July 11, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

Chris Spear Named ATA President, Becomes Federation's Ninth Leader

Meredith Wohl for TT

This story appears in the July 11 print edition of Transport Topics.

Christopher Spear was named president and CEO of American Trucking Associations, effective July 9, succeeding Bill Graves, who is retiring.

ATA made the announcement July 1 at the federation’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this great association and serve this vital industry,” Spear said. “Trucking is the backbone of our economy and a catalyst for American job growth, delivering critical goods to businesses and homes coast-to-coast. I am excited to work alongside ATA’s members and federation partners to ensure the industry continues to prosper and safely move our nation forward.”

MORE CHANGES: Executive VPs depart; Barna promoted

CAPITOL AGENDA VIDEO: Impact of Spear's selection on Capitol Hill


VIDEO: Spear's remarks | ATA announcement | Graves' reflections

TIMELINE: Interactive graphic of ATA leadership history

Spear leaves Hyundai Motor Co., where he had been vice president of the government affairs unit since last October.

He becomes ATA’s ninth president.

The position marks a return to ATA for Spear, 46. His first stint, from March 2014 through September 2015, was as senior vice president of legislative affairs.

ATA considered about two dozen candidates for the job, according to ATA Chairman Pat Thomas.

Spear was elected unanimously during a board of directors’ conference call. He received a five-year contract, Thomas added.

Thomas told Transport Topics after his public remarks that Spear’s experience with ATA was important.

“Certainly someone who has worked in the industry, and in Chris’ case, lobbied for the industry, that’s a great plus. I knew quite a bit about Chris because I was very involved in the hiring process when we brought him in as the head of the Hill office,” Thomas said.

“But he has a lot more than just being a Washington lobbyist. When people looked deeper into his résumé, they probably learned a lot of things,” Thomas continued, noting that, like Graves, a former governor of Kansas, “the name recognition of an elected official is good, but what we thought was more important was how effective the person would be in moving the industry forward.”

ATA had been looking for a new CEO since October, when Graves announced at the end of ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition that he would leave at the end of 2016.

Philip Byrd Sr. of Bulldog Hiway Express, the ATA chairman for 2013-2014, led the search committee that picked Spear. Byrd said the committee reported its recommendation “a couple of weeks ago” and then members turned their attention to hammering out contract terms. The 11-member committee was selected to incorporate all types of trucking companies and the nation’s regions.

The six-month process involved executive search and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart to help with specifying ATA’s needs for a president and then recruiting candidates, scoring résumés and conducting interviews. Byrd said there were so many qualified candidates it became difficult to imagine settling on one person.

In remarks shortly after Spear was presented to the ATA staff, he said some trade association executives have “thrown up their hands” in frustration because of the increase in political polarization, but that has not been the case with ATA under Graves, nor would it be under him.

“We represent hardworking people,” Spear said, imploring his new staff to “get excited and strap yourselves in,” so that ATA becomes “the best association in D.C.”

Spear turned to government relations for the private sector after several federal jobs.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, Spear was assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Labor and the deputy representative for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

On the legislative side, Spear worked for three Republican U.S. senators: Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas and Wyoming’s Mike Enzi and Alan Simpson.

Spear holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Wyoming.

Coincidentally, Thomas is from Wyoming, but he said that he and Spear did not meet until well after their Wyoming days.

In the private sector, Spear also has worked in government relations for manufacturer Honeywell International.

Graves, 63, will serve as an adviser to the federation for the rest of this year.

Spear said about Graves: “He has a very special place in his heart for this industry, for this association and for each one of you. And I applaud him for his integrity, his leadership and his passion. And I look forward to working with him during this transition.”

Graves received a sustained standing ovation. He was somber in noting that ATA is a “people-driven industry” that depends on contributions from all of its employees and that trucking, in turn, depends upon efforts of ATA staffers.

Graves took the helm of ATA in January 2003, immediately after concluding his second gubernatorial term in Kansas.

Having served ATA for 13½ years, Graves is the second-longest-serving president in the federation’s history, behind John Lawrence, who served from 1935 to 1964.

Staff Reporters Eugene Mulero and David Elfin contributed to this story.