Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) Trustee Kim Slaughter is SYSTRA USA’s chief executive officer. SYSTRA focuses on delivering planning, design, architecture, engineering, and program and construction management solutions to rail and transit agencies throughout the United States. The company’s mission is to contribute to the cities and regions in which people work and live by creating, improving, and modernizing transportation and infrastructure systems, while furthering sustainable development.
We recently reached out to Kim Slaughter to find out more about her background, her role at SYSTRA USA, and what personally motivates her to positively transform lives through transportation. Kim Slaughter’s responses to our interview questions follow.
My passion for transportation stemmed from an interest in community and regional planning as a means to improve the quality of life for a broader segment of people. I wanted to help people by planning communities that offer a broad range of amenities (aesthetic and essential) regardless of the median income of the residents. One month before I began the graduate program in the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, I was able to secure and start an internship with Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas (PBQD). At the time, 80 percent of PBQD’s work was in transportation. As I further explored transit in particular, I began to understand that the intersection of land use, demographics, and transportation has a significant impact on the quality of life experienced by each and every one of us. Many of us take for granted freedom of mobility. Mobility to visit friends and family, to access education, healthcare, to access choices of housing, to take advantage of a variety of employment opportunities, and to simply explore beyond the boundaries of immediate neighborhoods to see what else life has to offer.
Transportation can not only change people’s lives through mobility, but it can also change it from a career perspective. While I am still passionate about providing customer-oriented, affordable, universally accessible, climate-sensitive, and technologically advanced transportation services, I am also passionate about introducing a broader segment of our society to the career opportunities that exist within the transportation industry. I hope to use my role as CEO of SYSTRA USA as a platform to raise the visibility of careers in transportation and to create new job opportunities. I want to implement an aggressive recruiting plan to attract and retain more people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to the transportation industry. Whether you want to be an engineer, a planner, an architect, a marketer, an artist, a computer programmer, or an accountant, there is a career path for you in the transportation industry. I want to be that helping hand to show you the path.
I started in 1988. I have seen a significant growth in women and minorities in leadership positions, but that has mostly occurred in the public sector of our industry. We still have a lot of growth to achieve in the private sector. Within the last year, we have seen more women in management roles in the private sector, but we are largely absent from the executive teams and boards of directors. It is important for those of us that are in the seats to create opportunities for women and minorities at those tables. Additionally, I am disappointed with the slow advancement of innovation and technology within the US. While there are some small examples of such technology use, we are still waiting for someone else to prove the viability, cost-effectiveness, and appropriate application of many of our new innovative options. I truly understand that politics and financial constraints have a tendency to limit risk-taking, but our customers and the sustainability of our systems suffer for it.
If you want a career that has a direct impact to improve people’s lives and the livability of our communities, then you should explore transportation. In particular, I would recommend that you apply your creativity and passion for change to making public transportation infrastructure and services better. You can make your mark while helping people at the same time. Public transportation is also part of the solution to slowing the growth of global warming/climate change. We need the next generations to advance our efforts.