Tomeka Watson Bryant on June 1 will be elevated to General Manager of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (NOPB), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA).
The first African American woman to lead a U.S. short line, she will succeed M.D. “Mike” Stolzman, who will become Port NOLA’s Chief Operating Officer as part of a port-wide reorganization.
Watson Bryant—an honoree in Railway Age’s “20 Under 40” awards program in 2021 and an honorable mention in 2020—brings both railroad operations and commercial experience to her leadership role at NOPB, a Class III that connects with six Class I’s (BNSF, CN, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific) and serves Port NOLA and local businesses.
A five-year NOPB veteran, Watson Bryant started as a Trainmaster, and was soon promoted to Manager of Operating Practice, pioneering the railroad’s successful safety program in 2019. (In 2020, NOPB set a safety record.) In 2020, she was promoted again, this time to Manager of Sales and Marketing, responsible for business development and customer service. Watson Bryant launched her rail industry career as a Trainmaster at CSX.
“We applaud Tomeka for this well-deserved and historic appointment to lead the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad,” said Brandy D. Christian, CEO of NOPB and President and CEO of Port NOLA, which is served by the six Class I’s mentioned above plus NOPB and the New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway (Railway Age’s 2016 Short Line of the Year). “She is a leader who has earned this role for her productivity, innovative business development ideas, and commitment to safe operations.”
“It is an absolute honor to take the helm of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad and continue our progress as a safe, efficient, competitive and environmentally sustainable rail service in the New Orleans Gateway,” Watson Bryant said. “As the daughter of a railroader, I am proud to follow in the footsteps of my father who worked in the industry for 41 years.”
Former NOPB GM Stolzman—who was selected for honorable mention in Railway Age’s 2021 Readers’ Influential Leaders program—has been elevated to COO of Port NOLA as part of a port-wide reorganization.
“Mike’s track record, broad skill set, and specific ideas on optimizing operations made him the right choice for this new role,” said Christian. “His experience with Class I and short line railroads serving the nation’s top ports are unmatched. Mike’s leadership will help the entire organization realize its full potential and build on our ability to serve the state of Louisiana.”
Prior to NOPB, Stolzman served in leadership positions managing operations, budgets and rail lines. His accomplishments as NOPB General Manager include the lowest dwell times in the railroad’s history, increased rail storage capacity and usage, increased efficiencies and profitability, and investment in environmental sustainability with eight new lower-emission locomotives.
“This is truly an exciting time for NOPB and the Port NOLA gateway,” Stolzman said. “I look forward to building on the momentum that is already under way by working closely with the Class I’s, the ocean carriers and shippers to enhance their user experience while optimizing operations.”
Three General Managers in the Operations Division will report to Stolzman: Christie Coats as General Manager, Head of Maritime and Asset Management; Janine Mansour as General Manager, Head of Business Development; and Watson Bryant as General Manager, NOPB. “This alignment supports the ability to optimize business development opportunities, serve tenants and effectively address operational needs in both organizations,” Port NOLA reported.
Other organizational changes include the promotion of Ronald Wendel to Executive Vice President/CFO for overall strategy, negotiations and financing of Port NOLA’s revenue and infrastructure projects, including the Louisiana International Terminal as well as initiatives to support peak performance.
“Organizational culture, diversity, inclusion and professional development have been key priorities for Port NOLA under Christian and the reorganization elevates this focus,” the Port said.
Former Human Resources Director Garri Brown has been promoted to serve as the Port’s Chief People and Culture Officer; Ari Ferrand-Rogers will serve as Director of Organizational Development. Laura Mellem has been named Chief of Staff, with general oversight responsibility for the Board and Executive Offices, Public Affairs, and Emergency Management. Michelle Ganon, who has served as Chief of Staff and Vice President of Public Affairs for six years, will retire in August 2022.