Spotlight On: Frank Mesa
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Posted by: Brandi Williams
Spotlight On: Frank Mesa
In our continuing series highlighting individual COMTO members, Chapters, and Committees, this month we interviewed Frank Mesa. Frank is Director of Operations Training and Development for New York MTA Metro - North Railroad, and serves as President of COMTO New York and Council of Presidents Representative on the 2016-2018 national Board of Directors. You can find his Board of Directors bio here.
How did you end up in the transportation industry?
I graduated from Stony Brook University in 1993, with a degree in Africana Studies. I chose that major to make up for the education I did not receive in the NYC public school system regarding the peoples of Africa and the diaspora. I knew that learning about people of color's struggles and accomplishments was essential for my growth and development as a well-rounded, self-confident person, but had no idea how it would play out in my professional life. During my college years many people questioned the wisdom of my choosing a major that would not lead directly into a career, such as accounting, economics, or law, and to their point, I did not have a career path upon entering the work force. During my job search out of college I asked around my network for potential opportunities and my girlfriend's mother at the time worked for MTA Metro-North Railroad and told me about openings for Assistant Conductors at that organization. I took the entrance exam and was hired into the position. I never imagined when I sang the song, "I've Been Working on the Railroad," as a child that I would actually be doing so as an adult. I stayed in the Operating division, getting promoted to Conductor, then Locomotive Engineer and subsequently to the Training Department where I am currently employed. The beauty of the Transportation industry, specifically railroad operations, is that you can learn all you need to know on the job without a specialized degree and be successful.
How did you become involved with COMTO?
I first learned about COMTO in 1999, I was enrolled in a Certificate in Transportation Management program at the City University of New York, and one of the other students in the program was the secretary of the local COMTO-New York chapter and she invited me to a meeting. I attended the meeting and immediately felt the synergies, given my educational and career background. I joined and became involved in trying to bring COMTO to the company I worked for, which at the time did not have any COMTO members. I enjoyed having a community of minorities in transportation that I could learn from and socialize with. In essence it felt like home in an industry where I very much felt like an outsider. I did not come from a railroad family and had few friends within the organization, so COMTO provided me with a place I felt I belonged.
Have you made any great connections?
Absolutely! COMTO has given me access to the highest level individuals in my company and nationally. I have made great friendships with COMTO members that have lasted over two decades. I count these people as some of my closest friends and confidants. I have had the good fortune of meeting a plethora of industry leaders in the public and private sectors. I have met government officials, heads of agencies, CEO's, Association Executives and other extraordinary people. COMTO has really provided me access to people at the highest levels across the entire transportation spectrum.
Tell us about your mentoring experience.
I have had mentors officially and unofficially. The people I consider mentors have been members of COMTO that are committed to the mission of the organization and as a result have assisted me with wise counsel, direction and support. There really are too many to name but the people I call mentors range from the former VP of HR at MNR, the current President of MNR, the head of the FTA, and the head of TDC. These are all people whom I am eternally grateful to for making a difference in my life. Regarding mentoring others, I am committed to paying forward the extraordinary gifts that I've been given and as a result I take advantage of every opportunity I get to help others in our chapter be all that they can be.
Describe some of the COMTO activities you are involved in.
I am currently the president of the New York Chapter, I have a hand in the vision and strategy of the overall chapter activities and am fortunate to have an outstanding team of professionals in our chapter that make my job easy. In all honesty they do all the work and take no credit. Their reward is in the satisfaction they get in serving the organization and the industry as a whole, I'm honored to be among such amazing people. I serve on the COMTO National Board of Directors, as a Council of Presidents (COP) representative and am also on the COMTO CEO Search Committee
And lastly, what advice would you give to people just beginning their transportation careers, or young people interested in careers in transportation?
I would advise them to study their crafts and stay abreast of the latest changes in legislation, technology and practices. Having a mastery of your craft and being knowledgeable about things that may affect their businesses will provide them with a solid foundation for success in the industry. Equally important is having a great network of people to learn from, bounce ideas off of, and model after. Having a group of subject matter experts and influencers in their lives will assist in accelerating their career successes and COMTO is the best place to gain access to all of the that. The value you get from being a COMTO member is priceless and for the nominal fee that we charge on a yearly basis it makes no sense to not be a member. I am living proof of the contribution the organization can make to one's life and career. I am truly grateful to COMTO because without it I know I would be in a very different place in my life.