October 20, 2008
The 2008 APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO in San Diego was a huge success!
Read all about it.
Donald: Helping Public Transit Create a ‘Tsunami of Good Will’
At the Oct. 8 Closing General Session of the 2008 APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO in San Diego, Jim Donald, a former chief executive officer of Starbucks and Albertsons, emphasized the necessity of public transit entities reaching out to the community.
He began his presentation by recounting a recent conversation with his young teenage son. Donald was in Europe and calling to check on him. When he found that his son was at a friend's house, he asked: "How did you get there?" His son then said: "Dad, have you ever heard of public transportation?"
Donald told APTA members about a simple strategy he often employed when competitors faltered during his years in the grocery and retail business: he would fix up stores that needed renovation and add capacity.
The lesson for public transportation providers is that “Your competitor--the car--is going,” Donald explained, pointing to the problems facing the major U.S. automobile manufacturers. He also urged transit authorities to be prepared to streamline their operations and add capacity.
The speaker defined a range of strategies APTA can use to achieve its long-range goals in a complex environment. He emphasized the importance of communicating “with everybody in the organization” as a way to create a common sense of mission. He said when he first worked for Pathmark, he made it a point to send a letter to every employee's spouse, asking if they would "share" their time with theri partners--to help the company get on its feet.
Recalling lessons he learned from his time working for Sam Walton to expand Wal-Mart’s role in the supermarket business, Donald said leaders of an organization should “never be bigger than the front-line employee.”
Throughout his career, Donald said, he tried to create an environment where risk-taking was accepted. He recounted stories of listening to employees who questioned him and his direction for the company, who offered radical new ways to approach retail. Many of those suggestions resulted in increased retail sales, he said, noting that he implemented a company-wide effort at the Pathmark retail grocery chain to encourage new ideas and risk-taking.
“You don’t need to budget for these strategies,” Donald said, “and you will create a tsunami of effort and good will.”
The Closing General Session also included the introduction of the American Public Transportation Foundation’s 20th-anniversary class of scholarship recipients.