Robert Peiser, one of the architects of the financial turnaround of Van Buren-based USA Truck, has died, the company announced Friday (May 24). He was 70.
Peiser joined the USA Truck board in February 2012 and was named board chair in November, succeeding Terry Elliot. Peiser had experience with troubled companies, including overseeing turnaround efforts.
“Among his most notable successes in management positions was his role as Executive Vice President and CFO of Trans World Airlines, where he was credited with being the principal architect of that company’s successful restructuring in 1995,” USA Truck noted at the time of his rise to board chair.
Turnaround was then vital for USA Truck. When Peiser was named chair in November 2012, the publicly held company’s share price was below $3, and had fallen 62% since the first of the year. The company had also rebuffed a hostile takeover attempt in 2011 by Indianapolis-based Celadon Group.
The company posted a 2011 net income loss of $10.777 million, more than triple the loss during 2010 and in a year when other trucking companies were beginning to see improved financials. 2011 marked the third consecutive year of a losses for USA Truck. In 2010, the company reported a loss of $3.308 million, and a $7.177 million loss in 2009.
Less than a year into his effort to turnaround the company, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Knight Transportation went public with a $9 per share bid as part of a $242 million deal to acquire USA Truck. The per share bid announced in September 2013 was a 39% premium from USA Truck’s share price a few days prior to Knight’s public move. After a lengthy legal battle that cost the company more than $2.1 million, USA Truck was successful in avoiding the hostile takeover.
Financials began to slowly improve after 2013. The company posted 2018 net income of $12.204 million, better than what the market expected and ahead of the $7.497 million in 2017. Total 2018 revenue was $534.06 million, up almost 20% compared to $446.533 million in 2017. USA Truck shares (NASDAQ: USAK) closed Friday at $12.35, down 34 cents. During the past 52 weeks the share price has ranged from $24.86 to $12.23. The low as set in Friday’s intraday trading.
USA Truck President and CEO James Reed praised Peiser’s skills as board chairman.
“It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of Bob’s passing Wednesday night. He was an inspirational leader and fierce advocate for USA Truck – unmistakably direct, intensely competitive and a tough but reasonable business person who balanced that toughness with incredible humor and compassion,” Reed said in the company statement. “Bob was the consummate professional and best board member I ever met. He was unflappable and even-tempered in tense situations and unmatched in his logic and reasoning – he saw clearly among ambiguity and confusion – it was his ‘Jedi skill.’”
Peiser is survived by his wife, Nancy; four children: Karyn Saxon (Todd), Brian Peiser (Lisa), Craig Peiser (Stacey), Scott Peiser (Whitney); 8 grandchildren: Jenna (13), Annabelle (10), Sophia (13), Alex (11), Ava (9), Vivienne (9), Hunter (10), and Sydney (8); and 2 stepsons: Walter Heap and Edward Heap.
Alexander Greene, who has served on the board since May 2014, is the new board chair for USA Truck. He also serves on the boards of Ambac Financial Group, Element Fleet Management Corp. and GP Natural Resource Partners. He recently served as board chairman of Modular Space Corp., a North American supplier of modular buildings and storage units, prior to its sale to Williams Scotsman in August 2018.
Greene spent more than 35 years in private equity, investment banking and commercial banking with firms including Brookfield Asset Management, The Carlyle Group, Wasserstein Perella & Co., and Whitman Heffernan Rhein & Co.