2023 40 Under 40: Cristina Russell

Aug. 22, 2023
Cristina Russell, Vice President of Business Development, Transdev

One word to describe yourself: Committed

Alma Mater: Arizona State University. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication with a concentration in public relations from the Walter Cronkite School.

Fast fact about yourself: I won first place in the spelling bee for my elementary school in fourth and sixth grade.

What’s your best experience on transit and what made it memorable?: I have many great experiences on transit, but I’ll tell you about my first experience on a city bus. I was about 12 and my friends and I were asked to be in a TV commercial for Vacaville City Coach (in Vacaville, Calif.). It was for the local public access station to promote youth ridership over the summer.

Cristina Russell is an industry professional who has supported business development and operations for passenger transportation systems since 2010. She joined Transdev in 2018 as vice president of business development and is responsible for supporting Transdev’s client relationships across the United States. In addition to supporting contract retention and collaborating with the company’s public transit agency partners and managers, she also works to identify new business opportunities and leads the competitive procurement process through contract award.

Russell uses her significant experience in transportation to listen and truly understand what is needed for each customer and community and works with the Transdev team to develop a strategy and approach to satisfy these needs and exceed project stakeholder expectations. After a contract is awarded, Russell stays on as a partner to the Operations Team and Transdev customers to ensure its success. She is responsible for supporting Transdev’s Operations Team to ensure continuous improvement through presentation of new and innovative ideas to benefit Transdev’s public transit agency partners.

She has implemented initiatives to help Transdev become a valuable part of communities across the country. She has designed and implemented employee roundtables to foster strong culture and morale, participates in various open house events to hear first-hand feedback from Transdev’s passengers and then works with the team to follow up on passenger-centric solutions. She also supports charitable organizations to feed and clothe those in need in the communities that the company serves.

Colleagues say Russell is well-versed in multimodal transportation procurements and associated contract structures. She has experience developing strategy to pursue fixed route, paratransit, autonomous, microtransit and mobility as a service (MaaS) projects and has successfully managed the business development efforts for some of the largest procurements in the United States. Her broad expertise allows her to develop creative solutions to mobility challenges, which she shares with her agency partners.

With Russell as a member of the team, Transdev has seen a significant increase in its new business win rate and in its retention rate for existing partnerships. She has helped lead Transdev’s successful renewal efforts for some of the country’s largest public transportation contracts, including the city of Phoenix with two operating facilities and more than 350 fixed route buses, NICE Bus in Nassau County, N.Y., a public-private partnership with a $100 million operating budget and Foothill Transit’s Arcadia Facility with a more than 200 vehicle revenue fleet.

Russell has used her knowledge and expertise to help public transit agencies tailor their transportation programs to better meet the needs of their passengers. She worked with the Transdev team to develop the concept for a first-of-its-kind One Seat Regional Ride program, eliminating transfer trips and significantly improving the quality of life for paratransit passengers in the California Bay Area. In recent years, she has also collaborated with several regions in California to develop and implement more cost-effective and customer-friendly operations, resulting in more efficient and effective regionally focused transit systems. She has also led business development efforts for Transdev’s autonomous vehicle operations for its transit division and worked with customers such as Livermore Amador Valley Transportation Authority in California and Regional Transportation District in Denver on their AV pilot projects.

She is committee member for CalACT and actively represents Transdev at CTA, CalACT, and APTA among other industry organizations.

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

I fell into transportation in 2010 and at that time, had ridden the bus only a handful of times. It was a completely new industry for me, and I knew nothing about transportation contracting. I had my own public relations consulting business and saw that a large transportation company based in my hometown was looking for PR and marketing support. I ended up being convinced to join their team as an employee. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a position on the Business Development team and was promoted into a sales position in 2013. At that time, I was proud to be the only female vice president of Business Development on the sales team. Since then, I have grown and advanced in my position and can be found on the bus all the time.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I certainly love the thrill of winning, but what makes my job exciting is that each project I work on is different. The general process to win a contract is similar, but each RFP and customer presents unique needs and challenges. This allows me the freedom to be creative about the solutions that we offer and learn new things everyday. One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is enhancing the passenger experience. Often, even small changes can have a profound impact on the quality of life for those who rely on our transportation systems. Some of my most memorable days are when I come across positive comments from passengers, expressing how our contributions have significantly improved their daily lives. This is the driving force behind my passion for what I do and keeps me consistently motivated and enthusiastic about my job.

 What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Having enough time in the day! Procurement timelines are fast-paced, typically 90-days. Additionally, there are seasonal spikes as we approach the typical contract start dates of Jan. 1 and July 1, making certain times of the year particularly busy for business development teams in transportation. To handle this challenge, we have to be very strategic in the use of our time. I prioritize my focus on pursuing RFPs that align closely with our expertise and capabilities. By doing so, I ensure we can genuinely contribute value as a trusted partner to the agency. This allows us to utilize our limited time resources wisely and maximize the potential for successful outcomes.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

I have a two that come to mind:

  1. Since joining Transdev in 2018, I have had the privilege to work with our teams to retain the company’s largest contracts. These transportation contracts are some of the largest in the country and for our company and certainly critical to our success. Retaining them meant not only securing the revenue for the company, but also maintaining the talented local teams within our organization. It’s truly fulfilling to be entrusted with such important responsibilities.
  2. I was recently honored with selection for Transdev's Leadership Program. This program is highly selective and I am thrilled to be part of this year's cohort. Participating in this program will provide me with valuable opportunities for leadership and career development within Transdev. Additionally, I am excited to network with fellow Transdev managers from around the world, learn about the diverse international systems we operate and bring back new ideas and best practices to benefit our team and customers in the United States.

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

Working in business development within the transportation industry is a unique role. One of the primary challenges we face is juggling multiple procurements with constantly shifting deadlines set by various transit agencies and entities. This can make it difficult to maintain a balance between personal and professional life, especially when there are both known and unknown deadlines looming ahead.

I have come to realize that working with a strong and reliable team is crucial for achieving personal and professional balance. I am grateful to be surrounded by colleagues whom I can trust and rely on, allowing me to protect valuable time for myself, my family and my support system. I have learned to proactively schedule and prioritize this time within my daily schedule, treating it with the same importance as any critical business meeting. My support system plays a significant role in my overall success, both in my work and as a mother. It is important to never lose sight of those who matter most. 

About the Author

Brandon Lewis | Associate Editor

Brandon Lewis is a recent graduate of Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lewis is a former freelance editorial assistant at Vehicle Service Pros.com in Endeavor Business Media’s Vehicle Repair Group. Lewis brings his knowledge of web managing, copyediting and SEO practices to Mass Transit Magazine as an associate editor.