You could feel the new beginning and energy in the room. Taking his new seat at the Metrolinx Board table for the first time on Friday morning, Don Wright said he was excited to take on his new role as Chair.
It’s a long way from where Wright started in the transportation industry, making beds on passenger trains in the 1960s on what would later become part of VIA Rail Canada.
Wright has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a leader in Canada’s investment industry and business community. He is President and CEO of The Winnington Capital Group Inc. He has also previously served as Chair of the Board of Directors at VIA Rail Canada and is a past member of the Hospital for Sick Children’s Board of Trustees.
Wright sat down this past week to talk about his new appointment as Chair of the Metrolinx Board of Directors.
Q: How have you prepared for your first Metrolinx Board meeting?
A: Asking a lot of detailed questions. I received a couple large binders from Metrolinx filled with thousands of pages giving background information on projects, operations and future plans. When you look at the future GO system map, you really appreciate how big this thing is. In my early days working in the City of Toronto, I was a regular GO commuter and I saw first-hand this past Monday how the far the service has come since then. Taking the Lakeshore West line from Long Branch to Union, I was impressed to see the how much faster trains are, the more frequent service and improved amenities for the customer, like the Quiet Zone.
Q: What is your approach to leadership?
A: Accountability. I’ve already seen how Metrolinx’s CEO Phil Verster has brought in a new emphasis on accountability within the organization. From a Board perspective, we need to continue this approach – asking questions, pushing back when necessary to ensure we stay on track and move ahead with the right priorities. It’s our job as the Board to also be supportive and when Phil and the team come up with a good idea, we need to help make it happen.
Q: How will your past experience help serve you as Chair of the Board at Metrolinx?
A: While I’m more a numbers guy with my past experience in the financial sector, I also have a reasonable amount of knowledge about the railroad and transportation business with my time at VIA Rail Canada. While this was a for-profit business it was also a public service. We serviced a lot of rural areas that didn’t have other transit services. VIA Rail also faced similar challenges that Metrolinx is facing today, from track aging to future planning for increases to service and to increased mobility. The Board dealt with it all.
Q: What areas of Metrolinx operations are you most interested in?
A: Everything from improving PRESTO to Wi-Fi service, to the relationship with CN and shared use of tracks. It’s all about making the transportation systems easier for people to use and improving the customer experience. If people don’t use the service, then we’ve done something wrong. It’s important that we’re spending capital to bring services where there’s demand. We need to make it easier for people to be mobile without using their cars.
Wright started the meeting off by thanking outgoing Chair Robert Prichard for his many years of service. CEO Phil Verster also recognized Prichard before welcoming Wright and his wealth of experience to the table.
A number of items covered during the September 14th Board meeting included:
- Approval of the 2017-2018 Annual Report that highlight Metrolinx`s achievements and financials from the last fiscal year
- Metrolinx`s Corporate Key Performance Indicators and the top six organizational goals each with specific targets
- Progress in implementing the 2041 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and the Board approved the formal establishment of a Regional Roundtable
- UP Express Ridership Update and new customer-focused initiatives that will drive ridership and fare sales on UP Express
- Update on Key Auditor General Activities
- Board Member Mariane McKenna gave the Chair Report for the Customer Experience Committee, covering how Metrolinx is adjusting to the needs of customers and the progress being made to improve the customer experience
This interview has been edited for length.