GM/CEO for VTA
GM/CEO for Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) in San Jose, Calif.
Interview location: VTA Headquarters in San Jose, Calif.
When Nuria Fernandez was growing up in Panama, water was a big part of her world. In addition to living by the water, she spent a couple summers interning at one of the canal locks of the Panama Canal, a feat of engineering that her great-grandfather had helped to construct. “But for some reason I’ve always been in surface [transportation],” she says. “I’ve never thought of pursuing a career in the maritime field.”
After college, Nuria took jobs at Chicago Transit Authority, moving to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the U.S. Department of Transportation before eventually working in the private sector as a consultant in an Englewood, Colo. (Denver-area) engineering firm. In 2010, an assignment brought her home to Panama, to provide program management support to the Panama Canal Authority. Additionally, the firm ended up working to help Panama update its public transportation system, and by the time Nuria returned to the U.S., Panama had a transit plan for the country. Nuria emphasizes, however, that implementation of a new system has to be introduced sensitively. “When you have individuals that for generations have been running buses — you can’t just turn that spigot off,” she says, because, “their livelihood is put in jeopardy.” Two years ago, Nuria is happy to report, Panama launched the country’s first light rail system. “I wish my parents had been alive to experience it,” she says. “We didn’t have that growing up.”