Beyond the Build


The Path to Reinvention

I try to use flight time to catch up on my business reading. [For the life of me, I cannot understand how others on the plane enjoy watching a movie on a tiny smartphone.] On my return from Minneapolis this week, I poured through a stack of WSJ articles. One was an obituary for Bob Kiley.

At one time, Mr. Kiley ran mass transit in Boston, followed by similar position in New York and then London. Through innovation and execution, he changed the reputation of public transportation in the Boston and NYC–from unreliable and dirty, to a solid option. Later in London, he used “congestion tickets” to deter people from driving into the city center, reducing excess traffic there in the process. He was a real innovator.

It’s arguable that Kiley is best known for his war on graffiti. In New York, he set up a program that delayed subway cars from getting back on the tracks before any defacement could be removed. He hired workers to scrub the trains clean overnight. When vandals realized their art had disappeared before anyone could see it, subways got cleaner, then safer. They tended to stay this way longer, and many commuters started using the trains again for the first time in years.

To me, Mr. Kiley’s story proves reinvention is a real possibility. Bob Kiley himself was someone who changed courses. He started as an undercover CIA agent, then worked in politics before finding his niche in transportation. He went on to “think outside the box” and overhaul three separate transportation systems, bringing them back in the public’s good graces. Who would have thought that stationing cleaning crews in the New York Subway each night could ensure not a drop of spray paint was visible the next morning? Kiley is a story of creative problem solving matched with vigilant enforcement. Perhaps that’s a formula we could all consider.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.