Thursday, June 27, 2024

Who runs transport? A look at DTP's leadership team

Sir Harold Clapp famously described the railways as being 95% men and 5% iron

With a slight change in wording this remains true for transport today. 

Yet I've mostly ignored the people element. 

Thus I've discussed routes more than recruiting, services more than skills, headways more than humans, and networks more than networking.  

Today will be different. I'm doing the opposite.  

Heading the Department of Transport and Planning (DTP) is Secretary Paul Younis. To his side, in his office, on the organisation chart are advisers on legal (Rob Pearce), intergovernmental relations (Lachlan McDonald) and communications and customer experience (Jo Weeks). These have to be absolutely top-notch people. 

Below the Secretary are the six most senior line executives. All but one have the title 'Deputy Secretary'. The one who doesn't is 'head', possibly inherited from Head, Transport for Victoria under a previous structure. 

This layer, plus one or two below, comprise the Department's 'gatekeepers'. They have the power to originate, nurture, expedite, starve or kill ideas. A government that really wants something that it doesn't think the 'transport establishment' would back can go around or over their heads, like it did with the Suburban Rail Loop. The rest of us can't.

Executives have time to only juggle a few balls at once. Leadership is choosing what to run with and what to sideline. The wrong decisions can reduce their and the department's impact. Those who flirted with FlexiRide or merchandised 'mobility as a service' are unlikely to have moved as many effectively as those who championed the timeless basics of good network planning and service delivery, for instance. In short, leadership matters. Thus it's worth knowing more about who these influential figures are. 

Not properly knowing any, I've generally had to rely on what they've said about themselves, which most happily place on LinkedIn. Sometimes that's supplemented with material from other sources. To ease the read I've added a bit of colour here and there, just because I can. 

Let's start with the top and work down. 

DTP Secretary

Paul Younis is an introverted civil engineer whose light is often found under a bushel. Previously worked in local government (Brimbank) reaching the level of CEO in 2014. His CV shows a commitment to continuing education, topping up his Swinburne engineering qualification with graduate diplomas in local government law and then business, public policy and management (both from Monash). 

He joined Transport for Victoria in August 2017 as Deputy Head, Asset & Networks. Less than two years later he was promoted to Secretary of the Department of Transport. His position enlarged further when the Department of Planning was folded in following a restructure after the 2022 state election.  

Office of the Secretary (the most trusted 'inner circle')

Legal Counsel

Rob Pearce has weaved a career intertwining transport and law for nearly a quarter century. He started this with a degree in urban planning followed by law, specialising in environment and planning. 

Career highlights included advising the minister, drafting legislation and top legal advisory roles in Metlink, DoT and successor departments. He designed the framework for the Transport Integration Act that DTP now has carriage of. In between was 7 years in industry advocacy at UITP (ANZ) between 2011 and 2018. Overall a stable career pattern that will have allowed the accumulation of corporate knowledge in a significant specialist area. 

Intergovernmental relations

Having an almost blank LinkedIn profile, Lachlan McDonald is a mystery man for all but those with a need to know. This stumps nosey researchers but is possibly smart for those accomplished or connected enough to not need to strut their stuff to strangers. This applies for Mr McDonald, who premier Steve Bracks described as a very able adviser.   

Mr McDonald is a member of Regional Partnerships Goulburn and presents to top national organisations on transport regulation matters. Further back he was a Sun News-Pictorial journalist turned freelance consultant who in 1999 helped develop Regional Fast Rail before serving as Transport Minister Peter Batchelor's Chief of Staff in the 2000s. Again this would bring a depth of government knowledge and contacts that the Secretary would find indispensable. 

Communications and Customer Experience

Jo Weeks did an RMIT arts degree in public relations and has certainly got her HECS worth back via multiple senior roles over many years. Her first decade featured media and communications experiences in a private PR firm, the City of Bayside and Vicroads, the Southern Cross Station Authority and then a year at CGU Insurance. 

It wasn't long before transport drew her back, with eight years as Communications Director for the successful and influential Linking Melbourne Authority between 2007 and 2015. That was followed by two years at LXRP and nearly seven years as Director Communications and Engagement at the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (2017 - 2023). The last eight months has been spent as Chief Communications and Experience Officer, a role within the Secretary's office. A Hawthorn supporter. 

Embedding this role in the Secretary's Office must indicate that Communications and Customer Experience was thought to need top visibility, especially with 'Big Build' disruptions across the network. Has this made a difference? One needs convincing. Eg DTP/PTV repeatedly underperforms here with limited sales ability when it does good stuff with service. Website errors recur every public holiday due to unfathomably complex holiday bus timetable patterns beyond PTV's ability to explain correctly. A recent Auditor General report found myki data too untrustworthy to be useful. Bus location tracking is flaky. Also the PTV mobile app gets a user rating of just 2.5 for Android and a disastrous 1.9 for Apple despite this being the thing it tells everyone to rely on. 

