2021 40 Under 40: Steve White

Nov. 23, 2021
Steve White, Chief Product Officer, GMV (formerly GMV Syncromatics)
  • One word to describe yourself: Curious
  • Alma Mater: University of Southern California
  • Fun fact about yourself: I’ve had the distinct honor of meeting both of President Obama’s family dogs.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Hollywood/Vine on the Los Angeles Metro B Line (Red) – this station combines my two careers. It’s a transit station that is decorated with film reels and movie camera equipment. I used to be in the entertainment industry, doing technical production for film, TV and live events.
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner between Los Angeles and San Diego at sunset. This ride along the beach, with a snack and drink in hand, is about as good as it gets.

Steve White joined GMV as its business development manager in 2016. He came to the company as a public transit rider and advocate. In five years, White’s responsibilities have grown to director of product and then to his current senior leadership position, chief product officer, where he is responsible for product innovation, design and strategic direction.

White is described as clever, passionate and dedicated to improving communities across the country through better transit. His growing responsibilities within the organization speak to his immense job commitment.

Last year, White oversaw the development of Insights, GMV’s new reporting tool that provides transit staff access to important trends in their service. He also led the integration of real-time data from customer agencies into Google, Transit and Apple.

His involvement with industry data standards goes beyond integrating with those that already exist. White has led a proposal to develop a driver “run” (or duty) data standard in GTFS to make sharing data between scheduling and operational software easier. This development is now being taken up by Cal-ITP as it seeks to better standardize operational data exchange across the industry.

Beyond GTFS, White is leading GMV’s partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to include transit bus information in the recently developed Mobility Data Specification (MDS).

The last year of the pandemic was transformative for many transit agencies as their efforts had to shift dramatically to frequent service changes and clear, concise customer communication. White’s focus in the company turned full force to the public communication product line. GMV rolled out new communication channels that allowed agencies to push out cohesive messages regarding COVID-19 via digital signs, onboard audio announcement systems, smartphone apps, text messages, third party apps and Twitter. These messages helped to ensure that riders were informed about important safety measures and service changes and that messaging was consistent across all channels.

The list of White’s innovative achievements goes on. From revamping the interface of GMV’s dispatch software using feedback from dispatchers across the country, to expanding the company’s voice communications (VoIP) capabilities to launching an on-board infotainment system, White has played an instrumental role in every recent product launch at the company. In total, since White took over leadership of the product department, the company has launched a new product at a pace of once every four months.

White has traveled the country speaking on behalf of GMV at multiple APTA and state transportation conferences.

White has built a team who cares for its customers and the industry as much as he does. The product and design team is perhaps his greatest achievement. This year, as his team continues with the all-important day-to-day work, White is turning to a worldwide focus. He is leading efforts as GMV looks to expand its reach, along with that of its Spanish parent-company.

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

In college, I started playing recreational volleyball with a group of people in North Hollywood on weekday evenings. I had a car, but for anyone who knows Los Angeles, you know you don’t want to drive from USC (near downtown) to North Hollywood during the evening rush hour if you don’t have to. Fortunately, the volleyball courts were near a Metro subway station and the LADOT DASH buses had a route that linked USC to the subway. (I didn’t know it at the time, but the LADOT buses are tracked by GMV, so I used our company’s technology as a rider long before I worked here.) Taking this route two times per week, getting there faster than I would have been able to if I were driving and relaxing the whole way opened my eyes to the benefit of public transit.

Later, when my first employer moved their office out of downtown (where I lived) I was faced with the decision to start driving to work or to take transit. Metro was just about to open the Expo Line, which ended very close to the new office and my employer offered to pay for my monthly pass. This was transformative for me; it kicked off a new life as a regular transit rider and as a transit advocate and ultimately led to a career change where I moved into the transit industry.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Being in a leadership position, the thing I love most is hiring and helping to develop the careers of those on my team. I made the transition a few years ago from being an individual contributor (doing product management and design myself) to being a manager of others. To be honest, I’m actually surprised at how much I’ve grown to love this aspect of the job. I do miss getting my “hands dirty” quite a bit, but there’s nothing as rewarding as helping someone else succeed for themselves, for our customers and for our company.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

In an industry driven by RFPs, it’s challenging to balance the specifics of an RFP with the ability to create truly innovative new features. An RFP will never ask for something new and innovative, it will only lay the baseline of expected functionality – and sometimes it will even specify things that counterintuitively make the product more difficult for an end-user to understand and hamper the agency from achieving their goals.

My team at GMV spends its time doing user research with the goal of truly understanding the needs of frontline users such as drivers, dispatchers, planners and riders – and too often we find that if we simply build our product to meet general RFP specs it won’t actually make those users’ jobs easier. It will look and work the same as every other product out there. I’d like to drive the industry more towards an outcome or goal-based evaluation of solutions, rather than a specification-based evaluation. This will lead to more variety in what vendors offer, each with new and different innovations and more choice for agency customers.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

Within the past few years, we’ve completely redesigned our software from the ground up. We challenged our original assumptions of what transit dispatch or reporting software should look like, spent time in dispatch offices around the country and went through iterative phases of design, prototype and beta testing. The result is a dispatch software that looks dramatically different than most other applications on the market and works dramatically different too. It’s easier to understand for a new user, yet it has powerful layers of functionality for an experienced one to take advantage of.

The redesign has led directly to new sales for our company, has decreased onboarding and training time for our customers that deal with lots of turnover and has improved the ability for dispatchers to handle issues efficiently in real time. Starting from the ground up is risky. It takes time and effort and positive results are not guaranteed, but I am extremely proud of the work our team did and the benefits our customers have been able to see from it.

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

Ride buses. There is no substitute for truly understanding how transit impacts the lives of the riders. Ride buses when you’re on vacation. Ride buses to get to work. Ride buses to go out to eat in your town. When you do this, you’ll often find that it doesn’t work as well as you expect. Stick with it and advocate for improvements – don’t escape to your car just because you can.

If you lead a company working in the transportation space, put your office in a transit-accessible location and pay for monthly passes for all your staff. Even if they work remotely or only come into the office sporadically, provide them a regular transit benefit and encourage them to use it in their daily life.

Being a regular transit user turned me into a transit advocate because I saw the positive benefit that everything from buses to trains to bike lanes could have on the lives of people in the city and I wanted more of it. Being a transit rider and transit advocate put me in the mindset of designing for the end user, and that mindset has carried over to my own work in this industry and the way I lead my team. There is no better way to build tools that make transit work than by being a transit rider yourself.