Five Questions with Tyler Duvall
LEADERSHIP IS A COMMON THREAD THAT RUNS THROUGH ALL THE WORK AT THE BUSH INSTITUTE. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT LEADERSHIP DURING YOUR TIME IN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION AND WHAT LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THOSE DAYS DO YOU APPLY IN YOU WORK AT MCKINSEY & CO.?
The single greatest lesson I learned during the Bush Administration is how critical authenticity is to being a successful leader. President Bush was one of the most authentic leaders the country has ever had. That authenticity bred loyalty and hard work from his team. The whole Bush team knew that decisions were being driven by a genuine belief in clearly articulated objectives. People who disagreed with those decisions could not disagree on grounds that purely political objectives or other unclear motivations were at the heart. The bar for cynicism is quite low in today’s world, so the importance of authenticity has only grown since the President left office.
YOU ADVISED PRESIDENT BUSH ON POLICY ISSUES RELATED TO TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE. WHAT ARE THE KEY ISSUES IN THOSE AREAS TODAY AND WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD YOU OFFER TO THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION AND CONGRESS?
Many of the same issues that were prevalent in the Bush years are front and center today: sustainable funding; congestion; permitting reforms, attracting more private investment; increasing operational efficiency of existing infrastructure assets, etc.
The Trump Administration has advocated for significantly greater private sector investment and permitting acceleration, but many of the details around this are still under development. There is little question that delivering U.S. infrastructure projects takes too long and is far too expensive relative to what is seen around the world. Introducing efficiencies into this process is one of our major areas of focus at McKinsey. The policy debate over the business model for the U.S. air traffic control system continues to be a central part of the FAA reauthorization discussion, and the Trump Administration has made it a centerpiece of its overall infrastructure effort.
A number of major countries, most notably Canada, have successfully “corporatized” their air traffic control systems in order to create a more sustainable funding and finance model, deploy technologies, bring more operating flexibility, etc. What is interesting is that the final 3-4 years of the Bush Administration were characterized by an intense focus on congestion in major metropolitan areas and around the most congested aviation hubs (New York, Chicago, etc.).
Following the Great Recession, there was less focus on this, but now that transportation demand is growing again and the U.S. urbanization trend has continued, the constraints are real and growing again. Anyone who has driven a car in a major metropolitan area recently already knows this.
Several new issues have emerged that are potentially transformational to our transportation systems. First are autonomous vehicles. The conversation on autonomous (and connected) vehicles had started in our time in government, but was not yet a pressing policy issue. Today, with every Original Equipment Manufacturer and every major technology company making major internal investments and acquisitions in the space, big policy questions are emerging. Should the Federal government establish nationwide standards that preempt States or should states be creating a patchwork of regulatory approaches? What is the liability regime when someone is killed or injured? How do we build in protections to prevent vehicle hacking? Will the marriage of AVs and ride hailing companies like Uber and Lyft be a seamless next frontier for urban transportation (both are making big bets on autonomous vehicles)? While mass penetration of autonomous vehicles is still well more than a decade a way, these questions will likely need to be answered.
The second issue that has emerged is UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) or “drones”. Drones will be highly disruptive to the operation of U.S. airspace (the FAA’s responsibility) and to a variety of traditional business models (e.g. small package shipping; infrastructure inspections). The impact of these disruptions will be felt even faster than autonomous vehicles. Like AVs, there are big regulatory questions around operations “beyond the line of sight”, operations of multiple drones, operations within urbanized areas, etc.
AT MCKINSEY, YOU’VE WORKED WITH GOVERNMENTS AROUND THE WORLD ON ECONOMIC GROWTH DEVELOPMENT THAT PLACES A FOCUS ON INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORTATION AND AVIATION POLICY. TELL US ABOUT THAT WORK AND ANY TAKEAWAYS FROM THAT EXPERIENCE THAT WOULD BE BENEFICIAL HERE AT HOME.
