Interview with Jimmy Lin

Jimmy Lin

Jimmy Lin

President/CEO

KOA Corporation

Monterey Park, CA, USA

 

What drew you to transportation?

When I was in the undergraduate study in Civil Engineering, I discovered I was interested in applied science that was more correlated to and impacted by human factors, instead rigid engineering like structure or hydraulics.  Traffic and transportation is largely related to human behavior, that’s why I picked this field of practice, and I enjoy every moment of it thus far.

What’s been your biggest challenge over the last 20 years?

There are several; career wise, I have transformed from the technical person to the manager and CEO of two fairly large design firms.  Trying to juggle between technical career and business management is quite a challenge.  In engineering education, unfortunately we are exposed to a very limited training in business and management.  These skills will have to be acquired along the way of our career supplemented by continued education.  Secondly, our profession has gone through a make-over from the traditional “Safety and Capacity” type of practice to a variety of other sectors of transportation, including planning (macro and micro alike), public transportation, active transportation, Green transportation, complete street, ITS and connected vehicles, etc.  For private practice, we need to adjust our expertise to coincide with the trend of our profession.  Thirdly, public conscience on finance reform advocates doing more for less.  Our challenge in both public and private practice are mandated to produce cost benefit infrastructure with less expenditure (design and construction alike).

What project or task has been your most significant accomplishment so far?

In my 40 plus year career, I have done a lot of big and small projects.  If there are three projects that constantly reminds me why I picked this profession, they are:

  1. Between 1990 and 2000, I managed a very successful traffic signal synchronization project in the greater Chicago area and we interconnected hundreds and thousands of signals into separate systems.  This project continued on for 10 years.
  2. In 2008 I was invited to Beijing, China by the City Traffic Bureau to assist the city in planning the traffic management and control during the Olympics.  I was accompanied by a LADOT’s senior staff member and the San Francisco Bay Area MTC’s 511 administrator to spend over two weeks in Beijing.  I’d like to think I contributed to the successful results of traffic management during the Beijing Olympics
  3. We began a transit corridor Alternative Analysis and EIR/EIS in 2010 in the San Fernando Valley of the Los Angeles County.  The objective is to find a corridor to examine the feasibility to build either a BRT, light rail, street car or other mode of transportation on this 12 mile corridor.  After 5 years of intensive study and public input, a less expensive BRT alternative (around 200 million) and a more expensive (multi-billion) light rail alternative have emerged to the final decision consideration.

What skills have you had to learn along the way to remain relevant and/or to improve your effectiveness as a leader?

There are 3 fundamental elements in business; Marketing, Financial management, and Personnel.  Personnel management is by far the hardest of the three.  I have to learn all three skill sets along my career, but one can only excel in personnel management with accumulated time and mistakes.

What is your decision making process, and how has it changed over time?

To be an effective leader, you need to listen.  I am surrounded by staffs with different background and expertise who provide advice.  I also have an Operation Committee overseeing different departments of the company.  This Committee is a backbone to my decision making process.  When I was younger and less experienced, I relied more on Committee decision.  As time goes on, my decision making process is more mature and I am more proactive in making the decision.

Did you have any mentors along the way? How did they inspire you?

My first boss was and remains as my true mentor.  His name is Jim Bucher, a World War II veteran and a solid engineer.  My first day of employment with him, he asked me “ Jimmy, Do you know how you can gain 10 years of experience in 5 years?”, my answer was “No”.  He said “it’s simple, you work 16 hours a day”.  I virtually worked 16 hours a day for him for the first 3 years and I gained a lot of knowledge and value of our profession from him.

Is there one piece of advice you’ve been given that you would like to pass on?

Success of our type of profession is not a solitary action from one person.  We deal with public infrastructure and it requires good team work.  Therefore, I would like to share with you of my motto for the past 40 years.  It goes like this, “The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf”.

Was there ever anything that you wanted to do besides transportation? Do you ever look back on your career and wish you had tried something else instead?

I am a part time public servant, serving 4-terms in the City Council of Leawood, Kansas between 1985-1993 and currently serving as a Councilman in Diamond Bar, California.  I got involved in politics because of transportation issue in my city.  I also inspire to be a novelist writing thrillers, but I don’t know when I will be able to write a novel.

What is the biggest risk you’ve had to take in your career so far?

I do not take risk, but I do take calculated risk.  I have to have at least 51% of odds in winning it before I would act on it.  Of course it doesn’t work out all the time.  I guess the biggest risk I took in my career was when I selected my first job.  Lots of people stay with their first job (or the second job) until their retirement.

What do you see as the most pressing issue facing transportation in the next five years?

We have to recognize the fact that transportation is and will be constantly evolving with the new cyber technology.  As recent as 10 years ago, we were not aware of the existence and applicability of Real Time GIS, Connected Vehicles, Mobil APPS, Uber, Big Data, etc. which directly impact the transportation and our profession.  I am concerned if we do not actively engage in the new technology, our profession can be marginalized.

If you are elected ITE’s next International VP, what will you do to support young professionals in the transportation world?

One of my main platforms is to create a standing “Emerging Professionals” Council, providing young professional a true and sound voice in the direction of future ITE.  In my company, we have a similar group which meets regularly and provide valuable input to the operation and policy of the company.  I will also constantly communicate with the young professionals through both ITE’s media forum and other social media, learn the concerns and needs from the YPT group, and ensure your voices are heard.  We were all young once, I understand exactly how the young people feels.

 

For more information about Jimmy Lin, visit http://www.jimmylinforitevp.org/.

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