As you’ll learn from the video interview I recently recorded with Steve Bland, Chief Executive Officer of WeGo Public Transit in Nashville, Steve is a veritable master of the high-stakes, tremendously complex, and rapidly evolving field of public transit governance. Over the course of his quarter-century at the helm of four transit authorities, Steve has demonstrated that he’s in the forefront of a growing number of transit CEOs who make governance – particularly the partnership with their board – a top tier chief executive priority. These really “board-savvy” transit CEOs are firmly committed to strong board leadership that goes well beyond the outdated passive-reactive governance model that has the board thumbing through and reacting to finished staff work. They welcome the kind of intensive, high-level board engagement that not only makes a real difference, but also transforms board members into satisfied owners of their governing decisions.
This new breed of transit CEO, by the way, wouldn’t be caught dead employing the old-fashioned “policy governance” approach to managing their partnership with the board. They well know that mapping out the rules of the governing game (such as policies defining limitations on CEO authority and delineating the board’s responsibilities in the annual budget process) won’t get high-impact governing decisions made. They are keenly aware that merely defining roles and establishing boundaries won’t get the tremendously complex governing job done at a high level.
I vividly recall my first meeting with Steve – via telephone – almost 20 years ago. He’d shortly before our call taken the helm at the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) in Albany, New York, and we were discussing possibly working together on the governance front. I kicked off our call by asking Steve how he thought I could help him. I instantly knew I was talking with a new breed of transit CEO when he answered that his success at the helm would depend on two factors more than any other. First, he said, he needed the strong backing of a really effective, fully engaged board. Second, he needed to develop a solid working relationship with the board that wouldn’t be frayed by the stresses and strains that were bound to occur when he began to set new directions and change more than a few well-established CDTA operational practices. “Bottom line,“ I remember him saying, “without a strong board in my corner, the odds I’ll succeed will be pretty grim.”
Having worked closely with Steve at CDTA, then the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, and now at WeGo Public Transit, I can say from actual experience that he’s the quintessential board-savvy CEO who: sees the board as a preeminent organizational asset rather than as a micromanagement threat to be countered; takes the lead in developing his board’s governing capacity by updating its governing role, structure, and processes; and views governing as a team sport involving continuous, close board-CEO collaboration and teamwork.
You’ll also learn from the interview we recorded that Steve is passionately committed to mentoring members of his executive team who aspire to take the helm at a transit authority some day, and you won’t be surprised to learn than this includes getting his CEO-aspirants ready to play the Chief Board Capacity Builder role. They couldn’t have a better teacher! Witness the fact that four executives who’ve graduated from Steve Bland U. are now highly successful transit CEOs.