By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the Oct. 25 print edition of Transport Topics.
NEW MARKET, Md. — For 20 years, as an international flight attendant and manager for Trans World Airlines, Barbara Windsor got a chance to see the world.
Then destiny dropped the new chairman of American Trucking Associations from the friendly skies into this tiny town in the gentle rolling hills of west-central Maryland for her “second career” as an executive with the family’s trucking business.
That was in 1991 — nearly 60 years after her grandfather opened the doors of Hahn Transportation Inc. after deciding he could make a better living hauling farmers’ milk to a nearby creamery than as a farmer himself.
Nearly two decades later, Windsor, now president and chief executive officer of Hahn, has become the first woman to command ATA.
She has her work cut out for her, said ATA President Bill Graves.
“I’d have to say we’re going to be as busy as ATA ever has been,” Graves said during a recent interview. “This administration and Congress are coming at us with both barrels blazing.”
Charles “Shorty” Whittington, ATA’s chairman in 2008-2009, agrees.
“It’s going to be as challenging as you’re going to get,” Whittington said. “You have hours of service, you have CSA 2010 [renamed Compliance, Safety and Accountability] and infrastructure issues. She’s going to have her hands full.”
But Windsor is no stranger to challenges. She’s been running her family’s midsize tank truck firm for more than 10 years, served as chairman of the National Tank Truck Carriers in 2005, headed ATA’s Truck PAC (Political Action Committee) for six years and even campaigned, unsuccessfully, to be the Republican candidate for Maryland’s lieutenant governor in 1998.
Her latest accomplishment, rising to ATA’s helm, took more than 10 years, she said. Windsor interviewed with the nominating committee four times and was passed over three times before she finally gained entrée to the trade group’s arduous grooming process, known as “moving through the chairs.”
“It didn’t make any difference how long it took,” she said. “I wasn’t going to give up.”
Windsor admits that, early on, there seemed to be concerns, first that she was a woman and second that she was single. Family is an industry cornerstone, and spouses can play an integral role as the chairman travels the country speaking to state associations and the general public, she said.
Windsor is divorced and has no children, but she calls her beloved West Highland White Terriers, Prince and Princess, her “kids.”
During the interview process, she said a member of the nominating committee even asked her if she “had a man in her life.”
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, spare me,’ ” she said.
Charles Ramorino, ATA chairman in 1996-1997, whom Windsor calls her mentor, said he quickly spotted her talent while he was chairman. Ramorino is founder and chairman of Roadstar Trucking Inc., Hayward, Calif.
“Barbara caught my attention right away,” Ramorino recalled. “She was always vocal. She knew what she was talking about. I just knew she was a future leader, so I nominated her.”
But Ramorino said he sensed at the time some resistance on the nominating committee to choose a woman as the public face of ATA. It took longer than he expected for her to get the nod.
“It was almost unwritten that you had to own or manage a big trucking company and had to be male,” Ramorino said. “Not that they didn’t like her — she was extremely popular — but they didn’t want to cross that barrier.”
“There was a lot of heartburn over putting a woman in there,” Whittington added.
Graves said it’s the perfect time for ATA to “celebrate” its first female chairman.
Her taking the reins of ATA is a “clear statement of change and the future,” Graves said. “We’re not my father’s trucking industry anymore. What better time for Barbara Windsor to be the face of ATA?”
Being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry has never seemed to bother Windsor, a trucker to the core.
She recalled attending a conference, and the facilitator warned her that 110 men were in the room.
“He said, ‘You’re the only female,’ ”
Windsor said. “I looked around and said, ‘Well, I thought we were all truckers. I didn’t realize that we were looking at whether we were male or female.’
“I have a tendency when I walk into a room that I’m walking in as a trucker. I realize it is a man’s world, but it doesn’t intimidate me. We weren’t going to sell the family trucks because there were no boys in the family,” she added.
“I remember the first officers’ retreat she came to,” Whittington said. “Everybody looked at her to go get the coffee. She looked back at them and said, ‘Is your arm broke?’ ”
Windsor literally grew up in the family business, run out of a federal-style architectural structure that blends with the rest of the town’s main street. It resembles more a bed-and-breakfast than a corporate headquarters.
Her trucking roots go back as far as she can remember. Windsor recalls hanging out at the office as a child and working Sunday nights with her father helping ready the trucks for the early Monday morning start of the week. She had to spray ether into the intakes to help start the engines on cold nights.
These days, the company’s modern tank-truck fleet delivers gasoline and diesel to gas stations, jet fuel to area airports, cement to construction concrete mixer sites and black oil to power plants — all within a radius of about 250 miles. It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, operation.
Today, the company owns 100 power units and 175 trailers that operate out of five terminals in Maryland and Virginia, Windsor said. Her grandfather, James Russell Hahn, started the company in 1933. In 1972, Hahn retired and one of his daughters — Barbara’s mother, Rebecca Hahn Windsor — became secretary-treasurer of the company. At that time, Barbara’s father, Robert Windsor, a one-time owner-operator, became the company’s president.
