When Massport’s board decides on a new CEO Thursday, will it seize on the opportunity to appoint a woman as the powerful agency’s leader, or is the job going to go to another white guy?
Last week, the Massachusetts Port Authority announced two finalists after a search that yielded more than 100 candidates: Brian Golden, Boston’s planning and development chief, and Lisa Wieland, Massport’s port director.
(John Pranckevicius, the agency’s chief financial officer, has been serving as interim CEO since Tom Glynn retired in November.)
It’s the last of several high-profile economic-related posts left to be filled during what has been a period of unusually high turnover. In January, Jay Ash, the former state economic secretary, took the reins of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group of powerful CEOs. In February, Martha Sheridan became head of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau after running the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. And in May, John Regan was tapped to run the state’s biggest business group, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, after serving as its longtime government affairs director.
For those keeping score at home, these positions went to two white men, one white woman, and no people of color.
Early on, I worried that this town was playing another game of musical chairs for white guys. Ash’s name came up for both the MAPC and AIM openings. For the Massport gig, former congressman Mike Capuano and Joseph Aiello, chairman of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, were also among names floated for the position.
Why all the jockeying? The Massport gig is a plum assignment. The boss gets to oversee Logan Airport, the port, and a large swath of waterfront real estate. Also, the pay ain’t bad at more than $300,000 a year.
Then something surprising happened: a diverse search process. The invaluable lesson apparently learned was that if you look hard enough, you’ll find highly qualified candidates for important jobs who aren’t men and who aren’t white. The 10 candidates who scored interviews with Massport’s screening committee included five women and three people of color.
But this being Massachusetts, the white-male insider is always a leading candidate. The men of influence here help each other out. And who gets to be the next Massport CEO may just come down to that.
The key player is Mayor Marty Walsh. How much political capital does he want to spend on helping his guy Golden get the job? Walsh could be regretting the timing of his rants about the MBTA, which last week opened a rare rift between him and Governor Charlie Baker over the direction of the public transit system. The mayor really needs Baker now, since the governor has appointed all but two of the seven members of the Massport board.
Another person Walsh could lean on: Massport board chair Lew Evangelidis. He’s the Worcester County sheriff, but previously served as a state representative — just like Walsh and Golden. This could be a test of how deep the Beacon Hill brotherhood runs. Will they scratch each other’s backs?
At this point, if you think the fix is in, well, not so fast.
Baker has filled the Massport board with a trove of high-powered women: Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, former BJ’s Wholesale Club CEO Laura Sen, and AT&T New England president Patricia Jacobs.
It’s no secret that Pollack wanted a diverse search process, and she got one. Will she finish the job and get the board behind Wieland?
The two candidates couldn’t be more different — except for his and her Harvard pedigrees.
Golden, 54, a graduate of Harvard College, has been chief executive of the Boston Planning & Development Agency since 2014. He has been Walsh’s sole development chief during one of the city’s busiest building booms, and a steady presence in a position that saw frequent turnover during the Menino years.
Previously, Golden was a state representative for the Allston-Brighton neighborhood and has served as an Army officer, active duty and reserve, for more than 25 years.
Wieland, 48, who holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, joined Massport in 2006 and has been its port director since 2015. On her watch, port revenues have increased 35 percent. Cargo volume records have been set at Conley Terminal, and passenger records have been set at the Cruiseport.
Previously, Wieland was chief administrative officer of Massport’s maritime division, and before Massport she worked as a consultant at Bain & Co.
Of the two candidates, Golden is better known — and better connected. But Wieland is a known quantity to the Massport board.
So who should get the job? Both of them could handle it. They have the leadership and management skills to oversee a complex operation, but all things being equal, the board should give the nod to Wieland.
Here’s why: It’s chance for board members to make a statement that a highly qualified woman doesn’t need to be highly connected to get a top post in this town. Wieland would be only the second woman to run the authority, which was created in 1956.
Just as in the private sector, there aren’t enough female CEOs in the public domain, either. Of the 41 major state commissions and agencies, only nine are run by women, according to data from the Women’s Power Gap Initiative at the Eos Foundation.
To move the needle in the corner office, boards like Massport’s have to think about gender. If Wieland doesn’t get the job, it will be an indication that — once again — the old-boy network was probably kicked into high gear to benefit one of its own.