Surviving and Thriving As a CEO/GM

by | Aug 15, 2014 | Board Savvy Transit CEO Blog Archive, Board-CEO Relationship

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson with Doug

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson with Doug

Over the past six months I’ve been privileged to present two APTA governance programs for public transportation board members, CEOs/GMs, and what I call “CEO/GM- aspirants” – executives who aspire to become CEOs some day: “The Board-Savvy CEO” at the Transit CEOs Seminar in New Orleans and “Public Transportation Board Development By Design” at the Transit Board Members Seminar in Cleveland. As is my custom, at the beginning of each program, I asked for a show of hands of participants who’d had a really thorough course dealing with developing and maintaining a solid board-CEO partnership in graduate school or elsewhere. The response – only a couple of hands went up – didn’t surprise me since I’ve been asking the same question for 25 years with the same result.

How ironic when you think about it, especially for CEOs/GMs, who are hired – and fired – by the board and whose success depends heavily on building and maintaining a rock-solid working relationship with their board. Public transportation boards obviously have the formal authority to make a wide range of really high-stakes decisions – enacting major policies, updating your authority’s values and vision statements, adopting the annual operating plan and budget, and approving capital projects such as a light rail extension or additions to your bus fleet, to name but a few examples. How collaboratively the board works with the CEO/GM in making these high-stakes decisions has a tremendous impact, not only the long-term effectiveness and growth of your authority, but also the professional success and tenure of the CEO/GM. And as you well know, less formally, day after day, board members can make the professional life of their CEO/GM miserable if they are frustrated by their governing role or unhappy with their working relationship with the CEO/GM. Anyone who has sat through an interminable board meeting where CEO recommendations were picked apart or, worse, trashed, knows what I’m talking about.

I learned early on in my career as a public/nonprofit board and CEO leadership consultant that being truly board-savvy – understanding how to keep the partnership with the board close, positive, and productive – is a survive-and-thrive matter for CEOs/GMs. In a nutshell, this is why I’ve created I want this to be a safe place that you – as a public transportation CEO/GM or CEO/GM-aspirant – can go to pick up really practical information that you can put to immediate use in working closely with your board as members of what I call the “Strategic Governing Team” of your transportation authority. And I want this blog to be a place where you can engage in fruitful discussion and share your best thinking.

I am delighted that nine esteemed colleagues who are outstanding board-savvy public transportation CEOs have accepted my invitation to serve as members of the CEO Advisory Committee of Carm Basile (CDTA, Albany, NY); Steve Bland (MTA, Nashville, TN); Nuria Fernandez, VTA (San Jose, CA); Nathaniel Ford, Sr. (JTA, Jacksonville, FL); Neil McFarlane (TriMet, Portland, OR); Michael Melaniphy (APTA, Washington, DC); Susan Meyer (STA, Spokane, WA); Brad Miller (PSTA, Pinellas County, FL); and Gary Thomas (DART, Dallas, TX). In addition to advising on blog topics, members of this distinguished advisory group will contribute guest posts to


About the Author: Doug Eadie

President & CEO of Doug Eadie & Company, Inc., Doug Eadie assists CEOs in building rock-solid partnerships with their transit boards.

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