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May 2013

Q&A with Denver RTD's Phillip A. Washington

Phil Washington was unanimously selected as RTD’s GM in December 2009 by RTD’s board of directors. He served as the interim GM for six months, and prior to that was RTD’s Assistant GM of Administration for nearly 10 years.

Prior to Washington's transportation industry experience, he had a storied 24-year military career, retiring as a decorated active-duty U.S. Army soldier, having attained the rank of Command Sergeant Major (E-9). He commutes to work by bus and light rail each day from his home in Aurora, Colo.

You ride your system every day to get to work. How important is this? 

I do ride every day. What I’ve always said is, ‘I don’t want anybody telling me about the system, I want to know about the system.’ I learned so much by riding the bus or the rail. I learn a great deal about what’s happening with our fare enforcement. Do I see our security out there? What’s the condition of our facilities and our buses? Are we running on time? It is of great value to me [to ride the system]. I require my senior leadership team to ride as well.

Growing up, what career path did you see yourself following? 

I left home at 17 years old and joined the military for what I thought would be maybe a two- to three-year hitch and ended up staying for 25 years. I was fortunate enough to have been promoted to the top of the rank structure. [After that] I saw an ad in the newspaper to apply for one of the assistant GM positions at RTD and the rest is history. It was not a conscious career decision to get in transit.

What are some pivotal moments in your life that helped you get to where you are today? 

The first one was in my military unit. I was in an air defense artillery unit and after being there for about six months, my platoon sergeant called me in and said, ‘I should be able to put you in any job in this unit and you should be able to perform that job within 90 days.’ He proceeded to put me in nine or 10 different functions in that unit that I was not school trained for and I became pretty proficient.

To be put in a situation where it’s a new job or skill that you are trying to learn,  you should be able to get into that job and master that particular thing within a reasonable amount of time. That stuck with me. That is one of the biggest things that helped me get to where I am today; that, and understanding that leadership is transferrable. The concern of any soldier getting out of the military is whether their skills will be transferrable in civilian life. What I came to realize long ago was leadership is the thing that’s transferable.

What is your greatest challenge on a day-to-day basis? 

My greatest challenge is getting everybody home safely. When I talk to my operations guy at the end of the day and he says, ‘Hey Phil, you got everybody home safely,’ that is good day for me.

If you weren’t in transit you would be… leading something else.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a big work-out guy. I enjoy reading and riding public transit.


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