President, Transportation Technology Center, Inc.
February 7, 2018
* “BG” indicates Dr. Brent Glass. “LS” indicates Lisa Stabler.
BG:* We’re delighted to be here with Lisa Stabler on February 7th, 2018, in Pueblo, Colorado, at the TTCI [Transportation Technology Center, Inc.]. We want to have a conversation about your life story -- which I think is really interesting: what you’re doing now and the journey that you took from Ohio to where we are today. I think it’s quite an extraordinary story and we want to record this for the National Railroad Hall of Fame, as well as for the series that we’re doing on women in the railroad industry.
Let’s start at the beginning. Say a little bit about where you grew up, about your early influences on you as a person and that proved to be an influence in your career.
LS: Thank you! I do appreciate the opportunity to speak for this fine project, and it’s wonderful to have you here. I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. My parents are both working-class people. I’m the first person in my family that ever graduated from college; and when you say ‘early influences’, I would have to say my parents are.
I have an older brother, but my father and I were especially close. I always got to help him in doing various repairs around the house as well as to the cars that we had. When I was a small child, it really consisted of going downstairs and fetching his tools. As a five-year old, to learn what the difference was between this type of wrench and that type of screwdriver --it helped later on just as a familiarization to say, ‘These pieces that women normally don’t handle aren’t scary. They’re tools that you use like any other tool.’ So, I think that having that exposure early on to mechanical devices and understanding that they were not scary.
My mother was a very smart lady. She was a very traditional individual. She worked as a typist until she was pregnant, and then she was a stay-at-home mom with two kids. One of the things she always said was that she wanted to make sure that I had an education and had the ability, like she did, to make it on her own in the world. One thing I remember that she said to me is that no one will ever take your education away.
They expected me to follow in the traditional footsteps -- being married, becoming a mother, and then being a stay-at-home mom -- but they were also very supportive of the fact that I chose a different lifestyle.
From a perspective of ‘why engineering?’, math and science has always fascinated me. Certainly, when one looks at professions that also pay well, the engineering profession is probably the best choice for anyone with an undergraduate degree. There are certainly different degrees that you can get and different amounts of compensation that you can have, but an engineering degree is always in demand and provides a very good living for a family. I always wanted to be able, if necessary, to support myself and my family.
In addition, for me, math and science has always been easy. While I enjoy literature and I enjoy the arts, if you said, “What is it that you want to do?” the idea of solving problems, of understanding how things work, of learning has always been fascinating to me. When I look at engineering, it checks every box that I want to check. It does everything that I wanted to do. It allows me to learn, it allows me to provide a good living for my family, and it allows me to contribute to -- at this place now, the center that I love so much.
BG: I recall from an earlier conversation you also made the connection between earning a good living and being able to pursue one of your hobbies. Can you talk about that a little bit?
LS: Well, certainly. As a young girl, like most young girls, I was fascinated with horses. We lived in suburbia. There weren’t any horses around. Once again, I don’t come from individuals who had a great deal of money. We always had a very happy home and a very comfortable home, but not a rich home -- and certainly not one rich enough to afford a horse. Since that was something I really wanted to pursue in life, I needed to be able to provide the monetary support to do it. Part of the reason, once again, the engineering degree and the engineering job checks a lot of boxes. It does check the box that says that you can have this expensive hobby.
BG: Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, which is the home and birthplace of aviation and of the Wright Brothers, what kind of influence, if any, were inspiration of growing up in that town?
LS: The Wright Brothers were always just a part of everything growing up in Dayton. It’s also known now for being the home of Charles Kettering, who was a true innovator for the automotive industry. In fact, the word “DELCO” is Dayton Electric Lab Company, which Charles Kettering and his group founded back in the early 20th century. The main lab for DELCO products I could see from my back window in my house growing up.
BG: Were you aware of that?
LS: Oh yes, the fact that it was DELCO products. My uncle, who lived three houses down the street worked for NCR, “The Cash”. The National Cash Register was founded in Dayton, Ohio. Wright Patterson Air Force base was right where my father worked and was the center of research for the air force. The idea of engineering -- of technology -- surrounded the Dayton area. It was a huge technological area. It was a huge manufacturing base. There were many options that you knew you could do with a degree in engineering in the Dayton area.
BG: Were there many young girls who had that same perception that you had? That this was a career path, at the time you were growing up? Did you have many girlfriends that said, “Lisa, you and I are gonna be engineers some day?’
