When Linda Leary graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor’s degree in home economics and business studies, she thought that she might become a nutritionist or go into interior design. Little did she know back in 1982 that she would climb the trucking industry ladder to become president of Anchorage-based Carlile, a position that Leary took up on March 1.
Leary now oversees a fleet of 300 trucks and 1,500 trailers, more than 600 employees and 11 terminals that stretch from Prudhoe Bay to Forest Lake, Minnesota and Houston, Texas – focusing on routes between oilfields and also the Midwest. She has just returned to Alaska from Tacoma, Washington, where Leary and her family spent the past seven years, during her time as Carlile’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Leary was promoted to president of the company when co-founder Harry McDonald, who had been president since Carlile was formed in 1980, decided to take on the new role of CEO. “My role is kind of more tactical, managing the managers,” Leary told Petroleum News. “His is more strategic so he can work on big projects, acquisitions, sitting on boards and doing community stuff,” she said. Co-founder John McDonald, Harry’s brother, is executive vice president of the company, overseeing maintenance, shops and the heavy haul group.
Growing up in a Swedish-American family in the small town of Stockholm, Maine, Leary learned from an early age that hard work can be rewarding. The mainstays of the northern Maine economy were potatoes and timber, and from the age of six onwards the children in the area were let out of school for a month in the fall to pick potatoes six days a week, for which they were paid a modest wage. Leary still remembers buying a Spirograph with one of her first paychecks. She finally got the chance to visit the more well-known Stockholm in 2001, where she celebrated her 41st birthday.
Job prospects didn’t look too bright in Maine in the 1980s and Leary was looking for an adventure. Some of her friends and relatives had already moved to Alaska, so a week and a half after she finished college, she came up here and stayed with her cousins. One cousin subsequently spent 10 years as a teacher in bush Alaska, and another now owns the Steinway dealership in Anchorage.
“When I moved here the average age was 26 – it was really a lot of fun, a very entrepreneurial feel here, as it is now,” Leary said. She found out recently that the average age in Anchorage is now 36, an indicator that more people are staying in Alaska permanently. Leary’s first job was in customer service, working for consolidator Northern Lights Express, which is now part of Horizon Lines. Then she did a short stint at an employment agency, where she made at least one customer very happy: he just celebrated 25 years with the company she placed him in.
Leary worked for Arco for 18 months, then for Lynden as a contractor at the airport’s freight terminal, until she joined Carlile in 1985. Answering the phones and dealing with the billing were among her first duties with the company. In those early days Carlile consisted of the four owners, four or five drivers, and Leary herself. “I was manning the fort,” Leary said.
In 1994 Leary became an owner-partner, and soon after that she was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing. She was responsible for the company’s overall revenue and growth, as well as “making sure you understand the market you’re in and looking for new opportunities to expand,” Leary said. “You have to make sure you have a good rapport with operations and that they understand what the customers’ needs are too – it’s a balancing act,” she added.
Launching Carlile into the market in Tacoma was one of Leary’s biggest achievements, she thinks. Alaska is a relatively small market and everyone knows the company in this state, but Carlile was completely unknown in the Lower 48 when it started out there, Leary explained. She oversaw the construction of a 65,000-sq. ft. terminal at the Port of Tacoma, rail spur and container freight station that allows the company to handle international freight.
“One of our goals was to try and generate business that offsets the Alaska market,” Leary said. “To make sure we have a good blend of clients, and markets, too. We were big on the heavy haul oversize market in Alaska, a niche opportunity, and we’ve been growing that in the Lower 48.” Much of this heavy hauling in Alaska consists of oilfield modules that weigh up to 200,000 lb, containing items like electronic equipment or compression stations.
In the coming year Leary’s goals include “continuing to work on safety and having a world-class safety organization,” and installing a new computer system called TruckMate, as well as training employees. Carlile will also ramp up its communications, with Peggy Spittler as the new marketing manager, Leary said.
Leary is happy to be back in Alaska and relishing the new challenge. Her sons, Lukas and Kyle, now 17 and 19, went to elementary school in Alaska. Husband Michael is a lifelong Alaskan who currently works for a snow machine outlet in Eagle River, in the finance and credit department. He was a race marshall for the Iron Dog snow machine race for several years, and has also competed in the race himself. The whole family enjoys outdoor activities, but - “I don’t really like to get cold,” Leary admits.
“Growing up in New England you do canoeing, mountain climbing. It’s such a grander scale here,” Leary said. “I love to fish, I’m a fishing fanatic. I’d probably rather fish than golf. My dad is this vicious fisherman, he fished every day after work. If you wanted to spend time with him, you had to go fishing.” Leary caught her first big rainbow trout last summer, a 28-incher. In Alaska she almost certainly has other big fish to catch.