Deputy Secretaries 

Strategy and Precincts

Natalie Reiter's thing is marketing and strategy. Claims "a rare ability to be ‘big picture’ and then drill down into the detail as required". Early roles were with building, materials and tool companies, most notably market research and plan development. 

This was followed by 12 years at Active Relationship Marketing consulting for various clients, especially local government. Such work continued under different companies until 2013 when Ms Reiter became Ballarat Council's General Manager, City Strategy until 2016. This was followed by a similar period as Moonee Valley's Direct for Planning and Development. 

She joined DoT as Executive Director Transport Precincts and Interface Planning. That was for 18 months until promotion to the current Dep Sec role.  

Network Design and Integration  (runs PT planning amongst other things)

William Tieppo is a roads engineer from way back, graduating in civil engineering from Victoria University in 1995. He has been with Vicroads since at least 2006, progressing from manager to director based in south-western Victoria. 

2015 saw the start of two years as the General Manager City Services with the City of Geelong. It was soon back to state employ though, commencing as Executive Director Network Transition in 2017. A high-flier, he became Deputy Secretary nine months later. 

Responsibilities of interest to us include 'modal planning' and 'network pipeline and program'. This includes carriage of Victoria's Bus Plan. Major road and rail projects are also in Mr Tieppo's bailiwick, likely including Metro Tunnel and related timetables and new rolling stock construction.   

Planning and Land Services

Andrew McKeegan is a newcomer to Melbourne, having moved here from Adelaide just over three years ago. A 1998 University of Adelaide Commerce graduate, he made it a masters in 2011. 

Private consulting provided his first roles with a move to the SA public sector in 2002 after a year in London. He was deputy CEO of SA's Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure for most of the 2010s. That was followed by a couple of years consulting before landing an Executive Director role in our Department of Transport in April 2021. That was followed by a promotion to deputy secretary in 2023. 

Transport Services  (oversees public transport operations amongst other things) 

Fiona Adamson started in 1997 at Salmat, latterly known in transport for running the PTV call centre. Her longest experience though, starting in 2002, has been her 15 years in management, sales and customer experience positions at Foxtel where, according to her LinkedIn, she exceeded expectations exponentially

This was sufficient background for PTV to hire her to the Executive Director Customer role in 2017. Soon followed by rotation through several more operational positions in 2018-2019 at Transport for Victoria. The Deputy Secretary title was attained in 2022. Train running late? Ms Adamson is your leader, with the role overseeing public transport services and network operations. 

Ms Adamson's deputy is Alan Fedda who as Foxtel's Head of Customer Advocacy between 2006 and 2010, would have worked with her previously. However Mr Fedda has longer transport experience, having joined PTV soon after it was formed in 2012. His roles included Executive Director Franchise and Operator Management between 2016 and 2019, presiding over the Transdev Fleet Maintenance Crisis affecting one of his largest bus franchisees. There were obviously no hard feelings as Mr Fedda switched to Transdev, spending 2019-2020 managing their ferries in his native Sydney. Within the year though he was back occupying various Department of Transport Executive Director roles in pandemic-hit Melbourne. Eventually rejoining his old Foxtel colleague as deputy in 2023. He holds an Arts/Law degree from the University of Technology Sydney.

Investment & Technology (runs purchasing and franchising amongst other things)

Finance and major projects is Dean Tighe's educational background with a masters degree in applied finance and investment completed in 2006 and various leadership and management courses done since. He was an analyst with the Department of Treasury and Finance for two years from 2002 before performing analyst and management roles for the Department of Education and Training for over a decade. 

As Executive Director Mr Tighe was in Network Performance and Investment in DEDJTR for two years before going back to DTF for nearly 3 years. This DTF experience (which included infrastructure investment processes including for High Value/High Risk) was obviously attractive to executive recruiters at the renamed DoT who made him Deputy Secretary in 2019.    

Functions in this role include procurement of the new post-myki ticketing system, contracts for train, tram and bus operations as well as other DTP procurement and advisory tasks. Mr Tighe has a busy agenda right now with trams approaching refranchising, new bus contracts starting next year and ever-present issues with ticketing. 

People & Business Services

Melinda Collinson started with a science degree from Monash University, graduating with honours in 1994. That was immediately followed by a DipEd in 1995. Holding various Vicroads managerial roles in Vicroads from 2001, she was Director of Customer Services between 2007 and 2010, and then Regional Implementation for a year after that. Then a switch to leadership roles in WorkSafe Victoria for 5 years. During this period she did the AICD Company Directors course.  

