Metro

MBTA launches search for a new general manager

JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

MBTA officials waited seven months to announce a search formally because they wanted to wait until several issues were resolved

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is officially on the hunt for a new general manager, as Governor Charlie Baker called on the business community to help in the agency’s search for a permanent leader.

At a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Thursday, Baker announced that the state's transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, has created a panel to oversee the hiring process and will retain an executive search firm to identify top candidates.

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“This needs to be a turnaround CEO, not a traditional transit general manager,” Baker said. “The new general manager needs to have strong business experience in industries that provide direct service to customers, and the ability to deliver large-scale capital projects.”

Baker also recommended that the MBTA’s fiscal and management control board, created in 2015 by legislation he backed, remain in place for two more years.

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The MBTA is currently led by chief administrator Brian Shortsleeve, who since July has also served as acting general manager. But Shortsleeve and the agency’s chief operating officer, Jeffrey Gonneville, are not interested in becoming general manager on a permanent basis, Pollack said Thursday.

Shortsleeve, who was recruited from the private sector, is expected to remain in his position through the search but appears unlikely to stay long-term.

He makes about $175,000 a year, but a permanent general manager would make substantially more.

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Adding a permanent general manager to the current leadership team would give the agency the horsepower that it needs to complete the job, Pollack said.

Pollack said the search would begin “pretty much immediately” but did not say when officials hoped to name a candidate.

MBTA officials waited seven months to announce a search formally, she said, because they wanted to wait until several issues were resolved, including a renegotiated agreement with the authority’s largest union and the privatization of its cash-collection and warehouse departments. Shortsleeve oversaw those efforts.

“We wanted people to see being CEO as a challenge, but not something that was so much of a challenge that they would worry about failing,” she said.

The new general manager would oversee a number of major projects, including the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford, the delivery of a new fleet of Red and Orange line cars, and the installation of anticollision technology on the commuter rail network.

Both Shortsleeve and Gonneville will serve on the search panel for the position, which has been a revolving door in recent years. The agency has had five permanent or interim general managers since 2011.

Shortsleeve, who came from the private sector to help the MBTA reduce its budget deficit, followed Frank DePaola, who retired last year because of health concerns. DePaola, who had worked at both the MBTA and the state Department of Transportation, was named general manager in March 2015, shortly after Beverly Scott stepped down.

Baker had helped recruit Shortsleeve, who started work at the venture capital firm General Catalyst three years before Baker joined as an executive-in-residence. On Thursday Shortsleeve, a former political director for Governor Mitt Romney, emphasized that while the agency has made progress on cutting costs, there was more work to be done.

“The T is a $2 billion business, and it should be run by a CEO with turnaround experience,” he said, adding that a focus on infrastructure will be critical.

Baker, known for helping Harvard Pilgrim Health Care recover from a financial crisis, asked the business community to help identify someone to oversee a similar turnaround at the MBTA.

“We will work with a search firm to identify and vet candidates and look for folks like you to help us network and come up with the kind of candidate pool that ensures that the kind of person taking on this job can get this done,” Baker said.

Baker also thanked the MBTA’s control board, a five-member group that has been holding exhaustive weekly meetings on the agency since 2015.

“These are the five hardest working volunteers in government,” he said.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.
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