Susan Quinones ’71 was recently featured in the Women in Transportation-Boston newsletter as the first chief of staff for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). The state recently consolidated its transportation agencies into one centralized transportation authority. She left a legal career in New York six years ago.
The article explains, “The vision for MassDOT is clear: create a single transportation organization focused on customer service and safety. If that is accomplished, Susan proudly notes, ‘we will have the best transportation system in the nation.'”
Quinones earned a B.A. in art history from William Smith College. While here, she was a member of the Newman Club.
The complete newsletter article about Quinones and the MassDOT follows.
Winter Newsletter of Women in Transportation- Boston.
“Susan Quinones, Chief of Staff at MassDOT“
Shannon Reilly • Construction Industries of Massachusetts
Susan Quinones is the first Chief of Staff for the new Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), an entity that only came into existence in November 2009. Who would have known that a 20 year career in corporate and administrative law in New York would lead to being swept into the middle of a major reform effort that would culminate in the consolidation of Massachusetts’ transportation agencies into one centralized transportation authority? This is exactly the road that has led Susan to MassDOT.
After being admitted to practice law in Massachusetts six years ago, Susan left her legal career in New York and moved to Boston. She was inspired by the election of Governor Deval Patrick and sought a position in public service. The Governor’s vision of a new, more highly efficient and effective Commonwealth was one she shared. The transportation arena held particular appeal for Susan because she had represented various transportation entities in her private practice. It seemed a natural fit; however, she candidly admits that she could have never imagined being tapped to be the Chief of Staff to Secretary/CEO of MassDOT Jeffrey Mullan, “who, despite his self deprecating humor, is always the smartest person in the room.” Susan happened to be at the right place at the right time and she feels very blessed to have a chance to contribute to this unprecedented endeavor which could ultimately create the best, most efficient, transportation enterprise in the nation.
Her primary duty as Chief of Staff involves helping Secretary/CEO Mullan in managing the day-to-day operations of MassDOT. Susan serves as the primary liaison with the MassDOT Board and the MBTA Board, as well as liaison with the other secretariats in the Commonwealth. When asked about her approach to serving as Chief of Staff, Susan noted “I have an open door policy, which invites staff to stop by with any concerns or achievements they want to discuss.” She also pointed out, “I also think having chocolate in a candy jar on my table is a draw.” Susan strongly believes that her decades of work in private practice and supervising large teams handling multimillion dollar business initiatives helped her hone her managerial skills and provided great experience which she continues to use in her capacity as Chief of Staff.
The vision for MassDOT is clear: create a single transportation organization focused on customer service and safety. If that is accomplished, Susan proudly notes, “we will have the best transportation system in the nation.” However, there are challenges in achieving that goal; challenges that Susan and the MassDOT team are striving to meet and overcome.
Integration of the various agencies requires a cultural change. Part of this challenge is to identify which cultural legacies are worth preserving and which should be replaced. If employees buy into the vision for the agency and recognize the possibilities for their own input into shaping the agency, cultural barriers can be eliminated. Despite the challenges, Susan points out that MassDOT is a vibrant, exciting place where innovation and creativity are encouraged. The challenge is to convey that excitement to the next generation of leaders.
Over the early stages of MassDOT’s creation and existence, Susan has had the privilege to mentor a number of students, including a Master’s degree candidate, a law student and an undergraduate student from Brown University. She has enjoyed providing these students with a unique work experience that allowed them to tap into the most creative elements of designing a transportation agency for the future. It is her hope that they seek leadership roles in the transportation field.
Susan is proud to tout the progress MassDOT already has made in transforming into a single efficient authority. Tremendous strides have been made in improving services and in investing in roads and bridges. Just recently $95.5 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants was awarded to the Commonwealth in federal funds, “which serves as a validation by the federal government that Massachusetts is an able and responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.”
Why does Susan believe that MassDOT will become the best transportation system in the country? There are several reasons to be optimistic. The workforce at MassDOT is superb. Each employee is constantly being asked to do more with less, and they continually meet that challenge. MassDOT is trying to provide additional tools to make this task easier by providing a manager training program and a talent management initiative. “We want to keep the best and the brightest of our workforce and prepare them for the challenges ahead.” The leadership of the MassDOT and MBTA Boards is also an important reason to be optimistic, as is the Boards’ interest in transparency and accountability.
Communication is another reason MassDOT can succeed. Susan noted that Secretary Mullan recognizes communication as a key strategic element to the agency’s success and he currently sends a weekly message to employees. She also notes that “The Secretary’s passion and vision are infectious, and he has quite a Twitter following too. Now if we could only stop him from making all those Volpe references [referring to his oft used remarks about former Massachusetts Governor and U.S. Secretary of Transportation John Volpe].”
Susan enthusiastically notes that “MassDOT is in its infancy, but has already moved from crawling to walking, soon we will be off and running.”
Susan, as a member of WTS, encourages women to explore all areas of interest and she says don’t be afraid to take risks. Seek out female mentors and never let the fact that a female has never performed this particular task before deter you. Someone has to be the groundbreaker; why not you?
As mentioned above, Susan is an attorney. She received her Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. and received her Bachelor of Arts from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York. She attended High School in Ponce, Puerto Rico at the Academia Santa Maria.
WTS appreciates Susan’s enthusiasm for being the subject of this article and we wish her continued success at MassDOT and in all of her endeavors.