June 30, 1993 - From the June, 1993 issue

Franklin White Brings No-Nonsense Management Style to MTA

New Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Franklin White recently sat down for an interview with David Abel and Kenneth Bernstein. Other portions of this interview, addressing the MTA's budget, investment strategy, and 30-Year Plan, appear in the June issue of the new Metro Investment Report. 

There's been criticism of LACTC in recent years that the agency wasn't doing enough to create a sense of place around the transit stations - that the focus was solely on being "on-time and on-budget." How will you balance those emphases? 

I think that's a very important objective. Of course, the more objectives you build in, the more you create the possibility of paralysis. And when you're trying to get a system done, you don't want to wait for four years of hearings to what the system should look like. 

Having said that, I think the answer is that if you're going to be building stations, you have to look at how those stations can add to the community, beyond being an entry and exit point for people. What we've got to do is build this into the planning process early on so you don't have what’s happened here before, where you get to the end and have to go back and redesign. The other issue is how you share those costs: there are a lot of people who want things and will want to load their costs onto this transit system. 

You've spent some time already addressing the siting of the MTA head­quarters building. How have you changed the decision-making on this issue? 

I brought a fresh perspective to this issue. I don't have any loyalties one way or the other - only to what makes sense. What appeared to make sense to me was to develop only one site, and to serve our excess needs on the available market, which is quite favorable. So I submitted a recommendation that we no longer think about developing two buildings. That went to a three-member committee which heard very useful testimony and directed me to go back and look at the option of development.

Going back, there was a proposal to build the Catellus project, then a proposal to meet additional needs at a second site. What happened at that key meeting was that the second site said, “I'll do the first one" - which was an interesting kind of reaction. So the Board asked us to go back and look at the first proposal, the representations made by the second, and (at the urging of representatives of the available market) to look at what the available market might enable. And so that's where we are.

(Editor's note: after this interview took place, the committee voted two to one to support the siting at Catellus’ Union Station project).

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Speaking of staffing, you currently have two of everybody at the MTA, with most former LACTC and RTD staff members remaining on. How are you thinking through the tough management and personnel decisions ahead in making the transition to a unified agency, and what kind of structure will you ultimately put into place? 

I'm first of all trying to do it logically. The process isn't very complicated. The decisions are painful. When I came here, there were people who suggested I should spend two days a week at 425 S. Main and three days a week here. I said that if I did, I should be checked in for lunacy. The fastest way to integrate these two organizations is to bring their leadership together. 

You're right, it's like Noah's ark - we've got one of each. But the process is sequential and simple. We’ll have to decide who are now the acting heads of the joint functions. They're going to have to press the decisions down to the components under them. They'll have to decide what's the organizational structure appropriate for this joint operation, and then who are the people who will run it.

Then, the third and most painful question is how many bodies are we going to need. I have not been shy about the fact that if you have two organizations and one totals A and one totals B, you can’t simply say that the new organization equals A plus B together. If we did that, people ought to arch their eyebrows and perhaps do more. 

It's a tough time, and it's going to affect people. One of the first responsibilities is to minimize the impact on individuals as you go through the process. What I mean is that no one gets hired off the street unless it's for a competence that doesn't exist. A year ago the Board did the right thing when it said that anyone coming in would be hired under a one-year contract, so there was no expectation beyond that.

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