Magazine November/December 2015 Transportation

Transportation: Steering the Fleet

November/December 2015 Issue

Shannon Newton is the youngest trucking
association executive in the country and first woman
to lead the Arkansas Trucking Association,
which services one of the state’s largest industries.

Photography by Janet Warlick

When Shannon Newton was growing up in Benton, her grandmother, the late Ruth Samples, a longtime civics teacher, gave her advice that she has tried to live her life by.

“She taught me that whatever I want is attainable and that there is a certain amount of work and effort that must be done to attain whatever you want,” Newton said.

That sage advice has been at the heart of Newton’s drive to the top of the Arkansas Trucking Association, which represents more than 300 trucking companies, private carrier fleets and industry suppliers. The transportation industry is responsible for about 86,000 direct jobs in the state.

At 36, Newton is the youngest state trucking association executive in the country. She has been with the ATA since 2003 and president since June 2014. As the first woman to lead the ATA, which represents an industry traditionally dominated by men, Newton said it’s a challenge that she enjoys.

“I think you have to embrace it,” she said. “There are days when it makes my job easier, and then there are days when it makes my job more difficult. I think knowing the difference and being aware of that allows me to be more successful.

“People ask me about that, but I think being youngest is way cooler.”

Newton’s first job after receiving an accounting degree from the University of Central Arkansas was with Maverick Transportation in North Little Rock in driver payroll. Her long-term career goal, she said, was to be chief financial officer of a company. “I didn’t have my heart on any particular industry.”

After a year at Maverick, then-ATA President Lane Kidd recruited her to become the association’s director of corporate services. “I was initially hired, primarily, to do the work for the [Workers’ Compensation] Trust Fund. That was the skill set I brought to the association.”

Newton, who is married with two children, said she likes organizational management, budgets and financial statements. “My comfort zone is problem-solving … make it work. All that stuff is stuff that I enjoy, which is probably rare, so in my mind being CFO of a trucking company was an option.”

She soon took on a number of leadership roles with expanding responsibilities in the development and implementation of strategic initiatives across a number of vital areas, including planning, finance, membership service, regulatory, governance, legislative affairs and advocacy. She was promoted to vice president of the association in 2008.

“I have the honor to represent a very large industry, one of the largest industries in the state … and as president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, I’m running a budget,” she said, noting the association has a $2 million annual budget and runs an $11 million Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund.

With 17 percent of the association’s operating budget coming from membership dues, a number of “mini-businesses” have been developed, she said, to generate additional revenue, including a magazine and a variety of educational events offered throughout the year, such as safety certifications, accident reconstruction certification and project management certification.

The association, with its offices in the Victory Building less than a block from the Arkansas State Capitol, works with state and federal transportation agencies and political leaders on issues important to the industry.

“I think that for the most part we are advocating for things that benefit the state as a whole,” she said. “Good roads is not a selfish desire. Right now that seems to be the number one issue, probably at the state level and the federal level.”

Other issues that she and the association are wrestling with are an aging workforce and recruiting new truck drivers. Trucking companies always — always — need skilled drivers.

“We’re not doing a good job of attracting young workers, not attracting them at the same rate that we are losing them to retirement,” she said. “Driver shortage, retention, health, lifestyle — so much attention right now is on trying to improve the driver experience.”

G.E. “Butch” Rice III, who is president of ATA’s 21-member board, said Newton is invaluable to the success of the association and the industry in Arkansas.

“I believe her biggest value to the association is her ability to work with large and small carriers,” said Rice, president and CEO of Stallion Transportation Group. “She understands the overall picture of both … and you can actually see her initiative this past year of reaching out to carriers that really never have been reached out to before.

“Our membership, the strength of it and the enthusiasm, she’s just brought it to a different level and I commend her for that.”

Newton also is able to understand the complex transportation issues at both the state and federal levels, Rice said, “and she’s able to relate back to us in terms that we all understand. So, that’s a plus.”

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