In 1989, Rebecca, now 84 and still the family matriarch, took over as Hahn’s chairman and CEO. She passed the torch to Barbara in 2000.
Barbara’s younger sister, Rosemary, retired as a UPS vice president.
Windsor appears to have inherited some of her mother and father’s knowledge and love of the trucking industry, business acumen, penchant for hard work and extensive involvement in community groups and trucking trade organizations.
Those who know her said the imprint her parents, who met in the first grade, left on her work and personal life can’t be understated. Her father has been a cancer survivor since 2003.
“Mother was the inside person, and Dad was the outside person,” Windsor said. “He handled the operations and maintenance, and she handled the financial operations. But Dad was more laid-back than Mother.”
The two were such a strong team that they both shared Maryland Motor Truck Association’s Person of the Year award.
“Dad was a driver for my grandfather,” Barbara said. “He would farm during the summer and drive during the winter.”
John Conley, president of NTTC, called Robert Windsor the “strong, silent type.”
“He’s the Gary Cooper. It was a perfect team, literally a perfect trucking marriage,” Conley said. “There’s nothing that man doesn’t know about a truck, operations and delivery.”
Being the honcho of a tank-truck firm, among the most heavily regulated, highly competitive businesses in the trucking industry, is no cakewalk, Conley said.
Not only do federal regulators keep a close watch on hazmat haulers, but equipment is more expensive and more complex, Conley said. Hazmat drivers, who are subjected to FBI background checks, are not only harder to find, they’re harder to keep on the payroll.
But Windsor’s worries these days are for the trucking industry as a whole.
“I’m very concerned about hours of service because I feel the 10-hour rest period, 14-hour on-duty, and the 34-hour restart have been absolutely wonderful,” she said. “Safety records have proven it.”
She said she’s heard rumors that the restart could be put back to anywhere from 36 to 44 hours. “This could be very devastating for the industry,” she said.
Windsor also has anxiety about some of the unintended consequences of the Department of Transportation’s plan to implement its CSA program. As the regulations are written now, even minor driver citations could scare companies away from hiring competent drivers, which would further exacerbate the driver shortage on the horizon, she said.
“The idea is excellent, but I’m still concerned about the way it’s being implemented,” she said. “I’m very concerned whether we have it right. It’s going to be a challenge in the beginning.”
Windsor also foresees a tough fight to get federal standards changed to allow bigger, heavier trucks on the nation’s highways. She said during a recent visit that a member of Congress gave her a bit of a cold shoulder on the issue.
“You don’t think 80,000 pounds is enough to kill people?” the member asked.
Windsor also plans to give some attention to the Safe Trucker Act, a proposed bill that would eliminate duplicative federal background checks for drivers.
Another important trucking issue, a concession plan by the Port of Los Angeles that bans independent operators from servicing the port, a plan that ATA has challenged, is headed for another round in the appeals court.
“People say, ‘Well, that’s out in L.A.,’ ” she said, “but if the port wins on this, independent operators are going to go away. I’m concerned.”
Her biggest fear for truckers, however, is “unforeseen legislation,” she said.
Over the years, ATA chairmen have had their own pet issues to push while they served. These days, in the interest of continuity, chairmen try to stick to longstanding ATA issues.
Nonetheless, she said one of her priorities will be to strengthen ATA’s membership base.
“One tweak I’ll be making is telling truckers that they should be a member of their trade associations, whether it’s their state, truckload or National Tank Truck, you should be an ATA member,” she said. “Don’t complain about it if you’re not going to step up to the table and be a part of it.”
Despite the challenges of leadership, those who know her say she can be expected to tackle any problem head-on. She’s diplomatic, a good listener, and she has an ability to quickly read any situation, they say.
Conley said she’s a “resource for our industry with contacts and credibility.”
“She can be blunt with a nice smile,” he added. “If she were in the National Football League, she would be a Ray Lewis middle-linebacker who is involved in every play.”
Conley said he believes Windsor “just absolutely enjoys what she does. I think the trucking industry just appeals to her very competitive nature. In meetings, she’s always looking for an edge, always looking for the why,” Conley added.
Dean Kaplan, CEO of K-Limited Carrier, Toledo, Ohio, called Windsor “very dynamic.”
“She’s very forward-thinking and very dialed-in to the political side of transportation,” Kaplan said. “She’s a wonderful leader. She gets people motivated and energized to be involved. She’s just a real quality person.”
Robert Franklin, a Baltimore trucking lawyer and legal counsel for the Maryland Motor Truck Association, said Windsor is “one of the most tireless and unselfish people I have ever known.”
“She’s so incredibly competent, and she’s willing to take on tasks,” Franklin said. “Whereas, some people in any kind of trade group give lip service, pay their dues and occasionally show up, Barbara’s always the first one to put her hand up and volunteer — and actually do the work and do it well.”
“I honestly think there really aren’t any other ulterior motives with her, other than she really does have a passion and tremendous interest in the transportation industry and a desire to make a difference.” Franklin added.