LS: No. I have always been, if you will, the odd one, the strange one. To me, that’s always been what I wanted to do, and the fact that they wanted to do something else was fine. That’s really the way I tried to raise my girls, as well. I have two girls and a boy, and none of them are engineers. They all are happy in the careers that they’ve chosen, but they didn’t want to follow me in the path into engineering, and that’s fine. They have to find their own way, and that’s how I really felt growing up, ‘Let me rise to my own level, let me do what I want to do, and I’ll be successful or not based on how hard I want to work and how hard I want to try’. The fact that it wasn’t something that everyone else was doing didn’t really matter to me.
BG: So, you went to college to be an engineer. So, let’s talk about that for a little bit, where you went.
LS: I went to the University of Dayton, and I lived a grand total of 2.9 miles away from my front doorstep. Once again, my family was not wealthy, and while I’m certain my family would have scraped and found a way to send me to some schooling, I was lucky enough to receive a full ride from the University of Dayton. I had all of my tuition paid for, for four years. In addition, I had a number of other scholarships I received for academic merit that allowed me to go to school virtually debt-free. Actually, when I graduated I got a check for $700 to clean out my final account.
BG: Wow, that’s remarkable. Were there any professors at the University that took an interest in you or that were inspiring to you in any way?
LS: Certainly. There’s one -- I’m trying to remember the man’s name, and that’s really bad. The professors, I think for me, were not my inspiration because at the beginning of my sophomore year I started to question everything that I wanted to do. The question that I had was if book learning and the academic world was the same as it was going to be in research or the manufacturing environment.
I took the opportunity to become a Cooperative Education Student through the University of Dayton working at General Motors. I started at GM on January 5th, 1990, which was my mother’s birthday and why I remember it so well. I worked there as a Cooperative Education Student until I graduated in June of 1983.
When I think back to those people who were inspirational to me, it’s more of the people who I interfaced with at GM because quickly it became apparent to me that school was something I had to do in order to work in this great environment. The people that I worked with and for were those individuals that really shaped and molded me.
One, in particular, is a gentleman that I worked for on and off in my co-op assignment from ‘83 onward to ‘99, Craig Hill. Craig was superintendent at one of the plants at GM, and I had the opportunity to work with him in engineering when he had a short stint there. I worked under his direction. He was in charge of the department, and I was a product engineer helping to support that manufacturing facility. I also worked for him for a number of years as a quality professional. Craig has been certainly one of the most influential people of my early career and one of the reasons that I think I stayed in engineering and worked for General Motors. He made work fun. He was a great boss, supportive. He was not a micromanager, and he allowed people to shine.
BG: So, you’d say he was, in many ways, the model for how you saw yourself as a manager later on.
LS: I think so. I think, certainly, I’ve worked for a number of individuals in my career -- not just Craig -- and a number of individuals from GM. You learn from everyone. The things that you hope and aspire to, the things that you hope people will say about you; and you also look at the things and say, “Please, don’t ever let me do that.” From my perspective with Craig, I said, “I hope that I can do these things and aspire to this”.
BG: GM and Delphi -- I’m assuming you made the move over from GM to Delphi?
LS: So, General Motors started out, and it was a very vertically graded organization. GM had the very first car divisions; they had a locomotive division; they had a tank division; they used to make refrigerators with the old Frigidaire organization. They also were very vertically integrated. All of the parts that went into making these vehicles were made in a GM division. Most of those were concentrated on the Fischer body into the transmission organization or into the automotive components group, which is where I was housed with Delco Morain -- Delco products, Inland Division, other divisions were all manufacturing different parts and pieces of the cars that GM manufactured.
In 1999 the automotive components group was changed over in an independent company called Delphi. So, Delco name -- the whole name -- stay with GM, and there was a new company that was formulated and named Delphi. Instead of Delco products, there was Delphi Chassis. It was composed of a number of the old divisions in GM.
BG: What was your role there?
LS: Depending on what it was, I was a product engineer for brake systems. I worked in product systems, as well as system designs. Then I moved over from Delco Morain, which was the brake systems house to Delco products prior to it becoming Delphi. This was in the early ‘90s. Delphi Products was into shocks and struts, various types of dampers, along with fan clutches and wiper motors. With that organization, I was in quality assurance facility, and then I had a final stint in strategic planning for the division.
BG: So, you liked to work there?
LS: I liked my work there.
BG: Why go from automotive to the railroad industry which, many people would say, ‘Railroads are so 19th century’? You found that to be a very good career move. What precipitated that move?
