2020 40 Under 40: James P. Gillece

Aug. 18, 2020
James P. Gillece, Chief of Staff, Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA)
  • One word to describe yourself: Dedicated
  • Alma Mater: I completed my undergraduate degree at Manhattan College and received my Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore.
  • Favorite hobby(s): Spending time with family/friends, reading, exercise.
  • Fun fact about yourself: I’m a long-time transit enthusiast -- I had my license to practice law before I had a license to drive.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): While it isn’t a particularly flashy station, I have a strong affinity for Station Berri in Montreal. My husband and I honeymooned in Montreal and rode the train daily.
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): I’m partial to the Baltimore Light Rail because of the varied locations that it travels through and the speed at which it gets me into downtown Baltimore.

James Gillece grew up on public transit, but it was not until he began working with the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA) that he discovered transit was his passion. This passion has situated Gillece to be a key driver behind the transformative properties of transit and how it levels the playing field for people across the state.

Gillece began as a capital program Analyst at MDOT MTA before officially becoming a MDOT MTA employee when he was named chief of capital programming, he later became the manager of contracts and compliance and was most recently promoted to his current position of chief of staff. Gillece is described as someone who creates efficiencies in an industry where resources are not always plentiful but are continuously needed. He is also credited with influencing the culture of MDOT MTA to be a more inclusive and collaborative environment.

As chief of staff, Gillece is involved with many high-level decisions that impact the agency and has excelled in bringing everyone to the table and ensuring that people feel empowered to share their expertise. Gillece was directed to be a liaison to various departments throughout the agency including Human Resources, Legal, Procurement, Government Affairs, Audits and Finance and these departments have flourished under his guidance.

Gillece is a member of the 2020 Leadership APTA class and is often sought out by his colleagues for advice and guidance, which he willingly shares. He also makes time to connect with riders. For example, when MDOT MTA was preparing to launch BaltimoreLink, Gillece volunteered to staff several outreach efforts to assist the community in navigating the new bus routes. Gillece possesses the rare ability to make everyone feel significant.

His nomination stated, “James truly believes that transit is an equalizer and he is committed to being part of the group that leads it into the next generation.”

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

I grew up riding transit and, while my career took a few detours before arriving here, I think that those early memories of riding systems along the northeast corridor are where my love for the industry began. When I began working with MDOT MTA, I was lucky to be placed with a team who encouraged my passions and allowed me the space to make mistakes – I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Due to the nature of the work, every day is different and filled with unique challenges. As a result, I am constantly learning and developing new skills that allow me to best serve my agency and our riders. I enjoy being challenged and working under pressure. My job ensures that both are frequent occurrences.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

On occasion it can be a challenge to manage competing priorities. There are only so many hours in a day, so it is of the utmost importance to know when to delegate and when to step in to address a particular issue. 

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

I am most proud of my ability to adapt during times of crisis. Throughout my three years as chief of staff, I have been part of a leadership team that has addressed significant service disruptions and the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the various daily challenges that occur in an agency of MDOT MTA’s size. I believe that I have become a steady voice in times of great stress and a person many within my agency can look to for advice.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Surround yourself with a diverse team filled with people willing to challenge your ideas. In my experience, the best place to learn is with a group of individuals who have different perspectives and are willing to share their opinions. I have been fortunate to work with a vocal team who are committed to providing the best service possible to our system’s riders. As a result, I find that my perspective has greatly broadened.

Why do you like being a part of the public transit industry?

I enjoy being part of a community that is committed to equalizing access to opportunity and finding innovative solutions to the universal challenges related to mobility. I have ridden transit my whole life and it is a true privilege to be part of the industry working to refine these services.