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A happy team is key to success: Brad White

Ensuring you can attract and keep excellent talent is the ideal way to grow, according to Brad White, Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Mississippi Department of Transportation

It would be natural to think that when it comes to running an effective Department of Transportation, vehicles would be the top priority. But White says it’s actually people who matter the most, and that fostering positive policies both within the Department and with outside contractors is the key to its incredible recent success.

“One of the biggest challenges we faced was the loss of employees,” White says. “We have been unable to hold onto employees because of the lack of adjustments to salaries over a period of time and we were losing a lot of talent.”

This was a priority White set when he became Executive Director – to address this issue so that the Department would be able to grow and strengthen, because without skilled staff the plans he had to not only maintain but improve the road systems of the state would be impossible.

“Thanks to our legislative leadership we’ve been able to illustrate the importance of raising the pay of our people and we’ve implemented three different salary adjustments in the time that I’ve been here. That’s helped stop the bleeding of employees and put us in a position to recruit good talent,” he says.

“Having a well-skilled workforce within the agency ultimately allows us to save money and direct more funds to the actual projects, which is what I think the taxpayers want.”

Making work welcoming

White knew that creating an atmosphere of respect and enthusiasm was possible within the Mississippi Department of Transportation as he had experienced it himself 25 years previously, when he landed one of his first jobs at the Department as an assistant to one of the three commissioners.

At the time, he loved the collaborative nature of the environment and the way everyone worked hard to accomplish a common goal.

After a varied career, including working within government both in Mississippi and Washington D.C., he returned to his home state and to the Department again.

Mississippi Department of Transportation

“I think happy people are more productive people.”

“It has always been a very family-oriented type of agency. Traditionally, people stayed here until they retired – as in the old factory days – and we have many employees that are third generation employees. When I came back, we started trying to focus on other ways, in addition to compensation, on how we could make it a place people actually look forward to coming to work,” he explains.

“We spend too much time here not to enjoy being here. I feel very strongly that there are ways you can still have accountability and ensure people are giving the taxpayers what they deserve but at the same time have an atmosphere that encourages and fosters teamwork,” he says.

“To have an environment where people get to know one another, are more enabled to work as a team and collaboratively and actually find coming to work fun. Not just from the standpoint of the quality of work but from being in a happy environment, because I think happy people are more productive people,” he continues.

Growth through enthusiasm

Certainly, this approach is paying dividends and the results are both clear and impressive. The Department has been able to apply and receive increased funds, which has enabled it to maintain the over 96,500 kilometers of state maintained roads and approximately 5,800 bridges, support the 16 ports and 80 public-use airports in its jurisdiction, and also improve capacity and create solutions to problems that previously would not have been addressed.

Additional, an extra billion dollars of federal money was secured over a five-year period, and White attributes part of the success in accessing these essential funds to building strong relationships with the state legislature and leaders. He is determined that the most is made of every dollar, too, as better relations in the private sector have been something else he is keen to foster.

Mississippi Department of Transportation

“Having a well-skilled workforce allows us to save money and spend more on the actual projects, which is what I think the taxpayers want.”

“We have a very strong relationship with our partners in the private sector without whom we would not be able to carry out our mission,” White says.

Although, he is looking to upskill within the Department. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to build our workforce within the agency in a way that we can become less dependent on them than we are now, especially pre-construction type work, to drive down some more of our costs.”

There’s no doubt that in the past three years, White has made significant improvements within the MDOT but there are still many plans and goals he is working to realize.

“Right now, I don’t have a family and this job has become my life. My hope is to leave a legacy that whenever my time on this Earth is done, I left the wood pile stacked a little higher than I found it,” he says.

“I enjoy being involved in a work that’s collaborative in nature and it’s something that when the work’s done, it’s done for the next 30, 40, 50 years or beyond. The opportunity to say, ‘I had a part in building that or seeing that happen’, is something that gives all the members of the MDOT family a sense of pride in what we do, and it’s certainly a driving force for me.”