Shannon Newton on The Public's 'Blind Spot' Toward Trucking

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014 12:00 am  

Shannon Newton

Shannon Newton was named president of the Arkansas Trucking Association on June 11 to replace Lane Kidd, who stepped down after 22 years.

Newton, 35, has been with the association since 2003 when she was hired to oversee the organization’s $11 million Self-Insurers’ Fund. Previously, she worked for Maverick USA for a year. She graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in 2002 with degrees in accounting and computer information systems.

You don’t come from a trucking background at all, so what have you come to appreciate about the trucking industry?

The thing that grows on me in the most significant way is the essentiality of the trucking industry to the American standard of living. The general public expects bread on the shelf, prescriptions behind the counter and their Amazon packages to arrive the next day, but they give such little consideration to the industry that makes those things possible. They grimace about a traffic jam or the “big truck” that was going too slow in the fast lane, without much consideration that the nation’s economy is being transported in plain sight.

How surprised are you that you are now president of the ATA when 12 years ago you were just looking for an accounting job when you graduated college?

From 12 years ago — really surprised. When I graduated college, I wanted to be the CFO of something. I didn’t know what type of business or in what industry, but as soon as I went to work at my first job, trucking was on my radar. When I was approached about the position with the association, that opportunity allowed me to execute the financial management of the Arkansas Trucking Association Self-Insurers’ Fund. That was about as close to being a CFO as any 24-year-old could imagine.

As a woman leading a state association in a predominantly male industry, do you feel like you can be a role model for women or do you think gender’s not an issue?

I think to say that gender is not an issue ignores some pretty obvious facts. I don’t view myself as a role model to other women. I would hope that any young woman in today’s workforce believes that she can hold any title. It is at least worth considering that men need to see effective women in leadership positions as much, if not more, than women do. As an industry, we are much more diverse than we probably get credit for. I just want to be known as the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association without any extra adjectives.

Maverick USA, led by your former boss, Steve Williams, has opened up a new training center and announced two pay raises for drivers. Has Williams declared the opening of a bidding war for drivers?

I think what Maverick is doing is unique in that they are almost intently saying, “We’ll take nondrivers and make our own.” This is a very different strategy from the rest of the industry, which continues to try to lure drivers from one another. By investing in extravagant training facilities and offering increased pay to inexperienced drivers, they are directing their resources to creating their own drivers, increasing the pool from a nontraditional source. While the initial overhead costs are somewhat staggering, Maverick must be receiving a return on that investment by way of driver retention, safer drivers, fewer bad habits, fewer job-hoppers.

What’s the best decision you’ve made in your professional career?

The best decision I ever made was to take a chance, leave a job that I liked in hopes that I would be given the opportunity to thrive with the association in a greater, more fulfilling way.

 

 

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