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Arkansas Trucking Firms Work To Diversify Industry

5 min read

USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren didn’t have trouble finding candidates when it went looking to add diversity to its board of directors.

The company used the search firm Cameron Smith & Associates of Rogers to cultivate six candidates, and USA Truck appointed former Wal-Mart executive Susan Chambers to the board in March. Chambers and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Barbara Faulkenberry, appointed in January, are the only women on the company’s 10-person board.

A quick scan of boards for the other trucking companies based in Arkansas reveals, as one might expect, a heavy dose of white males. Changing that, executives said, is not just a matter of political correctness but also sound business.

“We have not been a very diverse organization, and we need to benefit from diverse thought and diverse experience and everything else,” USA Truck CEO Randy Rogers said. “We’re just looking for diverse ideas and people who understand the industry or certain elements. It makes us a better and well-rounded company. We have made some major steps in that direction.

“The moves with Barbara and Susan were fantastic. These are heavy hitters. Women are strong leaders in trucking right now. That’s a good message.”

Denise Natishan, a senior partner with Cameron Smith & Associates, spearheaded the USA Truck search. She said CSA came up with six diversity candidates — women and/or minorities — with the IT background that USA Truck wanted, and the success of the search proved an important point for businesses in need of diversity.

“It’s a falsity to believe there are not quality people out there,” Natishan said. “They were completely blown away and had a great selection to choose from. The people were out there as far as the opportunity was concerned.”

Seats at the Table

There are women in high-profile positions within the Arkansas trucking industry: Judy McReynolds is the CEO, president and chairman of the board of ArcBest Corp. of Fort Smith, Shelley Simpson is the CMO and president of both the integrated capacity solutions and trucking divisions at J.B. Hunt Transport Services of Lowell, and Shannon Newton is the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. Minorities are harder to find.

“It’s not a women’s issue or a person-of-color issue; it’s a human issue,” Natishan said. “If companies are smart, they’re going to get on the bandwagon of doing inclusion because it makes business sense. There are proven statistics that companies do better financially because of inclusion and diversity of thought. Definitely, companies need to be going in that direction.”

Jeff Fleming said he has gone to transportation conferences in Arkansas and other states and frequently been one of just a couple of black people in the room. Fleming, a senior manager of transportation for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is the vice chairman of the Arkansas Trucking Association’s 40 Under 40 Council.

He didn’t set out on a career in transportation until a Wal-Mart recruiter spoke at Alcorn State, a historically black college in Mississippi, and then met with Fleming, who became an intern at Wal-Mart.

Fleming, 39, said Wal-Mart’s supply chain division does the heavy lifting to recruit women and minorities for entry-level positions that lead to success stories such as his. He now talks to other minorities about the possibilities of a transportation career.

“It’s always important to include diversity when building a team,” Fleming said. “The more diverse your team — whether it’s economic, socio or racial — having a diverse mindset and thought process will ultimately lead you to better solutions. Your point of view is built off of your background. The more points of view you have helps you get all the ideas on the table. You can’t really go wrong with having multiple points of views.”

J.B. Hunt declined comment for this story, but ArcBest released a statement from McReynolds. McReynolds joined the company as director of corporate accounting in 1997 and was named CEO in 2010.

ArcBest’s 10-person board has three women but no minorities.

“We believe in trying to hire the best people, whether that is for the board or the executive level, and we are fortunate that in our case, we have had strong women candidates to fill these roles,” McReynolds said. “Our industry traditionally has a lot of male representation, although there is clearly a recent trend toward more female representation. We believe in promoting the best person for every role. As a result, we have various leadership academies and training and recruiting programs that are in place for all of our employees and potential employees.”

All Levels Targeted

Natishan said the training programs McReynolds referred to are important for the long-term development of diversity in the industry. Fleming is a perfect example of a bright college student who was not a typical transportation candidate but turned a chance opportunity and internship into an executive-track career.

“Let’s make sure we’re bringing in people at different levels,” Natishan said. “Is there a mentoring program? Do we have high-quality role models in place that can show and teach? It really has to happen on all levels. A critical piece is senior management has to have a commitment to it.”

Rogers said USA Truck’s initiative to add diversity was driven by board Chairman Bob Peiser. He said the initiative didn’t begin and won’t end with Chambers’ appointment as he has worked with Kandice Harshaw, the company’s vice president of human resources, to make sure USA Truck is doing all it can to develop a diverse workforce from top to bottom.

“We need to really look at ourselves critically and understand what we look like now and ask, ‘Is this really where we want to be?’ I would say probably not,” Rogers said. “There are no barriers. We will promote the very best, and we will recruit the very best. That’s really what we’re about.

“It’s certainly my job to realize the potential of everybody in this organization. The most talented should rise to the top. It’s about your culture. That’s up to us. We’re walking the talk a bit. We don’t care about the color of your skin or your sex.”

Fleming said things will continue to improve for everyone as long as executives believe and act on that.

“From an industry standpoint, I think there is still a long way to go,” Fleming said. “Minority representation is still lacking. There is still a lot of room for improvement. There is a large percentage of our [association] membership that are female. That’s a step in the right direction.”

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