As Melinda White enters her fourth year as CEO of Transit Wireless, she continues to mold the company to incorporate her priorities, as well as to reflect new opportunities in the world of communications infrastructure.
White’s leadership experience spans several telecom industries, from cellular, cable and content distribution to wireline technology. Before joining Transit Wireless, White held several management positions with Frontier Communications over 12 years, which saw the company grow from a regional telephone company to a national broadband, voice and video provider with operations in 29 states and revenue of $10 billion. Her career began in 1985 with Cox Communications and has included tenures at Cellular One, Wink Communications, and Black Walnut Ventures.
Early in her career, she learned two things about herself: She wanted to interact with people, and she was excited by the growth and change in the world of technology. On a Zoom call with me, she spoke about her career and the future of Transit Wireless.
AGL eDigest: What attracted you to achieve the role of a CEO?
White: Over the years, I have stayed in telecom and technology, but at the end of every day, what I think is the most important part of my career path is, I like to work with people. As you work with people, you receive opportunities to lead. I learned very quickly that I like the leadership role.
AGL eDigest: You began your career in a manager role and moved your way up to CEO in an industry dominated by men. What has been the key to the arc of your career?
White: Much hard work, but I have been fortunate to have received opportunities based on that hard work that led to an understanding of the P&L [profit and loss] and how it drives and supports the business. When you lead a P&L, there is a lot of opportunity for growth, coupled with an accountability to the organization. That level of accountability has led to opportunities to expand and broaden my career.
AGL eDigest: What other aspects of your personality make you well suited for the technology world?
White: As a person with an entrepreneurial flavor in my being, I’ve always been very forward thinking. I’ve never taken a role and just focused on what was to happen that day or that year. I’ve always been a person who has kept an eye on the competitive landscape, which certainly helps you look around the corner, but even intentionally, thinking down the road, five years out plus. Because in this business of technology, if you’re not forward thinking, then you shouldn’t be surprised if you are behind.
AGL eDigest: Do you think your experience with a diverse set of technologies has prepared you for this role with Transit Wireless?
White: Absolutely. Across my experience, it all starts with the network. When I think about the world where Transit Wireless is a big player, it starts with the network. It starts with understanding what plays on that network, what performs, what the network intent must be, the users, and then the many stakeholders along the way. Across all of my previous roles, we’ve had stakeholders, customers, users, and partners, and where it all starts is with the question, “do you understand the network?”
AGL eDigest: How has your identity as a woman influenced your leadership style over the years?
White: I understand the power of diversity. I understand the importance of diversity — gender diversity and ethnic diversity. I’m very intentional about that understanding, and that creates a different way of looking at the organization and how to build capabilities to move the organization forward. A longtime mentor of mine, Maggie Wilderotter [former Fortune 500 CEO and current Chairman and CEO of Grand Reserve Inn], told me she has two arms: one to ensure that she can manage what’s in front of her and allow herself to be pulled forward appropriately, and the other to ensure that she’s pulling other female leaders and potential leaders forward. I find myself in that same role as a female leader, pulling other female leaders forward.
AGL eDigest: Specifically, how has that been manifested at Transit Wireless?
White: My role is to ensure equality for females across the organization and for diversity across the organization. I’m very proud that, at Transit Wireless, 83 percent of my senior team is gender diverse, and 49 percent of my employee base is ethnically diverse.
Capabilities are number one, when we interview and when we recruit. Let’s bring the best talent forward and ensure that the talent has the right path in career development and fits the role.
As we look at the candidates and qualifications, we look at diversity, because that’s how the world is moving. Your organization should mirror your customers as much as possible. That’s exactly what we intend to do and strive to do.
AGL eDigest: How has the pandemic tested your leadership skills?
White: We were one of the first companies to close our corporate offices, which are in the heart of Manhattan, on March 9. We had an employee who tested positive, and we decided to err on the side of caution. It was a tough decision. We did intend to go back. But as it turned out, we never went back. We have policies and programs and hardship loans, and different types of virtual gatherings. We have put so much in place over the last many, many months, continuing to stay in front of it. One outcome is that our employees know that we care about them. Another outcome of that is our business has continued to grow. We actually completed two very complex builds in the last year.
AGL eDigest: Transit Wireless operates the communications network for the New York City subway and has recently expanded its portfolio. Where do you see growth occurring over the next five years?
White: Given that we’re all in a world that is moving as quickly as possible into a 5G landscape, one area where we are truly growing is our fiber deployments in transportation venues. Most importantly, we are stretching our arms around partnerships and stakeholders so that we can be a player across connected communities. We provide a smart network to support applications and services that consumers, residential and commercial, and transportation customers find valuable.
AGL eDigest: In many cases, if fiber is built out, then small cells will come. Is that what’s next for you?
White: As a leader in 5G infrastructure with strong mobile network operator relationships, we are in the front seat to partner on small cell deployments. We will use our robust fiber network across New York City’s five boroughs to ensure small cells have backhaul, an important piece of the 5G equation.
AGL eDigest: You are known as a public-private partnership (PPP) evangelist. Why are such partnerships important?
White: PPP relationships encourage faster technology deployments. without a burden to the taxpayer. In so many government opportunities, if you don’t have a private partner, then who’s going to pay for it?
AGL eDigest: In particular, what role do you see for Transit Wireless in PPPs?
White: We want to design, build and operate the network. We’re also considered to be a neutral host. So, with the networks that we design and build in a PPP with a municipality, we would design such that it can support any MNO [mobile network operators], any application, any service. We are the agnostic part of the stakeholder chain. When you think of it like that, it opens up this way of thinking about how everybody can play together, even now.
AGL eDigest: What is the key to providing smart city communications?
White: How do you serve everyone in a connected community or a smart city, no matter what MNO they use? It requires all of us to ensure that the outcome is the right experience at the performance level needed. That requires a lot of integration and collaboration, and much planning to tie our networks together. It has to be less proprietary and standardized with integration at the forefront. It must be an open environment in order for this to be successful, across the United States.