When Lana Batts takes the wheel of the American Financial Services Association in Washington next week, she'll leave behind a lifelong love: trucking.
"I think trucks are beautiful," says Ms. Batts, who has spent the last 19 of her 45 years representing the operators of big rigs at the American Trucking Associations, rising to senior vice president for government affairs.
Ms. Batts will follow Robert Evans, who is retiring, as president and chief executive of the consumer credit industry's trade group.
Members are some of the biggest wheels in the financial services industry, including General Motors Acceptance Corp., General Electric Capital Corp., American Express Co., and American Telephone and Telegraph Co.
The self-described "woman trucker" will be trading in gas taxes and diesel fuel for credit cards and car loans. But she sees strong similarities in the two industries. "The issues are different," she says, "but the themes are the same."
Both groups are wrestling with issues of fairness, burdensome regulation, and attacks on free-market principles, she says. And maintaining a "level playing field" tops both their agendas.
Ms. Batts' gray suit, silver jewelry, and impeccably groomed hair make it difficult to conjure images of her haulin down the road in a tandem trailer (or even representing those who do). It is hard to find a truck icon in her truckers association office.
Instead, she has surrounded herself with images of sailboats. which she and her husband love.
A Fearless Quality
Ms. Batts races sailboats - but says she can't swim. That's representative of a fearless quality that is a defining part of her personality.
At a younger age, she threw herself down mountains on a luge, becoming a member of the U.S. Olympic team. (She broke a hand before the late-'60s competition in Grenoble, France, and so never got to compete in the games.)
Ms. Batts grew up on a 10,000-acre cattle ranch near Billings, Mont., the child of a cattle rancher who also owned a trucking company. "But in the 1960s, little girls didn't grow up to own trucking companies," she observes.
After taking a masters degree at the University of Miami, Fla., and teaching history at the University of the Philippines in Manila, she joined the trucking group as a research analyst in 1973.
Her entree came from family connections, but "at least I knew the difference between gas and diesel," she notes.
"My reputation is hardworking, dynamic, aggressive, member conscious," she says. "I'm a workaholic, and I'm not afraid to take a chance."
The financial services group was looking for those qualities. said its chairman, Alan Lerner, senior vice president of Associates Corporation of North America, a Ford Motor Co. subsidiary. "With her extensive political background and association experience," he added, "she is well-qualified to lead the association."
The aim of a trade association, Ms. Batts says, is to be so fierce that nobody even dares to take the industry on.
Lots to Learn
Most of her new group's issues are new to Ms. Batts, so she has been cramming a lot over the past month. She can give a brief explanation about the Consumer Reporting Reform Act being considered this week by Congress, for example, but ask one question too many and she will respond, "Don't ask me."
And she concedes that even the 24 staff members she will soon direct have no doubt questioned her background. "They're wondering who this woman trucker is," she says. "They're wondering how fast she's going to learn."
The job will put her in confrontation with bankers in many areas. The most significant difference, she says, is that banks lend other people's money while consumer finance companies lend their own.
"Government doesn't have to protect depositors' money" in her industry, she says, "because AFSA members are risking their own."