Viewpoint: Jacksonville Prepares the Next Generation of Leaders


Nathaniel P. Ford Sr.
Chief Executive Officer

Endya Freeman
Revenue Manager, Office of Finance, Administration Division

Christopher Macklin
Assistant Connexion Manager, Office of Transportation, Operations Division

Tsopie Trottie
Customer Advocacy Manager, Office of Small Business and Community Impact, System Development Division

While the Great Resignation in the transportation industry largely impacted bus operators, authorities are also seeing empty chairs in the C-suite. Throughout the US, CEOs, general managers, senior vice presidents, and others are either retiring or resigning after decades of service, creating a void in leadership, experience, and vision.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), under the leadership of CEO ­Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., launched an initiative at the beginning of 2023 to prepare for imminent vacancies by strengthening succession planning. The Authority created the Leadership Development Program (LDP) for professionals with management responsibility and leadership potential. The initiative signals that the JTA, an ­organization with five generations of employees in the workplace, is intentional about sharing institutional knowledge and valuable experiences with emerging leaders to help prepare them for larger roles at the Authority in the future.

The LDP is nearing the end of its first cohort which featured a curriculum modeled after the Capstone concept with a combination of academic study, group sessions, mentoring, and real-world experiences.

Managers apply and provide letters of recommendation from their superiors. Now in its ninth month, the inaugural cohort is highly recommended by the participants, which include: Endya Freeman, Revenue Manager, Office of Finance, Administration Division; Christopher Macklin, Assistant Connexion Manager, Office of Transportation, Operations Division; and Tsopie Trottie, Customer Advocacy Manager, Office of Small Business and Community Impact, System Development Division.

Here’s what they have to say about the Leadership Development Program:

What types of activities have you participated in?

Christopher Macklin: In May 2023, I participated in the 2023 American Bus Benchmarking Group Conference (ABBG). The focus of the conference is to bring together industry experts to share challenges and best practices as it relates to KPI performance and KPI development. Some of the best practices I learned were in the area of revenue growth, revenue per client, retention rate and customer satisfaction which are all key indicators to improve JTA paratransit services.

I also attended the annual conference of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). This conference provided transportation leaders with the opportunity to collaborate on some of the biggest issues facing the transportation sector both today and tomorrow.

A highlight for me was in July when I was invited to be a speaker at the National Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) Emerging Leaders Forum. This panel discussion was aimed to foster relationships and attaining the support needed for career advancement.

How does this initiative help with succession planning?

Christopher Macklin: In the long term, it will help strengthen the overall capability of the JTA Leadership Team. The team in the LDP is gaining the knowledge and ­experience to be the next senior leaders at the JTA. In essence, we will be ready when the opportunity comes to meet the future business needs for the JTA.

How does the program position you for the C-suite?

Endya Freeman: I have always been aware of the need to think more strategi­cally as we grow as leaders and this pro­­gram has prepared me for the next chapter in my leadership journey. Through the classroom discussions, master classes, shadowing Senior VPs, individualized coaching, as well as maintaining my daily work responsibilities, has afforded me a greater understanding of the day-to-day experiences of executive leadership. This experience allowed me to view the JTA and the transportation industry through a new lens. The exposure has helped me to shift my “division thinking” to organizational big picture thinking. I am more acutely aware of the overall impact and benefits of long-term planning, listening, collaborative thinking, and communicating values.

What did you learn that you can apply now to be more impactful in your current position?

Endya Freeman: What I value most from this experience is the active listening to understand others and learning to respond, rather than react to others. This has been life changing. My approach to projects, vested interests in my colleagues’ success, and eagerness to take on new challenges has made me more aware of the power of the transportation industry. I look forward to continuing to grow and leading with confidence.

How have you and your colleagues benefitted from the program?

Tsopie Trottie: I believe my colleagues and I have gained an understanding that transportation is not only pivotal, but also evolutionary. Being part of this program has allowed all of us to look at ourselves deeper as enthusiasts with a vivid purpose, vision, and overall sense of being part of the “change” within this illustrious industry. Opportunities like the LDP don’t come around often, so we’re very thankful to the JTA and especially our CEO Nathaniel Ford, for trusting us to carry this inaugural program to heights beyond its own expectations.

Why should transportation authorities consider launching similar programs?

Tsopie Trottie: Initiating a program such as this not only uplifts emerging senior professionals to plateaus further than their imagination, but it also explores the truest meaning of innovation and inspires others to follow suit. True enough, anyone can say they would like to aspire to be a manager, Vice President, Director, CEO, etc., but this program allows you to peel back every layer of what it truly takes to be a strong leader, vigorous professional, and dynamic, analytic thinker to dominate this industry and take transportation to the next level.