LS: Two things. One is my final years at Delphi were in strategic planning. Part of the good about being in strategic planning is that you’re expected to look at the future and see what’s happening and see how you’re going to respond as a company. For me at least, when I could look into the future, my answer was that -- looking at the competition that we had, looking at the way things were sourced -- that it was quite likely that the North American automotive components industry was going to go through a radical change in the next few years. The vast majority of that would be moving offshore to South America, to Mexico, to the Asian Pacific region and to India. If you wanted to stay with the industry, you were going need to go to one of those places. Realistically, there was too much capacity within the world for the number of cars and trucks that were being produced, and there were going to be some losers.
At that same time that we were all in that organization thinking about these things, I got a call from my mentor, Craig Hill, saying that he had made a move recently from General Motors to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad -- as it was known at that point in time. What he had found was that the railroad industry really did an excellent job at utilizing technology. It wasn’t a 150-year-old industry. It was an industry that utilized equipment and structures that had been created over 150 years ago, but while it may have looked so from the outside, it’s not the same on the inside.
This is an industry that is not satisfied with where it is, it knows that there is need for improvement and that a lot of the tools that we used at General Motors and Delphi were the same tools that that industry needed. He wanted to know whether or not I’d come and help.
BG: Had you heard of Burlington Northern Santa Fe?
LS: I had never heard of Burlington Northern Santa Fe! I am so sorry for all of my colleagues at BNSF.
BG: Well, you weren’t alone in that. I think there were a lot of people for whom that was true. Maybe they heard some musical song for the Santa Fe; otherwise, it was not top-of-mind for a lot of people.
LS: Certainly, being raised in the East --- to my credit, BNSF is a western railroad. I had certainly seen cars that said CSX, certainly seen cars that said Conrail, cars that said Norfolk Southern and their predecessor railroads. There weren’t many cars, and there certainly weren’t, at that point in time, locomotives that were pulling and going through Dayton, Ohio, or the surrounding area that let me see that.
The railroad industry is a quiet one, and we serve a lot of people, but a lot of people don’t understand it. It’s something that now, as a member of the industry, I see that as something that we need to think about. We are a vital part of the nation’s economy, and it’s one that, should it go away, this country could not continue.
BG: Railroads were the defining technology of the 19th century. That railroads are changing the country as much as they are, supporting the nation’s economy -- they’re not recognized. Did anyone try to talk you out of making that change?
LS: Yes, they did. I had a colleague of mine, and he was very sincere. I had announced that I was going to work for the BNSF. He called me at home, and he said, “Lisa, think about this. You’re going to leave the automotive industry and its bright future, for a dying industry.” He meant the best by it.
The ironic thing is that in the plants we worked in, sweated blood and tears and gave our all to make successful, are gone now. They are flat. They are not in existence anymore. They are at best a field with broken brick and surrounded by an old chain-link fence. The products that they used to make are indeed being made in a lot of other places in the world, and the industry that he said was dying was the one now that’s taking those products and moving them across the country. At the same time that I got to witness from afar the demise of Delphi, as I knew it, I got to see the rise of intermodal traffic of BNSF to record levels.
BG: So, you were living in Dayton when this call came.
BG: You moved to Fort Worth.
LS: I moved to Fort Worth.
BG: What year was this?
LS: It was late in 1999.
BG: What was your position then?
LS: I was Assistant Vice President for Quality and Reliability Engineering. I was working for Craig Hill, who at that time was Vice President of Mechanical Engineering. In that capacity, I had freight car design. I had the six-sigma program for product improvement. I had supplier quality, and later on, had a number of other assignments. Over the ten years the assignments changed but primarily focused on, ‘How can we improve the safety and reliability and efficiency of the organization? How can we introduce new techniques and new technology, and better use the technology that we have to be able to prevent incidents and to make the organization more reliable and more efficient?’
BG: Was BNSF a leader in that area?
LS: From the perspective of BNSF, we certainly believe we are.
BG: You weren’t the only line that had that.
LS: No, and I’m sure if I’d had the opportunity to work at a wonderful organization like CSX or NX or UP or any of the other Class I’s, that I would’ve felt the same way -- that I had the best job and was working for the best organization.
BG: So, tell me a little bit about Fort Worth. Did you like living there?
LS: I love Fort Worth. Dayton will always be where I was raised, but Fort Worth will always be home. When I get off the airplane even now, there’s a softness to the air that speaks to me of Texas. It smells like sagebrush and BBQ, and I’m not sure what else -- but it will always be home.
BG: We’re going to take a little break, but before we do, that’s a good moment to talk a little bit about home and about your family -- and tell me a little bit about these pictures.
LS: [Pointing to pictures] I am happy to be married to this wonderful man that is over there on the top left. His name is Michael Stabler. We’ve been married for over 36 years. I married him when I was just a child, let the record show!
I have three kids: Anthony -- we call him J.R., Karen and Chloe.
