Taking the Lead: Metro-North's 1st female president reflects on her climb to the top

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Thousands take Metro-North to get in and out of New York City, and from the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines, one woman has her eye on it all.

Metro-North Railroad covers 775 miles and 124 stops across New York and Connecticut, with the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven lines converging at Grand Central Terminal.

In the sea of commuters, tourists and locals is someone who blends right in -- Catherine Rinaldi, the first female president of Metro-North.

"It's very meaningful to me and I think it's meaningful to the women of Metro-North because transportation is a very, very male-dominated profession – and railroading especially," says Rinaldi.

Rinaldi's rise was not a quick one. She was an English major at Yale, and then went to law school at the University of Virginia. She became an attorney with ambitions of becoming a judge.

"I kind of changed course in the late '90s," says Rinaldi. "I got a job working for Gov. Pataki's counsel office."

That led to a job as general counsel for the MTA, general counsel for the Long Island Rail Road and eventually chief of staff for two MTA chairmen. Then, she became executive vice president of Metro-North before finally becoming president of the entire operation.

"I've spoken to so many women who have been here for many years, and they say when they joined in the late '80s or early '90s or whenever it was, that they could have never dreamed that a woman would be president of Metro-North," says Rinaldi.

For Rinaldi, leading 6,000 employees also means carving out her own style of management. She believes she leads differently than most as a female executive.

"I'm a little bit more attuned to some of the people aspects of leadership. I try to be interested in my employees. I think that making those connections on how you interact with people is a way of building a team," says Rinaldi.

Metro-North recently hiked fares by as much as 4%, but Rinaldi says the increases are slightly under the rate of inflation.

"My job is to make sure the people see the value they're getting for their money. We're not going to be perfect everyday," says Rinaldi. "You could have a snowstorm completely throw you for a loop, but my commitment is to make sure people see the value they get for their money."

To keep that commitment, Rinaldi rides Metro-North herself every day from her home in Westchester. She says seeing the customer experience firsthand makes her a better leader.

Rinaldi acknowledged the railroad does face challenges. Safety is both a priority and concern after several fatal crashes in the Hudson Valley in recent years. She says the railroad is up to date on signal systems and lauded her employees.

"It's a difficult type of job when you have a family at home. And I think that's one of the obstacles for women in the workforce here. It really is the type of job where you have to be available all the time," says Rinaldi. "And if you have a young family, it's really, really challenging."

When asked what advice she would give young women trying to break into male-dominated industries, Rinaldi said, "I think one of the keys for leadership for women is being authentic. I think being authentic in terms of how you approach your challenges, how you interact with others. I try to be that way in my career. I try not to be anything I'm not."

 

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