Ms Collinson returned to the then Transport for Victoria in 2017. 18 months as Executive Director Business & Technology Innovation was rewarded by an elevation to Deputy Secretary in 2018. 

Education and career backgrounds

What are some threads shared by those who occupy the highest levels of DTP? 

Two (Younis and Tieppo) hold civil engineering degrees. Commerce or finance degrees are held by McKeegan and Tighe. Pearce qualified in urban planning while Collinson holds a science degree. Two (Younis and Pearce) obtained law qualifications after their first degree. It was also not uncommon for executives to do further management or director training later in their careers. 

What about work backgrounds? As might be expected both local and state government agencies dominate. Pearce, Weeks, Tighe, Collinson and McKeegan have largely state government agency experience. Of those Weeks, Tieppo and Collinson have Vicroads experience. Pearce and McDonald have advised ministers. Also Younis, Weeks, Tieppo and Reiter can claim significant experiences in local government. 

Adamson is the only Deputy Secretary with predominantly private sector experience though some others have time away from public sector bodies, mainly as consultants or advocates. Pearce is an example of the latter via UITP.  

What really stands out is that no top DTP exec appears to have experience running a public transport operator. Ex-Vicroads engineers both head the department overall and the critical public transport network planning role. Why is this? Maybe this is partly due to franchising services out to (predominantly) internationally-based operators (whose organisation is big and high paying enough to have abundant opportunities within and where mobility to the department is harder) and/or recent restructuring which needed to absorb many Vicroads managers?  

Only one DTP deputy secretary appears to have significant non-Victorian experience, and this was South Australia. This contrasts with operators where foreigners (notably English) are more highly represented amongst the management, particularly in rail. The UK's Brexit and less rail-friendly politics in NZ and potentially Canada are likely to see more rail professionals considering a move to Australia. Rarer are leaders from countries (most notably in Europe and Asia) that may have more to teach us than the British.   

PTV as created in 2012, where there were leaders with direct operational experience, was probably the best recent organisational structure for public transport we've had in Victoria. That got weakened when it was merged into the wider department. Subsequent department heads (Miles, Bolt and Younis) tended to lack that long-term operating experience. Essentially the current structure lacks an Andy Byford or even a Jeroen Weimar to strongly lead services. 

I mentioned the department's outwardly poor sales and growth mindset (at least for public transport services) despite the paper credentials of its leaders. I am not sure if any quite qualify as policy entrepreneurs in the Ken Mathers mould. Although Jo Weeks comes close, having worked for Mathers for eight years at the Linking Melbourne Authority until he retired in 2015. Maybe they're holding everything back until the Metro Tunnel starts and we'll see a burst of energy after then. 

DTP has no public (and as far as I know internal) public transport patronage targets. I have (only half-jokingly) suggested that executives be paid according to public and active transport modal share. These ruminations come even more to life when one sees the limited private sector or operational experience in the department's highest ranks. 

Some dep secs claim an ability to implement change. Nevertheless, again going on outcomes, there appears not to have been a successful challenge to ossified cottage-industry style processes that are demonstrably holding back network reform and development relative to peer agencies elsewhere. And some of the major infrastructure agencies outside DTP can claim achievements that other states and countries marvel at, such as our level crossing removals, notably those involving elevated rail, so the ability is undoubtedly here.    

Gender, race and class backgrounds

Let's cut to the chase. Notwithstanding the department's Inclusion and Diversity Strategy, the demographics of those who lead it could not be more different than the faces you see on the 150 bus at Tarneit or the 804 in Dandenong North. DTP leaders inhabit geographically, economically and socially very different worlds from most they are meant to serve.

Taking just incomes, according to the 2022 annual report, DTP deputy secretaries get about $6 700 per week or $350 000 annually. The Secretary grosses maybe $10 000 weekly or >$500 000 per year. These numbers are 17 to 26 times the $381 weekly single Jobseeker rate and 7 to 10 times Victorians' $54 000  median annual personal income.  

Of the top ten executives, four are women and six are men. The Women in Transport program has sought to increase female representation in operational, technical and management ranks (and can claim success here). DTP is also represented on the VPS Women of Colour Network. According to the 2022-23 DTP annual report, 13% of staff in leadership roles (considered VPS 5 and above) identified as being from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. That's about half the 30% by 2025 target. Both people with disabilities and first peoples representations were also at half target (6 and 1% respectively).

