MBTA names former GE executive as new general manager
The MBTA said Tuesday that a former General Electric Co. executive with no experience in public transit would be its next general manager, overseeing a network that handles more than 1 million subway, bus, and commuter rail rides a day.
Luis Ramirez is currently a consultant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area specializing in business turnarounds. He was chief executive of an industrial supplier to the power industry for nearly three years after working in energy-related positions at GE.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said Ramirez’s lack of transit experience was far from an obstacle to naming him for one of the most visible, pressure-packed jobs in state government.
“In fact, transit expert was not high on our priority list when we launched the search for a new general manager,” Pollack said at an event Tuesday announcing Ramirez’s appointment. “What we wanted was a successful and seasoned executive with a proven track record at leading complex organizations through transformation and change.”
Pollack also pointed out that the MBTA has an experienced public-transit manager in Jeff Gonneville, the agency’s deputy general manager.
Ramirez, 50, takes over an agency that has been under constant pressure since the crippling winter snowstorms of 2015 exposed huge shortcomings in its equipment and operations, leading to the resignation of general manager Beverly Scott. An oversight board formed that year has since tightly managed the agency.
While the T has celebrated the work of its control board, many riders complain that they have not seen much of an effect yet. The agency still struggles with transit delays, which officials say they are addressing by repairing and updating equipment along the system, and spending on new vehicles, such as Red and Orange Line trains scheduled to arrive over the next several years.
Ramirez begins Sept. 12 and will receive an annual salary of $320,000, with the potential for up to $64,000 in annual bonuses based on performance metrics. It’s a sizable boost from past general manager salaries of about $175,000; officials said throughout the process that a higher salary would help the T attract qualified candidates.
At his introduction Tuesday, Ramirez bristled at the notion that he was hired as a turnaround executive, saying the MBTA is already on the path to improvement.
“When I hear the phrase turnaround, it means something is going in the wrong direction or a direction contrary to where an organization needs to go,” he said. “My job is to build upon the solid foundation . . . and help create a long-term road map and plan to fully transform the T into what it needs to be: a world-class transportation system serving the people of a world-class city and Commonwealth.”
Ramirez will be the fifth person to run the T under Governor Charlie Baker, succeeding two interim executives who were filling in after Frank DePaola stepped down in June 2016 to battle cancer.
The T has several formidable projects that Ramirez will immediately have to oversee. One is the $2.3 billion expansion of the Green Line, whose costs the T has struggled to keep under control. The agency is also locked into an eight-year, $2.7 billion contract with Keolis, the French company that has run the commuter rail since 2014, sometimes with poor results. The T has already said it will not extend Keolis’s contract, so Ramirez will soon have to prepare to bid out the agency’s largest contract.
Ramirez comes to the T as it is locked in a standoff with its union workers over the privatization of some bus maintenance garages and efforts to contain its high pension costs. In his remarks Tuesday, Ramirez said he has experience negotiating with union workers in private sector positions.
James O’Brien, president of the T’s largest labor group, the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, said he hopes Ramirez “empowers rather than attacks the people that try to keep this aging system running every day.”
Chris Dempsey, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said having a permanent leader should allow the agency to take a longer-term perspective on improving and expanding service.
“The area of focus needs to be on how the MBTA is changing and growing over time,” he said.
But Ramirez may have a tougher learning curve than other candidates because he comes from outside public transit, said Dempsey, who once worked for the state Department of Transportation.
Ramirez has been living in Dallas and has few personal ties to Boston — though he has ridden the system during business trips, he said. His wife, Delia Garced, is a GE vice president and will work at its new headquarters near the South Boston Waterfront
He began his career as a business analyst, first for Unisys and then Siemens, before joining GE in 2000. He worked his way up the ranks of middle management, becoming vice president at an energy division in Connecticut.
“Luis Ramirez was a great asset to the GE team,” said Steve Bolze, the GE executive who hired him.
Ramirez left GE in 2012 to become the chief executive of a struggling energy supplier in Texas, Global Power Equipment Group. In his bio on LinkedIn, he said he led a turnaround of the company, but he resigned suddenly in March 2015.
Shortly after his resignation, Global Power said it had misreported financial statements due to accounting errors, and its chairman later described the period as “a challenging time.” Ramirez is among several current and former Global Power executives named as defendants in investor lawsuits over the accounting problems.
The MBTA said it was aware of Ramirez’s resignation while hiring him, describing it as a “mutual decision” that was not related to the financial reporting issues.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Global Power also said Ramirez’s resignation was not related to those problems, but declined to comment further on the circumstances of his departure.
Ramirez was not available for comment on the matter.