BG: Are they engineers or interested in engineering?
LS: No, they’re not. J.R. is a professional musician who is also moving into another world of neuromonitoring. Karen is a daycare teacher and far more patient with children and animals than I ever could be. She is just marvelous and just has such a wonderful quality of being such a kind person. Chloe recently graduated from University of Colorado-Boulder with a degree in Astrophysics. She is contemplating her next moves of moving into teaching or more into a general type of research.
BG: I want to talk a little about the technical center where we are now and about TTCI as the organization. Can you talk a little bit about the origin of this place? Why it’s here in Pueblo, and what makes it such a unique institution?
LS: TTCI started out and was opened in 1971 as the high-speed ground test center. At that point in time, it was owned and operated by two federal agencies: the Federal Railroad Administration and the old Urban Mass Transit Association. They are now, really, morphed into the Federal Transit Association. At that time, it was a federal facility. There were a number of contractors that were on site that operated the facility for the government as government contractors. There are a number of federal employees as well. Their mission was to develop innovative, high-speed, ground transportation. In fact, the record for steel wheel on steel rail was held by this facility for a number of years. This record has fallen since that point in time with innovations from the Shinkansen lIne in Japan, as well as in China in the air high-speed train, but for a long time the record was held by the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo.
In 1982, it was decided for one reason or another that perhaps this wasn’t a good use of government funding and that high-speed research for the railroad industry was something that the government wanted to pursue. At that point in time, the questions remained of what would happen to this fabulous facility out here that not only did that type of testing, but also provided testing for freight and passenger rail, as well as transit and commuter lines.
The Association of American Railroads and its member railroads determined it was too important to lose this site. Between the Federal Railroad Administration and the Association of American Railroads, there was a compromise agreement reached that said that the AAR would continue to operate this site on behalf of the railroad administration, and that by maintaining the site, they were also able to perform work at this site to be able to generate revenue to be able to do the maintenance. That was in 1982. AAR continued to operate this site until 1998 when TTCI was formulated. TTCI -- Transportation Technology Center, Incorporated -- is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the AAR. We are a for-profit organization. We are guided by our own management team. We have our own board of directors, and we are here to provide research, technology, training and testing for the freight, passenger, transit industry, primarily in North America -- but realistically, around the world.
BG: Now, you do have some connection to surface transportation in general, right? We noticed today with the hazmat training, it spills over into other forms of training, other modes of transportation.
LS: Well, yes. If you look at the mission of the Transportation Technology Center, which is the center itself, it is to provide the best center for ground transportation -- not specific to the railroad, although there is an emphasis on the railroad itself. The relationship we have with FRA -- this is a working example of a functional public-private partnership which benefits everyone in the United States. We don’t receive funding from FRA to run this site. We make sure that it’s open and it functions and is available for testing. We perform testing and research on behalf of the industry with funding we receive, as well as funding from FRA, that can improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of, primarily, of the freight railroad--but we’re not limited to that. In the past, we’ve tested cars out here. We’ve tested busses out here. We’ve done training for hazardous materials that involves all forms of surface transportation. I know you took a tour of our site earlier this morning. I don’t know if it was pointed out to you we have a barge on site. So, when you look and you say, “What types of transportation modes do you support?” we support all of them, up to and including transportation on water. That is very limited for sure, and let’s face it. The main focus of this organization is improving the safety and reliability of the rail industry, but we’re happy to do what we can, where we can, for other forms of public ground transportation.
BG: You pointed out that you’re bottom-line driven, but you’re not driven by shareholder pressures. You have different measurements of success. Can you talk about that a little bit?
LS: We certainly do. As a for-profit organization, most people are judged by top and bottom line growth. Our organization is judged by, ‘How are we serving the needs of the industry and helping them to solve problems, and helping them to become more safe, reliable and more efficient?’ Our performance is judged not by our profitability, but by how we can solve problems and bring new ideas and new technology and new designs to the industry.
BG: Give me an example. Your tenure here started in 2010, and then you became President in 2011. During the time you’ve been here, give an example where you’ve made a difference--where you’ve solved a problem that you’re particularly proud of.
LS: For our organization, one of the things that has been done here in the past few years is to look at ways to better detect defects before they become a problem for the rail industry. TTCI doesn’t do these things by ourselves. We work with a number of wonderful organizations throughout the country and throughout the world.
One of the things we’re able to do is to allow those organizations to come here to utilize our resources, such as the facility, the people that we have, to try to determine how they can best serve the industry and use technology. One of those pieces involves better detection of rail flaws and better detection of flaws in wheels. They are both pieces of technology that are now production ready for someone to take and actually put into production and sell to the industry.