DTP action plans for diversity and inclusion exist for LGBTIQ+, accessibility, women in transport and gender equality. Reconciliation Australia has been promoting Reconciliation Action Plans for wider indigenous participation. Transport agencies in most states now have them. DTP oversees a Transport Portfolio Aboriginal Self-Determination Plan. A key focus of this is increasing indigenous participation in the transport industry, whether through direct DTP employment, engagement in major projects,  purchasing from indigenous-run suppliers or increasing representation on boards. That is a concentration on how DTP runs its business more than an outcome focus with potential wide benefits.

An outcome focus might consider deeper the role of better transport in enabling opportunities and participation (including 'closing the gap'). It might include a funded program to deliver this in areas with the highest indigenous populations along with attention to pockets with particular needs or disadvantage. Such a program could, for example, build active transport connections and boost bus coverage, frequency and span at areas with high ATSI populations including Greater Geelong, Greater Bendigo, Greater Shepparton, Mildura, Wyndham, Casey and Whittlesea. 

Improvements like these stack up for other reasons including outsized benefits for CALD and working class populations. In regional Victoria such upgrades could finally fix the complex, infrequent and unreviewed for years Shepparton and Mildura bus networks and complete the overdue roll-out of 7 day bus service in Bendigo. With no recent news of progress, Mildura bus reform risks being a casualty of the near comatose Victorian Bus Plan. Senior minister after senior minister has solemnly stated the injustices of the past and the need to do better at Yoorrook Justice Commission hearings. 

Getting back to DTP's leadership, we don't know so much about their privilege or class. Class has multiple dimensions so measurement can be difficult. However the formal education dimension is easier to note. Almost all DTP leaders would have degrees, as do public servants now at all levels. This can be attributed to factors like credentialism, rising university participation, automation of manual tasks and outsourcing. One effect of the latter was to purge the public service of its lower levels including those without degrees or who did manual or customer-facing tasks, thus making the public sector that remained less open and less representative. 

Inequality may be replicated through parental networks transmitted to their children via associations formed at elite private schools. It would be interesting to know the schooling backgrounds of deputy secretaries and other elites. This information was not on any LinkedIn profiles surveyed.

DTP annual reports might do well to report more on the backgrounds of their executives including experience and education. Reporting on class biases in the current transport network and how infrastructure and service priorities can enable access by the most efficient means possible might bring a value focus that is missing today.

Last week, for example, the state auditor-general found we recently spent over $100m for no demonstrable benefit trying to relieve congestion on one inner-city road. The opportunity cost of that not going elsewhere (eg active transport) is substantial. Then there are the relative merits of various projects, with the current major project bias potentially crowding out smaller initiatives with higher BCRs that don't get done.      

DTP executive personas and 'who is not in the room'

A favourite of modern design and thinking exercises is to be given a card that names and perhaps pictures a person with particular life circumstances. Your group's job is to evaluate how something affects that person and their likely attitudes. In other cases there might be role playing with you being that character. In both cases the purpose is to 'put people at the centre of your design'. 

As you saw above, I haven't been able to establish the early backgrounds and personal stories of DTP executives. But assisted by AI, I constructed two personas who might bear similarities.  

This should lead one to think about people different to the above (which after all comprise the majority of residents and taxpayers). And reflect on 'who is not in the room' but possibly should be. I gave a few tips before, including those from a wider range of backgrounds and transport operator management experience.


This has been a review of DTP's top leadership. Senior executives are very likely to have been in local or state government for a long time. They may have a roads background. They are less likely to have a record of managing public transport operations or extensive private sector involvement. Demographically they are an elite, enjoying incomes many times the state average (and likely commensurate cultural capital).

Current governing styles keep DTP executives, including (and especially) the Secretary, away from the public eye more than the railway or tramway commissioners of old, or even recent leaders like Betts, Dobbs and Weimar. The old commissioners at least travelled the network; it is uncertain how much of this today's leaders do.  

These officials make decisions involving billions of dollars of public money. Their priorities shape how millions of Victorians get around. They are human and, without super-human efforts, may carry biases based on career and class. Thus it's worth more people knowing more about them. I hope this item has contributed in some small way to this. 

Because people love reading about themselves, it is possible that some of those talked about will be reading this. If you are then I leave you with three thoughts: 

1. Always ask 'Who is not in the room?' (especially given the class bias in how transport infrastructure and service is distributed)

2. It may be difficult because of one's current good circumstances, but try to avoid 'elite projection'

3. Walk to things and ride public transport more. Not just weekday peaks either. And, perish the thought, try buses as well! 

1 comment:

Heihachi_73 said...

Meeting Our Transport Challengers: The Victorian Government (no typo)