It has been an incredible experience to work all over the world on many of the same topics that we confronted during our time in government (and the U.S. still confronts). Every country faces a different set of challenges given where each is in its own development and how their own institutions (public and private) have formed. That diversity makes life interesting. The same is true across different geographies in the U.S. But what is most fascinating about doing work internationally is actually the commonality of problems and solutions.
I spend my time working on strategy, operations and organization at large public and private entities. Every high performing organization in the world has figured out how interconnected these three functional areas are. Organizations filled with great people and no strategic alignment struggle badly. Similarly, brilliant strategies are largely useless without a focus on achieving operational excellence. Our own business model at McKinsey reflects this reality where we combine industry experts with functional experts in every client engagement.
Specifically, as it relates to infrastructure development and operations, the U.S. has clearly lost global leadership in different sub-sectors. Our investment decisions are too politicized, our technology deployment is too slow, and our focus on customer service outcomes is too weak. In addition, other countries have more systematically figured out how to harness the private sector and market forces. That said, no country in the world has figured it out perfectly, and in fact the U.S. remains a global leader in freight rail transportation and energy development. Moreover, because we have the largest installed base of infrastructure assets in the world, we start from a natural position of strength.
YOU PERIODICALLY BRIEFED PRESIDENT BUSH IN POLICY MEETINGS. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THOSE SESSIONS, INCLUDING THE FIRST TIME YOU TOOK THE LEAD IN PRESENTING A POLICY RECOMMENDATION TO HIM?
These briefings were all incredible experiences, and I have too many stories to tell here. The first time I briefed the President is a day I will never forget. It was several days after Hurricane Katrina, and I was part of the Energy task force that Al Hubbard and Keith Hennessey had formed. While everyone was rightfully focused on the evacuation and protecting lives, there was an emerging significant energy supply issue. The two major pipelines that at the time were bringing the majority of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel supply to the East Coast had lost power and no product was flowing. All of the refineries were shut in. Al and Keith were leading regular calls between the departments of Energy and Transportation to ensure the Federal government was providing all the support necessary to the overall energy recovery.
The President asked for a briefing on this situation, and I was told the night before the briefing that my role would be limited to answering questions related to transportation assets in the region if such questions came up. We conducted a dry run late at night the night before. When I got to Al’s office at about 7 a.m. on the morning of the briefing to do another walk through, I was panicked to see my name next to items 7 and 8 on the briefing agenda: the state of the jet fuel situation at major east coast airports and the state of the recovery at the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana.
Al reassured me it would be fine as I’m sure my perspiration, pounding heart and pale look revealed my extreme nervousness. The intensity of the briefing was very high, as the President was understandably quite upset about the response and recovery. When I was called on during the meeting, it was one of those out of body experiences where you feel like you are watching yourself talk. I’m sure my voice was cracking. Let’s just say I was very relieved I had been reading the regularly released situation reports and had had an instinct to get some more information on the airports on the way to the briefing.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MEMORIES FROM YOUR TIME IN THE ADMINISTRATION?
There are so many amazing memories in my seven years. Many of the White House briefings of course stand out, as do the incredible friendships I made. I testified in Congress and in front of state legislatures multiples times – those were all memorable. I think the best memories, though, come from working with so many State and local officials across the country (N.Y., Miami, L.A., Seattle, Virginia, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta) on congestion-related issues. The President, Secretary Norman Mineta, Secretary Mary Peters and Deputy Secretary Maria Cino had launched and were executing a major national initiative to encourage new approaches to reducing congestion (including relying on market-based congestion pricing) using a competitive pot of discretionary dollars that were made available only when Congress did not fully earmark the DOT budget in 2006 and 2007.
It was a fascinating public policy experiment on a critical national pain point that produced some truly inspirational leadership at the State and local levels. Today, millions of people across the U.S. have the option to enjoy a 55-65 mph commute guaranteed every day of the week or hop on a high speed bus in a free flow expressway. Frankly, this is an initiative that positively impacts Americans every day for which the President should have received far more credit than he received.