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Headliner: Melinda White Chief Executive Officer, Transit Wireless

30 July 2018

Warren Buffett, the American billionaire, who knows a little bit about a successful journey, once stated that “Wall Street is the only place that people ride to in a Rolls Royce to get advice from those who take the subway.” This is still the case. But since the ‘Sage of Omaha’ offered this opinion, those riding the New York City subway have gotten even smarter, as they’ve been able to connect to the internet, check their emails and make calls whilst waiting on platforms. Unlike the majority of cities around the world, New Yorkers don’t lose connection whilst going underground. It’s a remarkable service, and those who have been using it since 2011 have Transit Wireless to thank for their continued connectivity—for it was they who were selected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to finance, design, build, operate, and maintain a shared wireless infrastructure in all underground stations.

Transit Wireless is a majority-owned BAI Communications company and holds a long-term contract with the MTA and although the installation of underground station connectivity is now complete, the company’s role in the subway system continues to evolve. With many global metros striving to match New York, Luke Upton sat down with Melinda White, who took over as CEO in May of this year, bringing with her more than 20 years in the wireless and telecommunications industry. They spoke about what’s brought her to Transit Wireless, keeping up with rapid change, learnings from other industries and what can be done to better ensure our boardrooms reflect those passengers they serve.

Luke Upton (LU): Congratulations on joining Transit Wireless, so how has your career led to this position?

Melinda White (MW): Thank you. I’ve been working for more than 20 years in the wireless and telecommunications industry. I was at Frontier Communications for 12 years, finishing up as an Area President, working out of Los Angeles and leading a $3bn P&L with 7,000 employees. Before that, I held senior positions at Wink Communications, Cox Communications and Cellular One. Before I joined Transit Wireless, and made the move from Los Angeles to New York, I was CEO of Black Walnut Ventures advising companies on strategy and operations. I am passionate about tech and telecommunications, so when I learned of this opportunity at Transit Wireless, I did my research and became intrigued and excited about the future of communications in transit.

LU: Thanks, so what in particular piqued your interest?

MW: Well, I know about the industry, but in all honesty when I started looking in detail at what Transit Wireless does, I was mesmerised. The New York project is truly remarkable – the miles and miles of fibre, in such a confined, challenging space, delivering what it does to subway riders every day. I loved it! Then I learned more about the Company, what it has accomplished and its future plans. And then there are the people – the most important part of any organisation – they are the true foundation. The team at Transit Wireless are not only positive and hard-working, the New York project is a testament to that, but they are also making history in bringing connectivity to the NY ridership.  Putting this all together, Transit Wireless is a very exciting company I now have the privilege to lead.

LU: It sounds it! With the pace of change increasing, and passengers demands rising, how does Transit Wireless (@transitwireless) and your clients at transit agencies keep pace with change?

MW: I think the key is to build and design with the future in mind. We know there will be change, so we have to adequately prepare. Whatever we put in today has to be scalable and adaptable, and the fact that we are a neutral-host for all things mobile helps with this. We have a long-term contract with the MTA, and it’s exciting to be a part of their future throughout NYC.

LU: What most excites you about the development of transport connectivity?

MW: Well, I love working with organisations with a bold vision, and that’s certainly the case in transport. The connectivity we are delivering has a major, direct impact on passengers, their journeys and their lives, so that in itself is exciting. I see it every day here in New York on the way to work. Since moving from Los Angeles, I’ve traded my car for a MetroCard, so very much living our work! From the CEO’s perspective, I believe that a real leader always points to the future, with the Customer in the center of all planning. We are seeing it here with Andy Byford, who moved from Toronto Transit Commission to become president of the MTA’s New York City Transit earlier this year, with a clear vision for NYCT Subway to be the best in the world.

LU: And to finish up, as one of a relatively smaller number of women in leadership positions in our industry, what more can be done to rebalance our boardrooms?

MW: I am a firm believer that your board should look like your customers. And a key is for those in leadership positions to help those who are just starting out or still on their way up. I am a big believer in mentoring, and I’ve been fortunate to have been mentored myself for the past 26 years by a brilliant and inspirational individual, Maggie Wilderotter.  I’m also a member of Catalyst, an organization that supports women who aspire to become corporate directors.  Being available to share experience and mentoring is very important to me.

LU: Great, thanks very much for the time today, and SmartRail World is looking forward to tracking the progress of Transit Wireless under your leadership.

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Source: SmartRail World