On Oct. 31, I interviewed Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Media Relations Manager Marc Littman as part of an assignment for one of my public relations classes.
Littman has been with Metro for more than 25 years. Prior to joining Metro, he spent years working in the journalism industry.
This interview focuses on how Littman manages the communications arm of one of the nation’s largest transit agencies and how he is able to tackle the challenges that confront him on a regular basis. He agreed to let me publish his responses from our interview for this blog.
1) What are some of the challenges you face in delegating tasks as a manager? How do you ensure that you still maintain control when you have so many people working under you?
Littman: Metro is a dynamic place where at any minute, something can happen. It can be anything from a bus accident to someone filing a lawsuit against the agency.
The challenges involve finding out who is close by to respond, who is best able to handle such situations and how to coordinate the process. Logistically, we have to find out how to get there and who is available by finding out things like who is on vacation or jury duty. We serve a big service area and we are spread thin but we are able to stay on top as there are high expectations to do so.
2) It is a big agency for a large service area that serves close to 10 million residents. How can you make sure that you are able to make quality decisions in such a fast-paced environment?
Littman: I am able to make quality decisions by getting input from everyone from the CEO to elected officials and my staff.
I do not always think I have the answers so I involve my staff and try to be flexible and modify my decisions based on their recommendations to figure out the best responses.
During Carmageddon, for example, we involved other agencies to coordinate our plans to make sure the right message is conveyed to the public. Making quality decisions require people who are good at strategizing and implementation as well as learning from the staff to get a quality product.
3) What are some of the most important qualities and skills you look for, especially in recent graduates? How do you make sure they stay on top of things in such a large work environment?
Littman: I really look for people who can write. I also look for people who have the initiative and energy to learn new things. I see most graduates today not being able to write and texting does not cut it either.
Metro has a two-year Employee Training Program for recent college graduates that helps prepare them for a career in the transportation industry. As retirees will be gone within five years, there will be a huge learning curve and when we hire new people, we just cannot pull someone off the street.
4) Young people like recent college graduates are starting to take over the workforce. Is this any different from when you started out as a manager? How are you adapting to the changes?
Littman: I worked for Metro’s predecessor agency, the Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD) from 1981 to 1987. I came back 15 years later when it already became what is now Metro.
History tends to repeat itself when it comes to the shift between experienced professionals and recent college graduates. The senior management officials are mostly in their 50s or older now and many have worked here for more than 30 years. Many of them are on the verge of retiring but some are putting off retirement due to the poor economy. As a result, there are not that many opportunities for young people as the senior management staff are staying on longer combined with budgetary constraints that prevent us from hiring more people.
As mentioned earlier, the Employee Training Program will help train young professionals for a career in the transportation industry as they have the fresh ideas needed to keep this agency moving to a brighter future.
5) Describe one crisis the agency experienced and how you successfully handled it.
Carmageddon was part of a major project that could have potentially turned into a crisis if it was not handled properly.
This was the first step in a billion-dollar project to widen the 405 Freeway and reconstruct bridges along the way. We closed down a 10-mile stretch of the freeway just to tear down one half of the Mulholland Bridge. We had to consider the impacts this would have to public safety as well as to the local economy. If the plans failed, federal funds needed for the project would have been in jeopardy and Metro’s credibility would have been on the line as well.
We prepared for the closure by reaching out to key individuals in the weeks and months leading up to it including law enforcement, local transit agencies and the Auto Club. We even had celebrities including Ashton Kutcher and Lady Gaga tweet to let their followers know and warn them to stay away from the area.
Our goal was to get people to avoid the area that weekend by encouraging them to stay home, travel out of town or take advantage of the free bus and rail service Metro offered if they absolutely needed to get around.
The demolition work on the half of Mulholland Bridge was completed more than 12 hours ahead of schedule, under budget and without any major traffic impacts in the area during that weekend.