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People News: MBTA, Metro Transit, FourKites

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Pictured (left to right): Bo Tao, Chief Technology Officer, FourKites; Manik Mair, Senior Vice President Corporate Growth, FourKites; and Lesley Kandaras, General Manager, Metro Transit.

Pictured (left to right): Bo Tao, Chief Technology Officer, FourKites; Manik Mair, Senior Vice President Corporate Growth, FourKites; and Lesley Kandaras, General Manager, Metro Transit.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) appoints four transit veterans to oversee stations, infrastructure, engineering, capital program enhancement, operations, and safety. Also, Minnesota’s Metropolitan Council names Metro Transit’s new General Manager; and FourKites, a real-time supply chain visibility company, expands its executive leadership team.


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MBTA has hired Dennis Varley as Chief of Stations; Sam Zhou as Assistant General Manager of Engineering and Capital; Doug Connett as Chief of Infrastructure; and Rod Brooks as Senior Advisor for Capital, Operations and Safety. “Through the appointment of these new roles, the MBTA aims to close management gaps and improve the quality, reliability, and safety of T services,” the agency reported July 27. All four will start later this summer.

With more than 30 years of transit industry experience, Varley will be responsible for ensuring station safety, security and cleanliness. He will also address station concerns raised by riders and employees and make sure in-station customer communications are clear, timely and informative, according to MBTA.

Varley served most recently at MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), where held engineering leadership roles, including Deputy Chief Engineer, Assistant Chief Engineer-Structures, and Assistant Chief Facilities Operations Officer. He began his career in the public transit sector in various roles for MTA New York City Transit’s Facilities & Environmental Operations team and Division of Material.

Sam Zhou will be responsible for the safe engineering and delivery of MBTA assets. He will oversee the planning, engineering, and execution of engineering, construction infrastructure, and Capital Investment Plan (CIP) programs, including asset planning and management.

Zhou has more than 30 years of experience in transportation project development, operations, and asset management. Previously, he was Assistant Commissioner for Operations, Regional Affairs and Asset Management at the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), where he oversaw 11 regional offices and a workforce of 6,500, and managed regional resources to maintain and operate 110,000 miles of New York State transportation infrastructure as part of NYSDOT’s $32.8 billion, five-year capital program. He also held senior leadership positions at NYSDOT as Regional Director of the Capital Region, Executive Assistant to the Commissioner within the Office of the Commissioner, and Deputy Director-Major Project Management in the Office of Design.

Doug Connett will provide direction to the entire Infrastructure Directorate, which comprising more than 1,000 employees within the track, signals and communications, power, facilities, and logistics teams. He will be responsible for executing programs to improve service quality, reduce costs, increase employee productivity, and increase revenue and ridership.

Connett joins MBTA from a state safety and security consulting firm and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, where he has served as Vice President and Assistant Chief Safety Officer of Operations and Investigations. Beginning his career in 1985 at NYCT as a Level I Track Construction Supervisor, Connett rose through the ranks, working in track construction and maintenance before ultimately becoming Vice President and Chief Officer of MTA Staten Island Railway in 2014.

Rod Brooks will assist with leading the Rail Operations team “in making purposeful capital, operations, and safety decisions,” MBTA reported. As a Senior Advisor to the team, he will help ensure the on-schedule and on-budget management of the Capital Delivery Program, the South Coast Rail project, and other key Capital Program initiatives.

With more than 32 years of rail experience, Brooks most recently served as Senior Vice President of Operations at LIRR. He held additional LIRR operations leadership positions as well, including Executive Director-ESA Harold Operations and Chief Transportation Officer. Brooks began his transit career as an entry-level Assistant Railroad Signalman.

In addition to these four new leaders, MBTA also announced several new, internal role changes: Katie Choe is now Acting Chief of Staff; Meredith Sandberg, Acting Chief of the Quality, Compliance, and Oversight Office; Angel Donahue-Rodriguez, Assistant General Manager of External Affairs; Frenia Hunter, Division Chief of Training; Sean Mills, Assistant General Manager, Bus Operations; and Patrick Richmond, Assistant General Manager, Rail.

“Since joining the MBTA, I have continued to experience first-hand how our system operates, both as General Manager and as a daily T rider,” MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng said. “I understand the gravity of resolving our safety issues, and I am committed to restoring public faith in our system and bringing our infrastructure back to a state of good repair that is safe, reliable, and meets the needs of our riders. “Today [July 27], I join the rest of the T’s dedicated workforce in welcoming Dennis, Sam, Doug, and Rod to the MBTA, and appreciating the work of Katie, Meredith, Angel, Frenia, Sean, and Patrick. We have added significant combined decades of transportation experience to the team, and it is important to note that I also believe deeply in the team that we have already at the T. Each of the new hires and internal role changes has a wealth of experience and expertise in multimodal public transportation that I am pleased to see deployed at the T in order to deliver on our commitment to our riders.”

