The trucking industry's national trade association is in turmoil as its new leadership tries to turn the group onto a different course, according to an analysis published today in an influential Washington magazine.
Depending on who's talking, American Trucking Assns. is either in chaos due to faulty management and money problems, or is experiencing the trials one would expect during a complex transition, the National Journal explains.
The National Journal, the premier trade publication of Washington politics, is closely read by political professionals and opinion-shapers. Writer Louis Jacobson spent weeks conducting dozens of interviews of former and present ATA employees, as well as association members.
Jacobson reports that about 150 employees have left ATA since January 1998, when Walter B. McCormick took over the CEO job, replacing Thomas J. Donohue. Donohue left ATA to take the top post at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Former and current employees told Jacobson that the loss of so many experienced people has crimped ATA's institutional memory, shattered the morale of remaining employees, and hampered the association's effectiveness in Washington.
The other side of the story, Jacobson reports, is that McCormick inherited problems that were too big to be fixed by tinkering.
"What we are doing is nothing less than completely restructuring the 65-year-old trade association into a totally different enterprise for the 21st century," McCormick told Jacobson.
He said there will be more staff cuts. "Change creates uncertainty in employment -- it's unavoidable."
McCormick, who earns $527,000 a year at ATA, told Jacobson he has cut executive office expenses by $1.3 million a year from the Donohue era.
Citing a column that ran in the August issue of Newport's Heavy Duty Trucking magazine, Jacobson reported that ATA has lost members during the transition. McCormick responded that while some members have quit, others have come on as full-dues contributors.
The membership challenges show up on ATA's bottom line, which will run at least $1 million in the red this year and could go higher in coming years, Jacobson reports. The deficit budget is deliberate, and reflects increased investment in information technology at ATA, he writes.
Jacobson gives the last word to an ATA member. "We have yet to see the bottom," the member said. More employees and members will leave. "It's a case of how ugly it gets.
"The solution is to stay the course."