One of them is something that we call “Phased Array” for our rail inspection. Current rail inspection uses ultrasonic technology, and it uses fixed probes that look in certain places in the rail. The technology that we’re looking at with the phased array allows us to see much more of the head and the web of the rail, and it also allows us to see much smaller defects. We’re really excited to see what that means for the railroad in the future, once that technology deploys. In addition, we have an organization from China to make a cracked-wheel detector. This is the second such device we’ve worked on; one that we did in the early 2000’s. This one utilizes ultrasonic inspection, once again, in an innovative way that we have a number of sensors in the track itself. That when the wheel rolls across these sensors, it takes a very small slice and examines that small slice from an algorithm. Then all of those slices are put together, so you can see the wheel. It allows us to find defects that are internal to the wheel, that would not normally be seen by the human eye.
In addition, we are very proud of the work that we have done as an organization to help the industry get ready to install and utilize positive train control. We aren’t the designers of the system, but in many cases what we’ve done is help to get that system implemented and solve some of the problems that are coming up as we go through that process. The PTC mandate is one where, when it was given to us, there was not a consistent design that met all the requirements. Certainly, there was not a plan on how it could be implemented across the country. When you’re talking about a facility like Pueblo, it’s very easy. There’s very few lines around here. When you’re looking at how I’m going to implement PTC in a place like Chicago, there are a number of different organizations, many different rail lines, as well as a lot of existing infrastructure that have to be considered for what radio frequencies are used. All of that design work, we’ve been able to assist with and love the opportunity. We’ve been able to look at making certain and how to solve problems where we see interference between the signals that we’re using and different frequencies that others are using.
In addition, we provide -- through FRA --- have a fully-functional test bed out here that, should someone want to bring on a new piece of equipment, a new supply or want to test something to make sure that it works, they can utilize this system out here. We have a fully functional PTC system, and essentially, a fully functional railroad.
BG: I want to talk more about PTC in a moment, but I do want to double back to why you decided to come here. You were happy in Fort Worth. The BNSF is a great company. Matt Rose is a wonderful leader. What made you decide to make this move in 2010?
LS: When you look and you say, ‘What is the ultimate that you can do?’ When you see a job that you love, there are pieces that you love, and then there’s some pieces that you really love.
For me, the part that I really loved of the job was the innovative technology and the research. Having the opportunity to come to this organization to help with the research really was the ultimate dream job that I could have. There’s a lot that goes on out here that is just so fun, so wonderful to be a part of. The reality is, I really haven’t left BNSF. At this point in time, and I assume always in the future, my board of directors shows the Chief Operating Officers of all the Class I’s. Dave Freeman still serves on my board of directors. In fact, at the point in time at which I arrived at BNSF, I was working for a man who worked for Carl Ice -- who at that time was COO. I came out here and worked for a man, Roy Allen, who worked for Carl Ice. I kind of look at it as my duty station changed, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not working for BNSF. I have the opportunity to work for other wonderful organizations, as well.
BG: I get it now. You were able to pursue your passion of pursuing this technological role in the industry. Now you’ve been in Pueblo for eight years. How is the organization different now than when you first came? How did you intentionally innovate within the organization, in terms of people, management style, your leadership?
LS: We were in a transition when I came to this organization. AAR took this site over back in 1982, and because of current rules associated with retirements, most individuals that were on site were eligible to retire in 2012. In the past five years, we’ve really seen a turn-over of the organization from those individuals who have been here for twenty, or thirty, or forty years, to those individuals who are straight out of college or are coming to us from other parts of the world and other parts of the country. That’s allowed us to have the opportunity to say, ‘We’re not bound to honor the past, but we can do things the way that we want to and need to for what is now a much younger group of individuals’.
BG: You have about 300 employees here. Just walking around, it’s maybe a little more diverse group than you think about for this part of the country. Describe who works here. Where do they come from? What are the different skills? It’s quite an interesting mix you have.
LS: It is. Great researchers work here; great people who know track and track structures, who know how to operate locomotives. For us, we’re interested in having the great people who work here, and where they come from, what they look like, who they worship, what gender they are, it really doesn’t matter. It adds to what I think is the rich diversity of this organization where we can have someone come in from pretty much anywhere in the globe and have a native speaker to talk to them. I think that it adds a lot for our organization to be able to see different cultures and see different ways of doing things. It allows us to be more flexible and better meet the needs of our customers. We have individuals here from China, from India, Pakistan, Nepal, South America, Australia, Europe, Canada, Mexico, as well as from the United States.
BG: That’s quite a melting pot. Do you find that that makes for a more productive environment than if everyone was from southern Colorado?
