Mark Aesch: Driving Excellence
Author of Driving Excellence and Former CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority
- Turned a $27.7 million deficit to a $34.5 million surplus
- Covered by “The New York Times” for his leadership at RGRTA
- Expert on public sector management and re-imagining the role of government
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Mark Aesch, the former CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA), has nearly two decades of strategic leadership experience. Under his leadership at the RGRTA, deficits were eradicated and replaced with surpluses, reliance on taxpayer subsidies was reduced, demand for service increased, and in an unprecedented move, the fare was actually lowered after remaining stable for over a decade. Aesch is currently a thought leader at the Boston Consulting Group, an international consulting company. In his presentations, Aesch addresses his management and business strategies and his turnaround story.
Leadership Lessons from a Successful Turnaround. When Aesch became the CEO of RGRTA, the company had a $27.7 million budget deficit (with a total budget of $70 million), and he was told that the company would not survive unless he did all of the following: raise fares 40 percent across the board, reduce service by 65 percent, double fares on the disabled, and axe a quarter of the workforce. Aesch, however, did none of those things. Mr. Aesch focused on transforming the business from the bottom up, creating buy-in among the employees and treating the riders like customers instead of mere passengers. By doing so, he eliminated the deficit and instead created a $34.5 million surplus, grew the organization (the budget is now $85 million), increased the number of passengers by 20 percent (a rate which is 50 percent higher than the national average), and lowered fares to $1.
Aesch’s efforts to affect industry change by operating government more like a business has been covered in the New York Times, Governing Magazine, and on National Public Radio and other traditional and electronic media. Aesch is also the author of best-selling Driving Excellence, a book on successful high-performance public sector management.
Taking Business Expertise to the Community. Aesch has taken a strong leadership role in the wider community, having established and now serving on the board of directors for the Greater Rochester Community Transportation Foundation, which provides transportation services to more than 2,500 disadvantaged children every year. He also works with the HONOR (Helping our Neighbors with Options for Rides) Foundation, which subsidizes public transportation for economically needy disabled people. Aesch serves on a number of boards and advisory groups, including the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Board of Directors, the APTA Framework for the Future Taskforce, and the Transportation Cooperative Research Program Performance Measurements Taskforce. He is also on the State University of New York, College at Brockport Foundation Board of Directors and the Strategic Advisory Board for AM&M Financial Services. Aesch is an adjunct professor at Keuka College (Keuka Lake, NY), and is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, a highly influential group of over 15,000 CEOs.
He also recently led a U.S. delegation of 15 members to Southeast Asia, meeting with industry leaders abroad, to analyze and share information related to strategy development, measurement systems, and performance based management.
Driving Excellence – A Turnaround Story. Mark Aesch, author of the best-selling Driving Excellence, a book on high-performance public sector management, discusses the challenges he inherited as CEO of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) and how he overcame them in order to turn the business into a highly successful – and highly utilized – transportation authority. He explains how he took a listless public agency and turned it into a streamlined, hard-charging culture that cut fares, ran a surplus for five consecutive years, and reduced its reliance on taxpayer subsidies. In a time when airlines are charging to bring luggage on board and companies are becoming more reliant on taxpayer dollars, Aesch achieved results that many leaders in the private sector can only dream of in recent years. Covering a range of topics from management style and creating buy-in among employees to service excellence and leadership, Aesch uses his farm-kid background to connect stories to business strategies and leaves his audience inspired and motivated to create positive change in their own companies.
Leadership and Management. Mark Aesch discusses his management style and the leadership lessons that he learned during RGRTA’s successful turnaround. He encountered reluctant workers – those who didn’t believe in his changes and those who actively tried to undermine him, angry customers, and bureaucratic obstacles. To cope, he created a hybrid form of management – taking cues from both public and private sector corporations. He even developed an incentive structure that worked in a public sector setting. Ultimately, he says managers must listen hard to employees and customers, prevent finance from dictating strategy, engage the entire organization in the new direction, create a culture of no-ego, and more. Aesch explains how he navigated the challenges he faced, how he stayed on course, and how he got everyone at the RGRTA on board.
Service Excellence. One of the key moments that Mark Aesch identifies in his turnaround of the RGRTA is when he announced that riders would no longer be referred to as “passengers” but instead as “customers.” This, he believes, helped create an environment that was more open to change and more focused on the value and experience that customers were getting from the Authority. Aesch explains how these organizational and attitudinal changes led to cleaner buses, better service, and, ultimately, more riders and more revenue and how other organizations can take his core ideas and apply them to their own businesses.
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