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Leann Caver sitting at her desk. Her hands are folded on top of her desk and she is smiling.
C-TRAN CEO Leann M. Caver sits at her desk.

It’s a new era at C-TRAN. For just the second time in its 43-year history, C-TRAN has a female CEO—and its first Black female CEO. Walking into the Chief Executive Officer’s space, you’re greeted with a purple butterfly-shaped suncatcher hanging in the window. As you head further in, you step into the heart of Leann M. Caver’s office. Memories from her tenure at both C-TRAN and TriMet fill the shelves in her space, a visual love letter to her time in transit, along with photos of her family—her two daughters, her husband, and her mother.

“Sitting in the CEO seat is my proudest and most surreal moment,” Caver says. “I’m proud, yes, that I’m sitting here, but I want it to be a proud moment for women, my daughters, people that have been in this industry, to be proud of who you are, and you’ll be rewarded. Professionally and personally, I never thought I would be in management because I saw the lack of work/life balance. I’ve always been blessed and had a good circle of friends and family who have been supportive and encouraged me to push myself.” 

Caver’s office is reflective of her calm, warm energy. Despite a quiet confidence that speaks volumes of her leadership style, when she started working in transit, she never imagined she’d end up as the woman at the top. As a young child, she would occasionally ride the bus with her mother to get dropped off at daycare but didn’t think much of transit again until she was hired as a driver at TriMet. She originally planned on working in healthcare, getting her bachelor’s degree from Warner Pacific. She always knew she wanted to help people, but it wasn’t immediately apparent to her that her desire to do so would be manifested through her work in public transportation.

Her journey in the transit arena started nearly 20 years ago when she took a role as a coach operator at TriMet. In her time there, she worked in dispatch and management and eventually led the Bus and Rail Operations Command Center. When she made the move to C-TRAN, she was initially hired as Manager of Operations. Over the past three years, she was promoted to the agency’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Chief Operations Officer, and then Deputy Chief Executive Officer before being unanimously selected by the C-TRAN Board of Directors as Chief Executive Officer. Caver’s first day as CEO was March 1.

Caver may not have known what her future in transit had in store when she started as a coach operator, but two of her former bosses—Sean White and Shawn Donaghy, funny enough—both saw her potential and nurtured her talents. Caver recalls White, TriMet’s Operation Command Center Manager at the time, encouraging her by sending her to a leadership and management program, telling her, “You can do this, Leann; you have something in you.” At the time, she jokingly told him, “No, I don’t—what are you talking about? Leave me alone!”

All jokes aside, she took the opportunity to develop her leadership skills and further her career at TriMet. When she left TriMet to take a role at C-TRAN as Manager of Operations, she thought maybe one day she’d be lucky to end up in a director role. Donaghy, C-TRAN’s CEO at the time, immediately saw Caver’s potential. In a conversation about Caver’s path to success, he reminisced on sitting in on her interview, where he told the panel after she left, “Y’all better watch out for her—she’s going places.”

Coming to C-TRAN from TriMet was familiar, yet different, territory. Her favorite thing about working on this side of the river? The people and the size of the agency.

“It’s nice to be here where you see the change and actually know the people and your employees and get to know everyone for the most part,” Caver says. She is also grateful to now work in the community that she lives in.

Just over a month in, Caver is still adjusting to her new role. Her typical day includes meetings with the larger executive team, community partners, and peers to ensure everyone is on the same path moving forward.

“As I settle in, I’m really excited to figure out and put a plan into place for filling our pipeline and educating our community and youngsters about what transit has to offer,” Caver says  “I’m excited to find a way to build our workforce, but also support current and future employees who are interested in keeping C-TRAN moving forward. When you think of transportation, you only think of bus operators, but not everyone realizes everything else that is out there. Yes, our drivers are public-facing and represent us, but there’s everyone else behind them that keeps the buses moving down the road as well.”

On her first day in office, Caver sent a touching memo to employees highlighting her excitement to enter a new chapter in C-TRAN history together, providing insight into her leadership style and outlining goals for the agency. In that memo, she stated: “I value consistent improvement and am committed to learning and evolving both as a leader and as an individual. I believe in leading with a blend of pragmatism and creativity, ensuring reliability and trustworthiness. I am about making impactful contributions through insightful yet understated communication. I will be dedicated to empowering my team; I tackle challenges in a gentle yet decisive manner, ensuring that every solution aligns with the overarching vision.”

Caver’s memo ended with a quote from author and activist Maya Angelou:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

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