LS: I think the answer has to be that we’re not as concerned about where people come from. The reason that we hired them, and the reason that they’re here, is because they’re really good. They’re smart. They’re dedicated. They’re all interested in learning. Given that, regardless of where they’re from, they can’t help but become successful because of who they are.
BG: Getting back to positive train control and just technology into the future...looking into your crystal ball, what is the most exciting thing you see in the future?
LS: Everything here is related to the basics of good railroading. It’s related to tracks, track structure, rolling stock. To me, the things that will be the most innovative aren’t the things that are going to be flashy -- that you’re going to see or that you’re going to read about, ‘Here’s this new electric car’ or ‘Here is Tesla launching his new rocket into space’. It’s good, hard, basic work by hard-working, smart people who will be looking to change the very design of how the track and track structure, and how the cars and locomotives all work together as a single system.
To me, what’s important are the things that aren’t going to be seen, such as rail, rail materials, wheels, wheel materials, ways of having freight cars and passenger cars assembled that will allow them to operate more efficiently, more safely. The fact that, in the future, derailments won’t happen. We won’t have service disruptions. It’ll be a perfect world. I don’t know that those things that are coming, to me, are the ones that are most needed are the ones that are the flashiest. They are good, basic design changes that are necessary, that are found out and validated by the men and women of TTCI.
BG: We were shown new materials for cross-ties for example, which no one’s going to write a big story about, but which could have enormous implications for maintenance and for costs and efficiencies in the future. Is that an example of --
LS: That’s a very good example of innovative cross-ties and innovative ways of having the rail and the ties fastened together. Those are things that are never going to make the front page of the newspaper, but they are the bread and butter of the industry. As an organization and as an industry, we’re not worried about being flashy as much as we are being the safest and most efficient mode of transportation.
BG: Let’s talk a little bit about women in railroading. It’s still a part of the industry that is not as fully appreciated or fully developed, as maybe in some other industries. Can you talk about that a little bit -- here at TTCI and also in the industry, in general?
LS: Certainly. I think when you think of women in railroading, there is a subset of women in technology. There’s not really a difference between women in the railroad industry, women in the tech industry in San Francisco or Washington, or women in the automotive industry. It’s all the same.
This morning as I was driving in, I was listening to a news broadcast, and they were talking about women in the tech industry -- Google, Facebook, and all of the others -- and talking about the environment that these women were facing, and how very difficult it was. To me, when I hear that and I see the railroad industry, I don’t sense that here. While we may be 150 years old, I think we could teach them a thing or two about how to have women have meaningful positions and how to have a culture that embraces that. That’s what I see in the rail industry.
When I was at BNSF, I never felt like I was unwelcome. I never felt like I was not a part of the club. There’s always things that come up of having different individuals in an organization than you’ve had in the past, but I’ve never felt like I was a second-class citizen. That, to me, was the very striking thing I heard this morning about the report on the tech industry -- about how many women believe that they are not taken seriously and they’re not going to be given opportunities to advance, and they’re going to be judged for their gender rather than for what they do and what they bring. I don’t think that that’s the case in the railroad industry.
That being said, there are a lot of jobs in the railroad industry that are just flat-out hard. They’re hard for men, and they’re hard for women. Really, they’re hard for individuals who have families, who have ties. I don’t know that it’s any more difficult for the man to be on-duty for a number of hours and talking about having a weekend and getting up in the middle of the night than it is for the woman.
The days that you can have an industry where I can have my business model that the man is going to go to work and the woman is going to stay home is gone. The tech industry would do well to figure that out. I think the railroad industry has.
There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s an industry that’s trying to support that. That also still comes to a personal choice as to what people want to do. I don’t feel like this industry that should a woman choose to do these things the same way that a man does, that our industry is going to say you can’t because of your gender. When I look at TTCI, certainly with me here, I feel that it is something that I need to watch and guard for. We have a number of wonderful, new, young engineers in our organization. Some of them are men, some of them are women. We don’t look at them as so much to what they are. Where do they come from? They come from a lot of places, but it’s who they are and what they do that matters for our organization.
BG: I’ve heard you talk about the home/work balance and how important that is to you. Can you talk a little more about that? I feel like often you hear, when you use the tech industry, I’ve been in some of the Silicon Valley companies where they all but provide dormitories for people to live there. They have their dry-cleaning there, they have their pool tables and ping-pong tables, and their candy bars -- and they just want people to stay there and work and not go home. I think it’s important to you to have a little more of a balance.