Separately, MBTA on July 18 announced the closing of the Corrective Action Plan (CAP) related to completion of repair work on a section of the Orange Line track known as the Tufts Curve located in the tunnel between Tufts Medical Center and Back Bay Stations. The repairs were performed as part of one of the 39 CAPs that the MBTA wrote in response to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Safety Management Inspection (SMI) Report conducted in 2022. The FTA, MBTA said, officially closed the CAP in writing confirming that the agency’s repairs “appropriately addressed the track conditions.”

Metro Transit

The Metropolitan Council on July 27 reported the promotion of Lesley Kandaras to General Manager of Metro Transit. She is the first woman to permanently fill the position, providing leadership, vision, and operational and administrative management for Metro Transit, which serves the seven-county Twin Cities metro. Metro Transit has an annual operating budget of more than $530 million, a six-year Capital Improvement Plan of $2.57 billion, and 3,000 employees.

Kandaras joined the agency in 2019 and has served as Senior Manager-Policy Development, Chief of Staff, and most recently as interim General Manager, succeeding Wes Kooistra, who retired in February after four years of service. Kandaras began at the Metropolitan Council in 2012, working in the Communications and Government Affairs departments and implementing inter-divisional initiatives.

As Chief of Staff, she served as an advisor to the General Manager and led Metro Transit’s Administration and Executive Affairs Department, which includes Outreach, Communications, Marketing and Transit Information, Equity and Inclusion, and Strategic Initiatives. Additionally, she was instrumental in the creation of the agency’s Safety & Security Action Plan and is a supporter of Metro Transit’s Great Workplace Project, an employee-driven effort to create a more effective and inclusive workplace.

“I firmly believe Lesley is the right person for this position because she recognizes how important transit is to the economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and quality of life in the Twin Cities,” Metropolitan Council Chair Charlie Zelle said. “She is a well-respected leader with a deep knowledge and understanding of how transit can improve the quality of life for our region. I am confident her distinguished track record of leadership and innovation will help foster a metro area that is livable, prosperous, sustainable, and equitable for all.”

“As the demand for transportation and mobility continues to grow, Lesley is approaching this important work as both an opportunity and challenge,” said Deb Barber, Chair of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Committee. “She fully understands the importance of leveraging Metro Transit as much as possible because our regional system has capacity to grow. Most of all, she’s committed to making sure we fully understand the changing needs of our customers to ensure we are providing the right services to meet the increased transit demands throughout the region.”

In the coming years, Metro Transit will grow its light rail and Bus Rapid Transit network, expanding access to “frequent and reliable service” across the region, according to the Metropolitan Council, which noted the agency is also focused on “improving public safety on transit, creating a better customer experience, and recruiting workers needed to support transit operations.”

Further Reading:


FourKites has hired Bo Tao as Chief Technology Officer and Manik Mair as Senior Vice President of Corporate Growth.

Tao will drive product innovation across FourKites’ technology portfolio with a particular focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as customer-led product growth. He has worked in the logistics and software industry for more than 20 years, serving NEXT Trucking, Google, Symantec, Dell Technologies and Cheetah Mobile. Tao’s expertise spans full-stack development, machine learning and data engineering. He holds 10 patents, as well as a Ph.D. from Princeton University.

“Through the integration work my Next Trucking team did with FourKites, I experienced firsthand the value that FourKites’ solutions brought not only to that business but also to the entire supply chain ecosystem,” Tao said.

Mair will be responsible for defining and implementing FourKites’ corporate growth agenda across all domains, functions and regions. An experienced software executive and business strategist, he was most recently Global Vice President, Head of GTM Strategy, at Ceridian. Prior to that, Mair was part of EY’s strategy consulting practice, where he focused on corporate, portfolio and business unit strategy, digital transformation and go-to-market strategy.

“Customer-led innovation and product growth have been ingrained in our company’s DNA since our inception, and remain so as we continue to grow,” FourKites founder and CEO Mathew Elenjickal said. “Bo’s and Manik’s commitment to customer success and innovation exemplify what we value most at FourKites, and we are thrilled to have them join our team.”

Separately, FourKites recently earned a 2023 Gartner Marketing and Communications Award.

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