Brian Mayhew slings an upbeat fatalism that is rare for CFOs. “If I had known in 2001 what I would be facing in 2019, I really wouldn’t have done it,” he says with a laugh. “I would never have thought I was capable of doing this job.”
Mayhew isn’t speaking to a project or process, per se. He’s more speaking to the complexities of shepherding an organization whose revenue stream abruptly increased in the excess of billions of dollars, came to a near-halt during the Great Recession, and fired up again just in time to consolidate with an entirely separate agency. He’s also speaking of integrating numerous other agencies under the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), responsible for some of the largest public works projects in California history, along with being the transportation planning, financing, and coordinating agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.
In all that Mayhew has accomplished in his more than twenty years at the MTC, he still somehow feels like he hasn’t done enough, because having a chance to really take stock would mean taking a minute to breathe, and there just hasn’t been enough time.
His staff, the CFO continually reasserts, has managed the difficult task of helping to keep their boss from losing his mind. Some of those at MTC have been there for Mayhew’s entire tenure, perhaps a subtle tribute to leadership that the CFO may not boast about but was present all along the way.
His time as CFO includes exponential growth including a capital expenditures responsibility of $1 billion that ballooned to more than $16 billion. The treasury group, which initially included only Mayhew and now treasury director Susan Woo, now has two entire divisions dedicated to various parts of the function. “The growth here has required us to consistently rethink how we do things and grow and retool our departments,” Mayhew says. That’s a bit of an understatement.
The CFO describes the only point of calm in his twenty years as his early days. “I came here when we were just starting the point of transitioning into the sort of mega-agency we’ve become today,” Mayhew says. “I got to spend weeks designing some new systems and processes for our staff of twelve that were really cutting edge in 2002, with plenty of transition and training time.”
Everything Mayhew’s team has been able to accomplish in the subsequent years was built on the back of the same exact system, minus upgrades to keep it operational, that the CFO installed early on. “You want to look back and marvel at the changes that you’ve been able to make, but I have to admit, I’m sort of horrified at what we’ve had to go on. We have made some process improvements, but the technology is basically the same,” Mayhew laughs, adding that he is not only amazed at what they’ve been able to accomplish, but how they were able to find the time.
There were several contributing factors to MTC’s massive influx of capital and expansion, which began when the agency took over finances for several of the area’s toll bridges. MTC had no expertise in managing the large cash operation, especially when it came to actually handling the money. “I wasn’t here yet, but I heard stories about staff going down to the local bank and depositing $99 million checks,” Mayhew says. “Ultimately, the bank had to build an entirely new vault just to handle our business.”
Metropolitan Transportation Commission:
By the Numbers
Capitol Project Responsibility: $1 billion
No Bridge Oversight
Capitol Project Responsibility: $16 billion
Bridge Operation, Maintenance and Oversight: $1+ billion
As toll revenue oversight increased, so did the number of grants that needed to be managed and maintained. The growing responsibilities meant adding more staff—Mayhew’s team has grown from twelve to forty—and continually absorbing new functions. “It’s sort of a situation where no good deed went unpunished,” Mayhew jokes. “People thought MTC did a good job and kept giving us more to do.”
Those responsibilities included a $1.5 billion voter-approved regional measure as well as taking over the stalled-out seismic retrofit program, including repair and replacement of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, the largest public works project in California at that time. The MTC took over a construction program where politics and just about any other roadblock imagined, contributed to taking fifteen years and $12 billion to build. The Great Recession didn’t help either.
“You have to look back to 2008 when absolutely everything was going wrong with the economy,” Mayhew says. “Despite the liquidity crisis, we didn’t hold up construction a single day; that’s the project I’ll always look back on and know we were both very lucky and very good.” Mayhew adds, again with a laugh, that he should have retired at that point.
MTC’s finance department post-bridge plans to finally address that their outdated financial systems were quickly put aside when, after extensive study and discussion, it was decided to consolidate staff and operations with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), who oversees housing and the region’s land use, as well as its Council of Governments, which represents the region’s cities and counties.
“We inherited an entire agency and didn’t miss a beat, staff got paid and checks went out, budgets were approved, and audits all got done for both agencies,” Mayhew says. “In the meantime, we didn’t give up our core mission. We also made progress on our all-new express lane program and have begun looking into all-electronic tolling as well.”
Mayhew says that a number of years ago, he tried to convince a colleague not to retire in hopes that, finally, the MTC might have time to begin looking at overhauling their systems and return to some sense of “normal” that had never really set in.
“I saw her a few days ago, and I told her, ‘You were right; I lied.’ It just never got to be normal, but I’m so proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish along the way.”
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