Shirley A. DeLibero brings experience and creative energy to Metro for 21st century

By Chido Nwangwu

Special to The Black Business Journal

In her robust and progressive worldview, one of the major goals of the new chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is "the expansion of opportunities for all." Also, with an almost religious fervor, she also seeks the target of definable results and to "accomplish things which make a positive, major difference in the lives of the community and corporation" she serves. Only a few women in business manage the size of the budget of the agency she is also serving as president. It exceeds $605 million

On January 11, 1999, when Shirley A. DeLibero assumed the position of President and CEO of the Metro, the Mayor of the city of Houston, Lee P. Brown said he made an excellent choice. Only a few, if any, will make a credible argument to contradict Mayor Brown's decision to hire from New Jersey one of the most accomplished women in the corporate circuit of transportation services. Inside this BBJ (print and online) special Martin Luther King 'Building The Dream' edition, we capture her work in our transportation business feature as an example of a Black woman making a difference, and of course, building the dream. mission. Also, we honor her (alongside the affable and professional human resources specialist David Harris of BestStaff) as The Black Business Journal CEOs of the Month of January 1999.

In 1992, the Women's Transportation Seminar (WTS) gave her the prestigious National Woman of the Year Award. DeLibero has already started efforts, she informed The Black Business Journal, to optimize the resources and operations of Metro into the 21st century. Howard Jefferson, president of the Houston NAACP told The BBJonline.com that DeLibero is as "tireless professional and a credit to all persons of goodwill." Despite the optimism, her challenge and task is immense. According to Metro's Assistant General Manager (Communications), Julie Gilbert, their agency runs one of the largest operations in the U.S., operating a fleet of 1,400 buses; serves approximately 3,000 route miles, crisscrossing a 1,281 square-mile area. It has about 3,500 employees.

Metro is a bus-based system that carried more than 71 million passenger trips in Fiscal Year 1998. The Authority currently is examining transportation options, including light rail, in the Downtown-to-Dome corridor. Her record in New Jersey's Transit system has been cited as a benchmark to measure the performance of many transit authorities and transportation services executives. Under her leadership, New Jersey Transit was made to focus on the customer and improving service quality and safety, as well as enhancing the efficiency of its operations. According to the records cited in her achievement, the highlights beginning in 1990 include a ridership growth of 17.4 percent, a 61 percent reduction in federal operating assistance, no fare increases and no reduction in service.

Prior to joining Houston Metro, Ms. DeLibero, mother of two sons, spent eight years as Executive Director of New Jersey Transit Corporation. The New Jersey Transit operates the nation's third largest multi-modal public transit system, operating throughout the State of New Jersey, with service into New York City and Philadelphia. With a workforce of 9,500 employees, a fleet of 3,200 buses, 800 commuter rail cars and 24 light rail vehicles, NJ Transit carries more than 192 million passengers annually.

In recognition of these accomplishments and her contributions to the public transit industry, Ms. DeLibero was named the top Transit Manager in the nation in 1996; and in 1994, 1996 and 1998 NJ Transit was selected as the nation's top transit property by APTA.

Prior to becoming the Chief Executive Officer of NJ Transit, Ms. DeLibero was Deputy Executive Director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), where she served as second-in-command of the regional transit authority from 1987 to 1990. At DART, Ms. DeLibero was responsible for managing the daily operations of the agency. Ms. DeLibero has had extensive experience in managing bus, light rail and heavy rail transit systeMs. She served as Assistant General Manager for Bus Service for the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), where she was responsible for administration, management and operations of the 1,773 bus fleet. As one of the top executives at WMATA from 1981 to 1987, she also served as Director of Bus Service and Acting Director of Rail Service. Prior to joining WMATA, she worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston from 1978 to 1981, where she was Superintendent of the Green Line, and Project Manager for reconstruction of trolley cars. Ms. DeLibero began her career in the electronics industry where she spent 19 years. She holds an Associate's degree in Business Administration from the American Institute of Management and an Associate's degree in Engineering from Wentworth Technical Institute.

In October, 1996, she received the APTA's Jesse L. Haugh award as the Transit Manager of the Year.

Over the past 25 years, her tertiary efforts and executive leadership have remained, for many, a model of hard work and determination. In taking up the new challenge, in the fourth largest city in the U.S., she has an increased responsibility. Moreso, knowing that Houstonians are desirous of solving the practical issue of traffic and vehicular transportation congestion. How well, or less, this woman honored in January of 1995 by the Electric Railway Journal as its Woman of the Year will perform will be revealed soon on the canvas of time. But before then, if her past and record of accomplishments offer any clue, Houston seems to have just had a good, able driver at the helm of Metro.


Nwangwu is founder and publisher of BBJonline.com. This profile first appeared on The Black Business Journal print edition.