by Marty Cook
Posted 7/7/2014 12:00 am
Updated 2 months ago
Shannon Newton said she is a nerd, but with personality.
Both of those assets will come in handy in her new position as president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. Newton, 35, was named to the position June 11 to replace Lane Kidd, who stepped down in February after 22 years to devote himself to his work as senior manager with the Trucking Alliance in Washington, D.C., and his investment and public relations company, The Kidd Group.
Newton, vice president of the ATA since 2008, had been the interim leader of the ATA until her promotion to the full-time job. The Trucking Association said Newton was the unanimous choice of the board to replace Kidd.
“Her proven experience as a leader and her obvious passion and commitment for our members and for the industry bring exactly what is needed,” said Vicki Jones Stephens of C.C. Jones Trucking in North Little Rock and the chair of the selection committee that chose Newton. “She is the perfect choice, the right person at the right time.”
Craig Harper, the new ATA chairman of the board and an executive VP with J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell, said the association needed an experienced leader with a wide range of skills.
“Shannon is a dynamic leader and extremely knowledgeable on the complex issues faced by our members,” Harper said.
Newton’s rise to the top rung of a trucking association is a bit of a surprise to her since she doesn’t come from a trucking family or have a trucking background. “It was an accident,” said Newton, of Benton. “I have no history. I don’t have a dad or a granddad or an uncle who was a trucker.”
She graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway with a degree in accounting and was hired by Steve Williams, CEO of Maverick Inc. of North Little Rock, to work in his company’s payroll department.
“I am a nerd,” Newton said. “I thrive in black and white and right and wrong and plus and minus. I’m a little more social than the typical accountant, though.”
Newton’s accountancy work at Maverick soon attracted the attention of the Arkansas Trucking Association, of which Williams is a member. The association recruited and hired Newton in 2003 to oversee the Arkansas Trucking Association Self-Insurers’ Fund, an $11 million trust fund.
Kidd said Newton was recommended to him by Little Rock attorney Mike Roberts, and he asked Williams for permission to interview her. He was impressed enough to hire her and then more impressed with Newton’s negotiating skills.
“Maybe [Maverick] didn’t think she’d leave, but I can be persuasive and I felt like she had the right skills,” Kidd said. “I was a little taken aback that she was a tough negotiator at the age of 22 or 23 over her starting salary. She won that one.”
Newton soon became more than an accountant-manager and morphed into the association’s Jane of all trades. She edited the association’s journal, the Arkansas Trucking Report, and handled endorsement agreements with various entities.
It didn’t take long for Newton to become a diehard fan of the trucking industry.
“I just really liked it,” Newton said. “I enjoy the industry. I enjoy the people.”
In the news release announcing her promotion, Newton was said to have been involved in “planning, finance, member services, governance, regulatory and legislative affairs and advocacy.”
“It’s fair to say that things have been added to my plate,” Newton said. “Everything that was revenue generating, I oversaw.”
Newton said she doesn’t have specific goals for her tenure as head of the association, which acts as representative for its 283 members. That’s where Newton’s un-nerdy social skills come in handy, since she said it is important to be able to communicate with various trucking organizations as well as those in the political arena.
“We want to accomplish what the companies desire,” Newton said. “It’s my responsibility, it’s the association’s responsibility, to be equipped to achieve that.”
Newton said when she was named president she thought of her grandmother, a former civics teacher. Newton said being a woman in the trucking industry can be a hurdle but prominent industry women such as Stephens and Judy McReynolds, CEO of ArcBest Corp. of Fort Smith, show that trucking is not a men’s-only market.
“My grandmother told me I could be anything I wanted to be,” Newton said. “I want to be a good executive. I don’t want to be a good female executive.”