In manager search, Metro will consider candidates without transit experience

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

Metro's board of directors intends to have a large pool of candidates by this summer to fill the permanent Metro general manager position vacated by John B. Catoe Jr. in April, and to begin narrowing the list by early fall, according to the board's chairman, Peter Benjamin.

Benjamin said that, depending on the outcome of interviews with candidates beginning in the fall, a new Metro chief could be selected quickly.

"We are in the active search phase now. We are out there looking," Benjamin said. "We plan to take a relatively large group of candidates and narrow it down, so in the early fall the board may be prepared to do some interviews. Based on what we find, we could draw it out longer or bring it to a quick conclusion."

Benjamin and three other board members -- Jeff McKay of Fairfax County, Neil Albert of the District and federally appointed member Mortimer Downey -- make up the board's search committee, which is responsible for screening and paring down the initial pool of candidates.

Benjamin said the full Metro board will conduct the final interviews with all candidates and make the choice of a new general manager.

Last month Metro's board approved a $150,000 contract for the D.C. search firm Heidrick & Struggles to begin a "national and international search within and beyond the transit industry" for a replacement for Catoe. Interim General Manager Richard Sarles, former head of New Jersey Transit, took over when Catoe departed and has a year-long contract.

When Metro announced the contract, it said the firm would begin the search immediately, with the goal of "selecting a new general manager within six months."

Benjamin said that the search committee has outlined for the search firm the qualifications it is seeking in a general manager and that the search firm has begun advertising as well as turning to its data to compile the initial group of candidates.

The firm will also consult with the Riders' Advisory Council and the local transit union for suggestions on characteristics, he said.

"Our primary search is for somebody in the public sector who is an exceptional manager, administrator and communicator, and a leader," he said, adding that transit experience, while desired, was not critical.

"We don't want to rule out the possibility that somebody with incredible skills is out there" who would be "fantastic in dealing with the broader leadership and management issues" but who has no transit background, he said. Such a candidate would be expected to hire transit experts for assistance, he said.

Nevertheless, he added, "we would be even more pleased if we could find someone with all those characteristics and a transportation background."

He said the search could include candidates from around the world and mentioned as hypothetical examples a transit general manager from Hong Kong or Denmark.

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