Judy McReynolds, president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Best Corp., had several thoughts to share Oct. 9 with approximately 65 business students at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, but her advice came back to two very specific words -- hard work.
“I know it sounds cliché,” McReynolds said, “but hard work and a really good attitude pay off.”
McReynolds gave a brief glimpse of her beginnings, which include being born into an average family and becoming a first generation college graduate. What became a pattern, during her college years and afterward, was the picture of a young woman who took her own advice, advice she gave to UAFS students during the breakfast meeting. She said she worked hard and was given numerous opportunities along the way.
“The reason I was given opportunities was because I worked hard at what I did, and I knew people. If you’re out among people, that’s how you get opportunities.”
McReynolds, who has a 16-year tenure with Arkansas Best Corp. and moved up from an initial position as controller to the CEO slot, acknowledged challenging times during the process. The company recently celebrated its 90th birthday, which McReynolds said caused her to reflect on what it takes to be successful as a company.
“Things change so fast,” she said. “You have to really embrace that. You can’t be stuck in your own ways. You have to be able to succeed in that kind of environment.”
She said, however, that the real reason for the company’s success was because of its people.
“It’s their willingness to change, to adapt.”
McReynolds also related several pieces of advice she gleaned from recently attending a leadership summit that included numerous national leaders. Among the summit speakers were Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin; Daniel Yergin, who is respected around the world as a leading energy scholar and energy expert; Condoleezza Rice, American political scientist and diplomat who served as the 66th United States Secretary of State; Sir John Major, a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1990 to 1997; and David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who wrote “1776.”
“My favorite speaker was Condoleezza Rice,” said McReynolds. “Her message included that Americans are the most individualistic people on the face of the earth and that we are also the most philanthropic. She said that it doesn’t matter where you came from, just where you are going.”
Dr. Marta Loyd, vice chancellor for university advancement, had introduced McReynolds at the beginning of the event and also commented about the attitudes of the people who work for Arkansas Best. Loyd had attended the 90-year anniversary event and spent time with a long-term employee.
“It’s one thing to be able to lead your company and organization through extremely challenging times,” said Loyd, “not only maintaining your company, but building it.”
Loyd said it was another thing to cause people to want to follow you, calling that “real leadership.”
“When you hear people randomly speaking about their leader in such positive tones … to me, that was the greatest sign of leadership.”
McReynolds not only holds the top spot at Arkansas Best Corp., but she maintains an active role in various boards, including service as treasurer of the UAFS Foundation Board, where Loyd said she had observed the leadership role apparent in McReynolds.
Other service McReynolds gives to the community includes stints on boards for OGE Energy Corp., First Bank Corp., First National Bank of Fort Smith, Fort Smith Regional Council, Westark Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Sparks Health System Board of Trustees and the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She also serves as a member and leader of various boards and committees of the American Truck Association.
Dr. Steve Williams, dean of the College of Business, said the College of Business Leadership Breakfast Series is supported by donations through the UAFS Foundation. The breakfast events showcase key community leaders who share their leadership philosophies and perspectives with business students.