Tom Lambert, president/CEO of the Houston-based transit agency, Metro, was named APTA's Outstanding Public Transportation Manager for 2018. Under Lambert's tenure, METRO has received many industry accolades for everything from financial transparency to emergency response efforts. He credits his success to the dedicated effort of METRO's Board of Directors and staff.
We spoke to Lambert, who will be receiving the award at the APTA Annual Meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25th, to find out about his early career aspirations, what he's most proud of, and what he'd be doing if he weren't in transit.
Where did you grow up?
Houston, Texas. Born and raised.
What did you study in school?
In college, I studied political science and public administration.
What were your career aspirations growing up?
My father was in law enforcement and I followed in his footsteps. I always had an idea that I would probably get into law enforcement, which I did at the age of 19. Before I ever went to the police academy, I actually worked in a police aid program at the Austin Police Department. I worked in every department and had a number of roles. It was a really great opportunity to learn a little bit of everything that goes on in a police department and it gave me an opportunity to learn all aspects of the organization including the Chief’s Office, jail dispatch, training, and more.
Discuss how an early job shaped who you are.
Again, I go back to the police aid program. It allowed me to relate to a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds and experiences. It also gave me a chance to work with the community. The opportunity to serve the public is like a bug that bites you and it bit me early on. I’m proud to be a public servant and I want to make sure that people who choose a career in public service are recognized for the work and value they bring to communities.
How did you first become involved in the transportation industry?
It was 1979. I had just finished college and was interviewing for other jobs here in Houston. I stopped for a cup of coffee at the old downtown Foleys. The coffee counter was jam-packed with people, but there was a bus driver by the name of Willie Mitchell sitting by himself at a table. I joined Willie and we just began chatting. He made me aware of METRO — which was just starting at the time. I was fascinated to learn METRO was about to start a transit police program. It was the first of its kind in the state. So I applied, interviewed, and was ultimately selected. I’ll always thank Willie for that conversation.
What does your present position entail?
Honestly, I see myself as an orchestra director. It’s a job with many roles. You’re a leader, a facilitator, a mentor, a guide, a performance monitor. It’s a little bit of everything. We have a really talented group of people here who are very committed to what they are doing. My job is to make sure all of the agency’s moving parts work in harmony to ensure we accomplish our core mission.
Name one accomplishment or project you are most proud of.
Creating the first transit police department Police Department in the state. Not many people get the opportunity to start something from scratch. I was fortunate to have some very talented people on my team. The program was established 1982 and has stood the test of time. It’s received state and national recognition. It’s a great group of people.
What’s most rewarding and challenging about your job?
The most rewarding thing is working with the people I have an opportunity to work with. Every day, they provide quality of life experiences to the community. Because I come from an operations background, the most challenging thing sometimes is to sit on my hands and let others do the work.
What event had a profound effect on your career?
Hurricane Harvey. We’ve seen a lot of hurricanes and we’ve seen a lot of storms, but nothing like Harvey. I want to give great recognition to City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmet because it took great leaders to m ake sure everybody was focused on the same direction. What was profound for me was seeing the level of creativity of the staff here — working with everybody in the region and doing some things we never did before.
Who inspires you?
My grandchildren. The reason I say that is because I see the enthusiasm the creativity, and quite frankly the joy they have that makes you want to work to make things better.
What do you do outside of work?
I love riding horses, so I play cowboy when I’m not working.
If you weren’t in public transportation…
From a career standpoint, I’d probably would still be in law enforcement in some form or fashion. If retired, I’d be playing cowboy.