COMTO National Interview with Kimberly Slaughter, CEO, SYSTRA USA
COMTO: What exactly do you do in that role?
KS: I provide leadership for all phases of SYSTRA USA’s operations with special emphasis on long-range goals, growth, profit, and return on investment. SYSTRA USA has taken part in major transportation projects throughout our nation for 35 years. My intention is to ensure that SYSTRA USA’s presence continues to grow.
COMTO: As a new CEO, what are you plans for SYSTRA USA especially as it pertains to diversity and inclusion?
KS: It is my intention to carry forward the SYSTRA USA commitment to diversity and inclusion. It is critical to not just invite people to sit at the table, but to have them help build the table from the beginning. I want to see people in valuable decision-making roles that influence how our company does business. SYSTRA USA has an internal Social Justice and Equality Task Force, or SJET, its mission is to review our policies and operations with the purpose of developing strategies to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion within our firm, as well as help our local communities. I also want to build more awareness of SYSTRA USA and the services and capabilities we have to offer. Outreach is an essential part of my approach. In many ways, I represent diversity and inclusion as a black woman from the south in a male dominated industry. Therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to create an avenue for enhancing and advancing SYSTRA USA’s practices of diversity and inclusion while ensuring that I will not be the last one through the door.
COMTO: Can you briefly describe the journey to your current position?
KS: I came from a very technical side of the industry as a travel demand forecaster. One of my assets is striving to be well-rounded and not limited to one field of experience. Not only could I program a computer-more commonly known today as writing source code — but I had good verbal, written communication, and presentation skills. This foundation allowed me to advance my career from one step to the next. The most important aspect I have learned in my journey is in order to move to the next spot, I need to possess adaptability. It is imperative for me to nurture and mentor others so that I can be free to move forward with the confidence that others are able to fill in the gaps.
COMTO: What have been the most valuable tools for you during your career journey?
KS: I rely heavily on my ability to communicate and forge sincere and lasting relationships. People are the heart of the transportation industry. I enjoy learning about collaborating with people day in and day out to build and reinforce mutual respect both personally and professionally. That’s been essential throughout my interactions with all the people who’ve been behind me, beside me, and ahead of me on the journey. Having strong relationships is critical because you never know where or when you may encounter someone again as your career evolves.
COMTO: What in your opinion constitutes a great leader? Feel free to provide any names of those who have been influential to you.
KS: A great leader is someone who exhibits passion with self-awareness and courage to make a positive impact on people and influence them to embrace their passion. This combination is what enables great leaders to confront challenges, maintain honesty, garner trust, and inspire others.
COMTO: What are some leadership traits you possess and how do you work on improving them?
KS: Leadership traits must be continuously developed along the journey of self-improvement. I work on courage every day as new challenges arise. I work with others to be honest as I see young people have both curiosity and fear as to whether they can do something. It’s important to talk about vulnerabilities and strengths as a means to help motivate others. For example, in my role as chair of Leadership APTA for the last two years, I’ve tried to convey courage and honesty by sharing my own experience in the industry. I work on improving my leadership traits by trying to stay conscious of the impact I have on others and the value of that impact.
COMTO: What is your own personal leadership philosophy?
KS: My personal leadership philosophy emphasizes the importance of being true to myself, continuously challenging myself, and helping others to see their own potential. I’m not seeking to make clones of myself but to help others see their own potential and bring their best assets forward.
COMTO: Please describe how you’ve been active in COMTO and in your community at-large.
KS: I discovered COMTO in the early 1990s when I was working at Houston METRO. I became the vice president of the COMTO Houston Chapter with responsibility for professional development of our members. In addition to continuing to be very active in the Houston and Chicago chapters, I serve on the national coordinating committee for COMTO’s annual “Women Who Move the Nation” breakfast.
COMTO: How have you benefitted from being a COMTO member?
KS: My membership in COMTO has definitely been beneficial to my ability to connect with colleagues throughout the industry. Through these professional connections, I’ve always felt lifted up and supported. Several mentors saw my potential early in my career and continuously encouraged me to reach new heights. As I have moved to different cities throughout my career, COMTO members have always welcomed me like a family member.
COMTO: What are your thoughts on COMTO turning 50 this year?
KS: This 50th anniversary is a great opportunity to highlight the need for COMTO and the value that this organization brings in our industry. COMTO is uniquely positioned to be a voice and a conduit for underrepresented people to enter and build the success of our industry.
COMTO: What words of advice do you have for up-and-coming transportation leaders?
KS: Don’t limit yourself. Don’t draw your own box, and don’t let anyone else draw a box for you. Explore many different avenues until you find what ignites your passion. Don’t expect your path to be straight; it will wind around and circle back on itself at times, but it will be uniquely yours.
COMTO: Who are your Black History heroes and she-roes?
KS: There are so many s/heroes in our industry that it’s almost impossible to name them all. There are so many that go unrecognized, and they are serving throughout all levels of influence to make a difference in our industry.
COMTO: What are some of your hobbies and interests?
KS: I love to travel and cook. COVID definitely puts a cramp in my enjoyment of travel, but I am definitely working on the cooking. If I didn’t have a career in the transportation industry, I would have created my own cooking show on the Food Network!