WOODSTOCK, N.B. - When LeeAnn McConnell, general manager of McConnell Transport, took the helm of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association recently, she became the first female chairperson in the association's 53-year history.
WOODSTOCK, N.B. – When LeeAnn McConnell, general manager of McConnell Transport, took the helm of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association recently, she became the first female chairperson in the association’s 53-year history.
Truck News caught up with McConnell to discuss her new role, what it means for women in trucking, and her vision for the future.
TN: What is your background in the trucking industry?
McConnell: I have been in trucking all my life it seems. My father’s name was Art Forsyth, and he was an owner/operator for 45 years.
As a child my job was to fuel, wash and clean the truck for every trip he took, and of course I got to spend vacations on the road with my Dad.
I loved travelling with Dad; it was always such an adventure to explore a new town or city, whenever possible.
He worked out of New Brunswick travelling all over North America and my friends and I thought he had the most exciting job, and so did our friends.
I had friends whose fathers were doctors and lawyers but they always hung out at home, because he was a “white knight.” Thirty-five years ago they used to call truckers “white knights” – they always stopped to help you out.
They had such pride in their jobs – and come hell or high water they did them well.
After I grew up it seemed only natural to work in an industry I knew.
In 1988, after deregulation, my husband started McConnell Transport when he saw a need for a specialized temperature controlled food hauling service so he started this business.
At the time I worked in sales, selling Ford Vehicles at a dealership in Woodstock N.B. until 1990 and then came back to join the trucking industry as general manager for McConnell Transport.
The two of us working together has been very beneficial for us, and we certainly never lack for conversation. I think the big difference in our business compared to others is that there are two of us to manage the operation as opposed to most other cases where there is only one person in charge. In 1995,
I became a director for the APTA and have been heavily involved with the association ever since.
TN: What does it mean to you to be the first female chairperson ever elected?
McConnell: It’s exciting! It isn’t a position that I aspired to take on, but now that I am in that position, I aspire to do the best possible job. As for being the first female elected, I think my father would be very proud of me.
I have a wonderful board of directors with a wealth of experience and they are very supportive of me. They will be great mentors to me in my pursuit of the association’s goal – to be an industry leader.
TN: Will being the first female chairperson have any specific challenges associated with the job?
McConnell: I don’t believe being the first female chairperson has any more or less challenges than the past chairman had or the next chairperson will have.
My peers elected me chair because I am capable. I have the board’s support and trust because I can do the job, not because I am a woman.I just happen to be the first one and I hope there will be many more to come after me.
TN: How do you view the role of associations in general in the Canadian trucking industry?
McConnell: Very positively.
I would not want to be in this industry without belonging to an association. It would be nearly impossible to keep up with all of the changes we see without associations. They are vital to the function of our industry. An association lets you know immediately of any new rules, they supply educational courses, newsletters and publications and they also go to schools and job fairs to promote our industry and recruit new people – all of which are critical to our industry.
TN: What are some of the challenges you face in trying to head an association?
McConnell: The Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association is very fortunate to have a loyal and dedicated staff. They put 100 per cent into their jobs every day. We have a large volunteer member pool, as everyone is aware of our truck show, which is one of the largest in North America, and this would not happen without these members. Our challenges here in Atlantic Canada are the same as they are on a national level – we are all dealing with things like hours of service, insurance, security and driver retention and recruitment right across the country.
TN: Do you see any differences in the challenges you face in Atlantic Canada as opposed to the other parts of the country?
McConnell: The biggest difference in our association compared to others is we represent four provinces and therefore work with four provincial governments so it is sometimes very difficult to bring everyone together. We are working on an issue right now that affects any company travelling to Newfoundland, and it can be difficult to get everybody who is included in this group together in one province at one time. We set up meetings well in advance and sometimes we resort to teleconferencing for those who cannot attend.
TN: How do you want to see the association change, what would you like to do differently?
McConnell: Change is something that is not always embraced, but we all know change is necessary. Our industry is exciting; there are a lot of things happening out there. You can either embrace change or you can push it away. I feel we might as well embrace it because it is easier and it will be beneficial for us in order to keep up with what’s going on in our industry. I would like to see our association lobby more in the future for our industry needs. Government has to understand our needs. We have to be a strong voice so that government will pay attention to us as we act as representatives of the industry. This can be difficult because we fall under both provincial and federal laws, provincial associations lobby provincially and the CTA works federally, but I do feel we need to be more active lobbying our governments.
TN: More specifically, what do you think the APTA will be faced with in terms of challenges over the coming year?
McConnell: Hours of service are still at the forefront, insurance costs, border security, driver retention and recruitment to list only a few.
TN: Generally speaking, from your perspective, how does the industry look?
McConnell: I think we are on our way back, we certainly have some remaining challenges but overall, our industry is strong. Our industry represents 1.2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which may seem small. But it reflects that only the public administration and oil and gas industries are ahead of us, and combined with the fact that truck driver is listed as the number one occupation, it shows the power this industry has.
– See next month’s Truck News for Part Two of the interview with LeeAnn McConnell.