Keolis North America set to expand Boston headquarters; establish greater regional controls

Oct. 16, 2019
The Boston head office will centralize several roles while providing greater support to regional operations. Keolis believes this business model will spur collaboration, innovation and, ultimately, growth.

Keolis North America will be expanding its presence in the Boston area by bringing key leadership positions under a single roof. The move is meant to spur innovative thinking among staff and create a strong support structure for the company’s regional operations, which serve 16 locales throughout the U.S. and Canada.  

Keolis North America CEO Clément Michel explains the centralization of some positions will align the company’s approach to its clients’ way of thinking and of doing business.

“The public transport authorities are really multimodal operations. To be able to respond to the needs of the customers, we need to be also intermodal,” said Michel. “We were structured a bit per-mode and it didn't really make cross fertilization between different types of modes effective. [We also want] to bring all the innovation from the new mobility sphere — autonomous vehicles, transport on demand — and integrate these into what we do.”

Michel also notes the move is more in line with the Keolis motto of “thinking like a passenger.”

“Our passengers think mobility more than modes. We need to be integrated and think of total mobility needs, rather than being specific to modes,” he said.

Why Boston?

Keolis relocated its headquarters to Boston from northern Virginia in 2015 and has been the operator of the region’s commuter rail service since 2014. Following a third-party analysis, Keolis North America arrived at the conclusion that Boston was the ideal location for the expansion based on five main criteria: business enablement, talent capacity and quality, location attractiveness, business environment and market accessibility and suitability.

Michel said of the many driving factors, the two that stood out in his mind were the ability to attract what he calls the talent of the future, which meant being close to public transport options, as well as a proximity to Keolis’ operations to keep “everybody rooted in reality.”

“We had to be in a city where we had some operations, so we can experiment locally,” explained Michel. “Where anybody working on an innovation project can walk a couple of a hundred yards and be in a maintenance facility. All of that is critical.”

Another critical aspect, according to Michel, was the acquisition of talent, which required a location with a dynamic ecosystem of innovations. Michel says Boston is second to Silicon Valley in this regard and he points to an example from this summer when undergraduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology worked as interns for the company and, according to Michel, loved the experience.

“Suddenly, we see that we are a good value proposition for lots of people; from people with no education to people with some of the best education in the nation and in the world. And they come for one reason: They come in order to make a difference to the communities we serve; they come to fight climate change; they come to really make a difference to the passengers. And our brand needs to appeal to these people,” explained Michel.

However, Michel notes the increased presence in Boston will not take away from Keolis’ operations in places such as Las Vegas, Greensboro, N.C. or Montreal, Quebec.

Michel says the company recognizes mobility needs, and mobility modes, are different from one community to another. He explains that the centralization of some roles will provide greater support to general managers in the regional offices.

“Our idea is to [determine] what would work for a specific community. Our effort of centralization is the centralization of some of the support functions,” said Michel. “It's really an optimization of the support services and putting [those responsible for these services] together for better innovation and collaboration. At the same time, we are lowering the center of gravity of the organization by giving more authority and autonomy to the GMs and the regional vice presidents.”

The company has made key appointments to support the shift in business operations and Michel says the company will continue its hiring spree as it looks to fill additional key posts.

Linking collaboration and innovation

As the company continues to evolve and secures the right elements for growth, Michel references what he calls the coffee machine spirit as a critical part to the Keolis work environment. The main office in Boston does not contain offices of various size that denote an individual’s rank in the company but an open space where decision makers are feet away from one another and can enter a collaborative workspace to jointly work on solutions to challenges.

“Boston really drives the integrated service platform we want, with increased internal collaboration,” said Michel. “That's what the incubators have really understood about putting lots of startups in the same place - there is cross-fertilization. This is really the spirit we want to implement here.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.