In the video interview we recently recorded, Rev. Charles Lucas, Board President, and India Birdsong, General Manager/CEO, of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority describe the close, positive, and highly productive partnership they’ve developed. It is indicative of a striking development in the rapidly evolving field of public transit governance: the recognition that a really solid board chair-CEO leadership team is critical to the CEO’s success, to the authority’s performance, and to its image in the community. GCRTA is in the vanguard of the growing number of public transit authorities led by dynamic chair-CEO duos.
This recognition is a latecomer to the public transit landscape. In my workshops, I often tell -a true story that happened not that many years ago. One day I walked into the conference room of a CEO I had just started working with to find the board chair fuming. It turned out that the CEO hadn’t invited her to join his sit-down the week before with the editor of the local newspaper to discuss the authority’s new partnership with the community college district to provide service to all three of its campuses. This despite the fact that his chair was a highly vocal supporter of the college who had played a key role in fostering its new partnership with the transit authority. And making matters worse, the editorial lauding the college-authority partnership that had appeared that morning didn’t acknowledge the important role she’d played or even mention her name. Was this critically important working relationship seriously damaged? You bet it was! Fortunately for the CEO, the damage wasn’t irreparable, but the recovery process took several months. A board-savvier CEO, such as India Birdsong, would not have missed the opportunity to provide this board chair with “non-monetary compensation” in the form of participation in a meeting on a matter close to her heart and ego satisfaction in the form of recognition in the press.
As you’ll learn from the video we recorded, India has made sure her Board President, Rev. Lucas, has been intensively involved in fashioning innovation initiatives in an area he is keenly interested in – paratransit. You’ll also learn that the Board President-General Manager/CEO working relationship at GCRTA is characterized by mutual respect, a high degree of mutual trust, and frequent communication – in person whenever feasible. And Rev. Lucas makes a point of saying that, despite his close working relationship with India, he never has – and never will – dabble in management matters in her bailiwick as CEO of GCRTA.