LS: I think they’re short-sighted, and to be honest, I think they’re wrong. I think that when I look at the reason that I get up in the morning and come to work, it’s for those four people that are in that picture with me [points to family photograph]. As much as I love this job, I love them more. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that we as managers need to make sure we send that message very clearly to the organization -- that it’s okay to have a family. It’s a wonderful thing to have a family.
BG: I’ve met some wonderful women here that you’ve introduced us to. I’m curious, one of the ways I’ve always evaluated an organization is how many people are coming and going --turnover. Do you have any idea of the numbers for women and men?
LS: We had many who were able to retire in the last five years. Other than that, we’ve had a turnover that’s generally very low. People that come here are not coming here because they’re going to make the most money and that they’re going to be able to retire when they’re 25 as a billionaire. If they want to do that, they’re better suited to another organization. People come here to work because they’re passionate about learning, they’re passionate about being able to solve problem, and they’re passionate about the railroad industry. For that reason, our turnover is really low. I will certainly say we have a lot of wonderful young women. We also have a lot of wonderful young men.
BG: We’ve met several here on our tour. Do you have a chance to talk to young women, specifically going into the industry, or who are skeptical? What do you say to them? You’ve pretty much said why you think it’s such a great opportunity, but can you expand on that a little?
LS: I think what I would tell anyone who was contemplating coming into this industry is that they need to understand that there are going to be sacrifices to be made. They have to be comfortable with the level of sacrifice that they’re going to make, but that’s going to be the same for any job, anywhere. They decide, for them, what is right for them, and that’s okay. It might be different for someone else. It might be different for me. Whatever they decide, they need to be comfortable with that, then let us know, so they can move forward in a way that they’re comfortable with. For some individuals, a forty-hour week, not traveling, and being able to be very predictable is all very important. That’s very important to have in an organization. There are opportunities for those individuals. There may be different opportunities than those individuals who are willing to travel or willing to relocate. Whatever that young man or that young woman decides, is right for them and is right with the organization.
BG: You mentioned about travel, and we talked earlier about some of the amazing experiences you’ve had traveling to different parts of the world through this business. Could you give some examples that stand out?
LS: I have had the opportunity with conferences that we’ve had and customer base that we have to travel to virtually every continent except Antarctica. When I think about some of the things that really provide meaning, it’s the people that I look back on and have the opportunity to meet some wonderful individuals in this organization and in this industry. There’s the perk then of being able to be in a different place. When I have traveled to China, and we have business in Beijing, as we’re going from our hotel to our client’s offices, many times we’ll go down past Tiananmen Square. To be in a car in eight lanes of traffic and to see the walls of what is now called the national palace that we know as the Forbidden City, what I picture up there. I’m going to work, here’s my daily commute, and it’s just an amazing thing. When we go there for several weeks, which when we make those trips we try for weeks at a time, to have opportunity to see some things as a tourist then.
When I think about the things that are most impactful for me, there’s probably three. One is that I have had the opportunity to see the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an at the end of the old Silk Road. To be there to witness that, to see that, was just an amazing thing. In Chengdu, which is another part of China, Sichuan Province, I’ve had the opportunity to be nose-to- nose with a panda. So, I’ve been to the Giant Panda breeding facility, and I got to see adult pandas, and I got to see young pandas, and I got to see little baby pandas that looked like the same type of stuffed animals that I used to give to my girls and my son when they were little. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to go to India, and to see the Taj Mahal in the sunshine. It’s alive. It’s a gleaming, glorious building. For a little poor girl from Dayton, Ohio, to have stood and be able to witness that is just an absolute dream come true.
BG: I just have two more questions, and then Julie, if you have some that you think we’ve missed or want to amplify. You know a little bit about the [National Railroad] Hall of Fame in Galesburg. With this passion that you have with innovation and new ideas, how does history and the railroad have such a rich history? How do you use that as an asset? How do use that in your leadership here? Does the railroading tradition, how does it factor into your thinking or into the culture either here or other places you’ve worked?
LS: I think that the whole idea for the railroad industry at least, it’s a rich history of a number of individuals who are part of the history. They’re a second-, third-, fourth-generation. When they’re talking about their jobs, they’re really not just thinking about it as their jobs. It’s a career, it’s a passion, and it’s been a part of their family as long as they can remember. For us, we’ve got individuals that have forty-plus years of experience here at this site. They can think back to when was the last time this particular management style was tried; or if we want to do something, you’ve got to think about this because here’s what happened the last time we did it. I think it’s important to honor the past. I think it’s important to not let it constrain you, but to make sure that you’re learning from it so that you don’t repeat it.
BG: You’ve been in the railroad industry almost twenty years. It’s too early, maybe, to say what your ultimate legacy is, but what would you like your legacy to be? What would you like to be known for in the industry?
