gift.

“John knew what the Prize could become. He knew it would be the centerpiece to help solve world hunger and bring glory to Iowa,” said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of The World Food Prize Foundation.

Ruan has been widely recognized for many of his contributions to industry and humanity. In 1997, the American Trucking Assn.’s Ruan Transportation Center building was dedicated in Washington, D.C., honoring his more than 50 years of service to the transportation industry.

As chairman & CEO of the Ruan family of companies, Ruan represented a diversified group of businesses with interests in transportation, commercial banking, financial services, international trading, and real estate development. Ruan Companies owns Bankers Trust Company, the largest independent bank in Iowa.

Ruan also built the 36-story Ruan Center in downtown Des Moines in the 1970s and he played a key role in the development of Des Moines’ skywalk system and the Polk County Convention Center.

“In John Ruan’s day they called them self-made men—individuals with guts, determination and an ability to anticipate marketplace trends. Today, a man like Mr. Ruan would be called an entrepreneur, a visionary. His spirit did not come from seminars or books, but rather life experiences and a belief in himself and the people around him,” said Suku Radia, who met Ruan in 1975 when Radia was a 23-year-old auditor working for the accounting firm of Peat Marwick Mitchell. Ruan was a client. Today, some 35 years later, Radia still serves the Ruans, but now as CEO and President of Bankers Trust, which has been owned by the Ruan family since 1964.

A winner of the Iowa Award in 2001, the state’s highest citizen award, Ruan also started the annual John Ruan MS Charity Golf Exhibition to raise money for MS research, a disease that afflicted both his wife Elizabeth and daughter Jayne. He also donated $2 million to create the Ruan Neurological Center (now the Ruan Rehabilitation Center) and the Ruan Neurology Clinic at Mercy Medical Center.

The family asks that donations in memory of Ruan be sent to the World Food Prize Foundation, 1700 Ruan Center, 666 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA, 50309. A tribute page has been set up at http://www.ruan.com.