One of the best ways to stump Windsor is to ask her what she does in her spare time or what her hobbies are.
“I play golf,” she said, “but I don’t really play as much as I used to since I broke my leg three years ago.”
Franklin, who has known Windsor for 20 years, said he suspects the answer to the hobby question is that she probably doesn’t have much, if any, spare time.
“I don’t pry into Barb’s personal life too much, but I wonder how she even has time to sleep, let alone have time for too much of a social life,” Franklin said.
Sue Boyer, Hahn Transportation’s manager of customer accounts and employee of 32 years, said her boss well deserves her reputation for being a hard worker.
“As far as a hard worker, oh my God, yes,” Boyer said. “I think that comes from her parents and her grandparents. It’s in her blood. I don’t think you’ll ever see her slow down.”
But she’s not all work and no play.
“When she’s not business, she’s with family,” Boyer said. “Her hobby is enjoying her family. Maybe that sounds corny, but I think it’s great. I don’t think of her as not having a life outside of work.”
Boyer said one of Windsor’s management strengths is listening to her employees before making decisions.
“She has a good focus on what her goals are and how she’s going to get there,” Boyer said. “She knows how to get the most out of her people, and she definitely has good guidance to give us.”
That guidance paid off three years ago when Windsor was running in the backyard with her dogs and broke her leg. She spent two weeks in a hospital, two months in a wheelchair and another two months on a walker and crutches. It netted her two plates and 16 screws in one leg.
The mishap gave her a chance to see her management team’s strengths and weaknesses. Their noteworthy performance made her feel more comfortable about the prospect of spending so much time away from the business while traveling as ATA’s chairman, she said.
Lest anyone think she’s a pushover as a manager, some of her office knickknacks provide clues to her no-nonsense, zero-negative-attitude and tolerant management style. One is an hourglass resting on the table in the board meeting room. When all the sand passes through to the bottom in 30 minutes, the meeting is over.
The other is a Neiman Marcus crystal paperweight resting on her desk, inscribed with the words, “It can be done.”
Yet, Boyer wishes more people who cross her path in the business world got a better chance to see her sincerity and sense of humor.
Windsor said she learned many of her management skills while working at TWA. In addition to working as a flight attendant, she did stints as an instructor and recruiter for the now-defunct airline. She lived in Kansas City and New York City.
The airline also is partly responsible for her penchant for being a snappy dresser. Her mother also always has had a strict dress policy.
When she worked for TWA, it was a different era, she said. In the 1960s and 1970s, air travel was glamorous and being a flight attendant was “every young girl’s dream,” she said. Men dressed in coats and ties, and women were clad mostly in dresses — and flight attendants were called hostesses.
“We had to wear white gloves every time passengers exited the plane,” she recalled. “We had unscheduled uniform checks, and our weight could never be more than 10% higher than the date we were hired.”
She said her run in 1998 for Maryland’s lieutenant governor post was a great experience. Charles Ecker, then the Howard County executive running for governor, had asked her to be his running mate.
The two were defeated in the Republican primary election, but the three months spent crisscrossing the state put her in tune with what was on people’s minds and netted her some valuable contacts.
“I found it very fascinating,” she said. “We shook the bushes, and I even learned that not only horses race in Maryland, but so do ducks, crabs and pigs.”
Dave Osiecki, an ATA senior vice president and counsel, called Windsor a “go-to person.”
“She’s always a yes for no matter what you ask her,” Osiecki said. “She’s always willing to go the extra mile and do what is asked of her by ATA, a state association or by her tank-truck peers. She’s very easy to work with, very easygoing.”
Another ATA executive, Richard Moskowitz, the trade association’s vice president and regulatory affairs counsel, called her trucking knowledge “impressive.”
“We often go to the ‘Barbara well’ to support our advocacy efforts — whether it is dropping everything to testify at a congressional hearing, participate in a press conference or providing a truck to use as a prop for a TV interview,” Moskowitz said. “Barbara’s loyalty to ATA and her passion for advancing the trucking industry’s agenda shine through in everything she does.”
Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said she first saw Windsor in action at a conference in 1992.
“She spoke on a panel before a broad group of government folks focused on highway safety,” Ferro said. “She was one of several panelists, and she impressed me as a business leader. She was articulate, focused on the common good, that idea that we’ve got to come together to achieve our end — which is an efficient, safe movement of freight throughout our region.
“It was so impressive to see that and to recognize that here was a nontraditional leader, a woman, in the transportation sector, let alone the truck sector, who was willing to demonstrate those leadership skills of reaching out, reaching across the aisle,” Ferro added.
Safety aside, Windsor said it really upsets her that truckers sometimes get a bad rap. The industry needs to continue getting the word out to the general public that trucks are essential to their daily lives.
And, by the way, she’s getting tired of seeing those railroad advertisements that cast trucks as polluters and fuel wasters.
“The railroads talk about getting trucks off the road,” she said, “but when will you ever see a train pull into a grocery store, pharmacy or gas station?”