Young Leaders: Bold Ideas and Interconnected Experiences
I’ve had the privilege of beginning my transportation career at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). During my time at PANYNJ, I have served on the board of the Young Professionals in Transportation (YPT), a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization dedicated to the career development of young professionals in the transportation industry. Both organizations have shaped my professional growth and leadership style, including by strengthening several core values that have enabled me to be a more effective leader.
Introduced to the PANYNJ during graduate school by a mentor, I started there in spring of 2019 as a part of my graduate school consultancy requirements. Inspired by Jenn’s dedication and impact in public service, I followed in her footsteps and joined the agency full-time as a Leadership Fellow in summer of 2019.
I started off with a six-month rotation in the Office of Continuous Improvements (OCI), the agency’s internal consulting team. I was immediately thrown into a project to improve the agency’s Tenant Construction and Alteration Review Process (TCAP), the formal process for reviewing and permitting all alterations, new construction, and minor works in Port Authority leaseholds and public facilities.
Through my time in OCI, I built many relationships and gained a broad understanding of the agency’s many departments. I eventually secured a rotation in the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) Director’s Office, which oversees the rapid rail system between New Jersey and New York City. Two months in, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the NYC region and PATH ridership dropped to historic lows. From there, the top priorities became improving public confidence and adjusting the department to the reality of remote work.
These experiences were catalysts in my leadership trajectory, and strengthened the following three core values.
1) Don’t be afraid to present bold ideas
During the beginning of the pandemic and in the face of public concern, I researched how to develop a system that could track the passenger density of train cars and communicate that to riders via app or website to better enable social distancing and improve train capacity. The idea was met with interest but also valid concerns about the capacity needed to carry out research and development and the lack of knowledge of such systems in the United States. However, just a little while later, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) unveiled its Traintime app with a real-time train capacity tracker. With this update, I had the opportunity to lead the research and proposal on how it could be done for PATH.
2) Good ideas and practices translate across organizations
Working from home required new ways to effectively collaborate in our new remote environment. Having been familiar with Microsoft Teams, I created a Team for the department’s leadership and trained them on its functions. With leadership buy-in and support, I was able to then create a holistic, digital ecosystem for multiple divisions of PATH and train hundreds of staff on it to better adapt the department and its culture to the digital environment and improve communication and collaboration.
News of this new digital ecosystem spread to other departments in the agency, where I then had the opportunity to establish similar systems and processes and train hundreds of staff in only a few short months.
My experience connecting different departments and facets of a vast organization like PANYNJ inspired me to undertake the same task for YPT that year. In my role at the time as international director of administration, I led the standardization of leadership communication and improved data-driven decision-making. With over 20 local city chapters around North America, I met with and trained leaders at nearly every one, and developed a more centralized leadership coordination system to better communicate, support, and grow the organization as a whole. These success led Haley Estelle YPT’s chair and CEO at the time, to encourage me to succeed her the following year. With the support and encouragement from current and past leaders, I was elected to serve the organization as its chair and CEO at the end of 2020.
3) Making an impact by creating opportunities to empower others
Within the YPT board, we recognized a need to better coordinate and support the organization at a regional level, and thus established new regional district boundaries with feedback from volunteer YPT leaders and members. We then created regional boards of directors for YPT International and recruited local city chapter leaders, as well as existing and new members, to serve in these leadership opportunities. Through regional district boards, YPT expanded to Europe, where a new regional board led by Directors Katie Thomson and Alex Pazuchanics is now working to establish local city chapters.
Regional boards in North America are also working to re-establish inactive and cultivate new local city chapters. In the last year, YPT has been able to empower dozens of young professionals to strengthen their own leadership abilities, and these young leaders in turn have made YPT a more impactful and effective organization.
Meanwhile, at PATH, to advance the development of the regional system’s Train Capacity Tracker, I sought out collaboration opportunities and recruited five graduate students from the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service to work on the project. The students had the opportunity to engage with senior PATH leaders and other rail organizations, and by the end of my time at PATH they had developed a request for information proposal along with a comprehensive report on the implementation of this technology. This opportunity led to two of the five students applying and joining the Port Authority full-time as 2021 Leadership Fellows.
As I conclude my time at the Port Authority this summer, I am grateful to have worked for six different departments and served as a manager for a vital regional transportation agency, especially so early in my career, directly because of the Leadership Fellow Program. By presenting bold ideas and creating opportunities for others, I have been able to lead over 15 graduate students on four separate projects tackling different challenges the agency faced.
These core values translate well for those entering the transportation sector, or any sector for that matter. Don’t be afraid to bring innovative and bold ideas to light, translate successful practices, and strive to create opportunities for others.
William Wenbo Wang is the chair and CEO of Young Professionals in Transportation, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization with nine regions and 23 local chapters around North America and Europe. He is also a manager for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey in the Aviation Department. This fall he will attend Tsinghua University as a Schwarzman Scholar, focusing on the development of China’s National Megacluster Urban Development Strategy and seeking ways to translate that to the United States and North America.