LS: That she worked hard and that she made a difference. That difference is not only in some of the technology that came to the industry from TTCI, but that we could make a difference for those at TTCI, as well. My job here is not to do the research, so I’m not going to be known for coming up with the next new rail material or the next great way of detecting a problem on a freight car. What I hope to be known for was that I was able to bring people to this organization, to support them, to get the resources that they need to allow them to shine -- and then to step back like a proud mama and let that happen.
BG: Well thank you very, very much. This is a great conversation. Julie, I’ll let you have a final word if you have anything that we should amplify on.
JK: I have two questions for you. Every time we get on an airplane, we always hear the admonition that, if we’re traveling with a youngster, that we should put on our air mask first before we help the child put on theirs. I listen to you and see you as a really strong leader here for this organization, but everyone needs to rest and recharge. How do you do that? How do you make sure that your oxygen mask is on before you keep this whole boat floating?
LS: I really do take a great deal of pride in the things that the people here do, because for me, the thought that a lot of times I’m the one that gets to stand up in front of the leaders of this industry, and I’m the one that gets the “well done”. I get to bring it back here and tell the organization guess what they said about us at this conference or at this meeting. Here’s the things that show that TTCI makes a difference. Not only do I get the accolade come to me from the industry to pass on, and then I get the joy of passing it on. That’s a lot of fun.
Also, my family means everything to me. I have a wonderful, supporting husband who is truly a partner and my best friend. He has been since I was a very young girl, and I sincerely hope that I’m with him for many, many years to come. My children are wonderful. I’m so proud of them. They’re the reason I get up in the morning. I have some wonderful friends that don’t take me too seriously. When I want to take out that president’s hat, they just look at me and laugh, because for them I’m just Lisa.
JK: You obviously love learning things and being on the cutting edge of your profession. It seems to me that people who enjoy learning, love learning about a lot of things. What are two or three other subjects that interest you that maybe don’t have anything at all to do with your current work?
LS: Wow, let me think about that one. To me, one of the great innovations that has come forward is the fact that I have this handy little pocket computer and access to the internet. If I want to learn about anything, I can at least get a start on resources that are there available to me. Sometimes at night, my husband and I are watching TV, and we’ll turn to each other and say, “get onto the computer, and look it up and see what it is”. You get a lot of little bits from that. Overall, you get to be a jack of all trades, not letting a question go unanswered, at least getting a start on the answer about politics, some of the current political situations that we have. I think it’s quite interesting that we transition from the role of a young adult to a mature adult, the reach and the control that politics play in every aspect of our lives is very interesting. It’s one where there’s a lot of scrutiny, and what needs to be done to really not just see the story that you see and the email that you get and say that this is true because it came from this source, but to look at it independently. Why is this person saying this? Is there validity to this? From a scientific perspective as opposed to, “I heard it on Fox news or MSNBC”. Can I learn something that I would accept as work as being good research and apply that to my daily life?
BG: That reminds me of one other point. If you don’t want to talk on camera, that’s fine, but you mentioned that the politics of TTCI being here. Can you talk about that a little here? I mean, you mentioned the fact that it was threatened with closure and then came back in a different incarnation. It struck me as being remote, I guess, I mean I guess it has to be because of all the test tracks. There were different parts of it in Washington D.C., and Chicago, and Pueblo. We saw all the dynamometers which were in Chicago originally, so where were all the politics?
LS: There’s the question of, why is there a Pueblo to begin with? That to the federal government, and where they could get a good test site, land that was remote so that they could build track and perform testing in the middle of a metropolitan area. My idea from that was that there were several places, I’m not sure of the exact reason for Pueblo, but I’m not sure if it has to do with who was in office at that point in time as anything else. Who’s to say what consideration would’ve been appropriate for the high-speed ground test center? For this facility, this is the only one with track. When you have people in Chicago that are doing research, and the research needs to be done in Pueblo, that means that they get on a plane, and they come to Pueblo -- especially when you’re talking about the 80’s and 90’s rather than the activity that they have at this time. In D.C., they had the same thing. You had people that are doing work out here, then you’re going to get on a plane and come out here and you’re going to do work, and you’re going to go home. It’s not efficient. From just an efficiency perspective, it was, “Why do we have three organizations? Can we do this with one? If so, should we have one in Chicago, in Washington [D.C.], in Pueblo, or somewhere else?’ To me, the issue here is with the track and with the labs here, this is the logical place.
BG: You had the infrastructure.
BG: Well thank you, again. This was really delightful. Thank you for everything you’ve given us here and opening up facility and introducing us to some really interesting people.