Arkansas Best's Incoming CEO, Judy McReynolds, Treads Her Own Path to the Top

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Nov. 2, 2009 12:00 am  

Judy McReynolds is set to become the only female CEO of an Arkansas-based publicly traded company on Jan. 1.

"There's just no difference in the way that I've been treated in comparison to any of the male officers or employees of the company. Maybe part of that is because I have three boys to deal with at home, my husband and my two sons," McReynolds says, laughing.

Her husband, Lance, is director of Christian education and youth at First Christian Church in Fort Smith. The couple has two sons, Johnny, 17, and Brett, 15.

Zena Featherstone Marshall, director of communication for the Fort Smith Public Schools, has known McReynolds for about 10 years. "Judy is easy to talk to," Marshall says. "You might call that accessible in business language. She's just one of those folks that have a deep sense of purpose that some of us may never marshal."

"Judy is very involved with her boys and what they do and what they accomplish. She is there for them," Marshall says. "And I think when you see a woman who is as powerful as she is, you automatically assume that they don't have time to take care of the family. I think that's one of the flaws that we have in society - that we make judgments too quickly."

McReynolds "has a knack for knowing what needs to be done and gathering the resources for what you need to do," Marshall says. She adds, "Someone of Judy's caliber in the business world is a real role model for young women." Davidson says Arkansas Best's board of directors chose McReynolds for a simple reason: "She's the most qualified. ... I had no reservations recommending her highly."

"One of the ways that you succeed as a manager is to bring on good people and give them a lot of room to do their job," he says, adding that gender and skin color and such factors "just don't come into play."

Davidson adds, "ABF has a very competent president and chief operating officer in Wes Kemp, who works very closely with Judy."

McReynolds credits Davidson and Robert A. Young III, company chairman, for giving her a chance to prove herself.

"Robert and Bob have given me a great opportunity," she says. "And they've done that over the years - not just at once - by allowing me to be involved in strategy, being involved with our board of directors, being involved in so many things that matter. And that's how I think I find myself here."

Her proudest career achievement is being named CFO in 2006, which allowed her "to broaden my involvement in all aspects of the company. ... I think once I accomplished that, that really opened so many things up that I find interesting and I think are important for the company."

McReynolds' success as a CEO, however, depends on the success of Arkansas Best. And that, in turn, depends largely on something over which she has little control: the economy.

She thinks that an economic turnaround is "going to be slower rather than faster," primarily because of high unemployment. "I think that's difficult for people. I think they don't have the ability to go out and buy the goods that end up on ABF's trucks at this point. I think it's going to be something to wait for."



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