In the informative and fascinating podcast Ben Limmer, new Chief Executive Officer at the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), recorded for this blog last week he describes the professional path he traveled on the way to the top spot at HART. Ben also explains how he determined that his transit experience and executive leadership skills were a good fit with the demands of the CEO position and the Board’s expectations at HART. The result is a model that transit CEO-aspirants and CEOs considering a new position can draw on in advancing their careers.
Listening to Ben as we recorded the podcast, I was struck by three things: Ben’s innovative approach to targeting transit authorities that would provide him with valuable experience on his way up the professional ladder; his aggressive approach to capitalizing fully on every professional experience in building his leadership knowledge and skills; and the research he conducted to confirm that HART was, indeed, the right place to launch the CEO leg of his professional journey.
As you’ll learn from Ben’s podcast, as he climbed the career ladder, he didn’t merely respond to specific job opportunities as they came to his attention. Of course, the particular job he was applying for was an important factor in his career decision making, but even more critical was the vision of the organization he’d be joining. Ben consciously targeted authorities that clearly demonstrated they were walking the growth talk by successfully passing ballot issues to finance system expansion. Ben’s career advancement wasn’t about merely acquiring technical skills by working in business-as-usual situations. Rather, he strove to become a true Innovator-in-Chief on the growth and expansion front.
As he indicates in the podcast, Ben has also been throughout his career an avid learner who has fully capitalized on every opportunity to strengthen his executive management expertise and leadership skills, with an eye to becoming chief executive of a transit authority at the appropriate point in his career. So Ben brought to the top spot at HART not only operational experience, but a complete portfolio of CEO-level knowledge and skills, including strategic planning, external/stakeholder relations, and organizational design.
Talking with Ben, I was struck by how creatively he approached assessing whether HART was, indeed, the right place to take the helm and launch the CEO phase of his career. He was not content with reviewing pertinent documentation, such as HART’s current strategic and operational plans, its budget, and annual report, and quizzing Board members on their expectations. Ben actually traveled to Tampa after applying for the CEO position but before being interviewed to meet with community and business leaders and assess their commitment to transit expansion in this rapidly growing community saddled with a terribly underdeveloped public transit system.
Ben is off to a great start in working with his Board to take HART to the next level, with the infusion of tax dollars more than doubling the authority’s operating budget. He’s at the 100-day point in the job now. We’ll update the story in another 100 days. My prediction? A bright future for Ben as head of a transit system in Tampa that, at last, is capable of meeting the mobility needs of a rapidly expanding population and supporting significant, sustained economic development.