Diane Caldera has been appointed the new Director of Operations at Omnitrans after serving eight months as “interim.” It’s a challenge she’s excited to take on.
As Director, she will oversee more than 400 employees responsible for delivering public bus service to the San Bernardino Valley. Her department also manages transportation contracts which provide demand response services: OmniLink, a general public dial-a-ride; and, Access, for persons with disabilities.
When Diane joined the agency in 2005 as a coach operator, she quickly moved through the ranks. Within six months she took a position in Human Resources, then returned to Operations to work as a Field Supervisor. Finally she was promoted to Assistant Transportation Manager where she spent 7 years managing and mentoring others.
“I like to take the time to talk with people and get to know them as individuals—especially our coach operators. This way I can recognize straight away when something’s bothering them and ask them about it. Their mindset plays such critical role in making sure they are mentally prepared and ready for the road that I want to help if I can.”
“Sometimes I offer advice or encourage them to get their education because they have so much potential and can move up. I want to see people succeed and always encourage them as much as possible. I like knowing that people can come to me, seek my opinion or ask for help—even outside my department. I like having a positive impact on their lives.”
Diane didn’t have the luxury of a mentor in her own career but she figured things out on her own. Much of her learning was done the hard way, through on the job training. For the past 30 years, she has served in the Air Force and is currently a Major. Going from 17 years in enlisted service to becoming a commissioned officer in December 1999 was a huge goal for her, and now she looks forward to going before the Lieutenant Colonel Board for selection later this year.
“In the military I came up the ranks, especially in the flying career as loadmaster, in an area that was predominately male. I was one of the pioneers, one of the first women to get into that career field. The decisions I made had a crucial impact. The error of margin for maintaining the planes center of balance was 3/10 of a percent. It was that critical. The plane could crash if it wasn’t balanced. It was very precise, very accurate and there was a lot of training involved. Just that position alone was a yearlong training.”
The skills Diane honed in the military proved invaluable in her transit career.
“The Air Force taught me a lot about time management. You learn to forecast and make decisions under pressure. And traveling to different cultures teaches you how important it is to walk in someone else’s shoes so you can better understand their perspective. It’s a good lesson that can also be applied to the workplace.”
Diane also put herself through school and earned her Bachelors in Business Administration and her Masters in Human Resources. She pursued different degrees because she wanted to be well-rounded. Her business degree gave her a firm foundation in operations and finance, while HR taught her best practices in firing, hiring and labor negotiations. The combination of these skills has helped her to move up in the agency and has provided a solid groundwork for her new role as Director.
“I love the challenge,” admits Diane frankly. “As a director, you have a higher level view. Instead of being at 10,000 feet, you’re now at 25,000. You’re more involved. It’s about overseeing, streamlining, making things happen, keeping things rolling and ensuring everything is done safely. Instead of providing input, you are now the decision-maker.”
“It’s good to be in that position, but it also makes you cautious. You want to make sure you make the right decision. So you go in with an open mind, hearing all points of view and getting input from all levels before making any determination. And once you make the decision, you stand by it. You can’t be wishy-washy because it will affect how you are viewed as a leader. That was something I saw in the military through different commanders. If you couldn’t make the decision, you shouldn’t be there.”
With the launch of the new sbX rapid transit service only 9 weeks away, much of Diane’s attention is on making sure the line runs smoothly.
“sbX is a bit of a challenge because it’s new and unknown,” she explains. “Our focus is on being prepared, anticipating any issues that might arise and staying flexible so that we can adapt as needed. Right now it’s all about testing, running those coaches up and down, working with traffic lights and station platforms. We’re working on sbX coach operator training next month, so I’m excited for that.”
“Our training team is very good. They had to train themselves on sbX because they have to be the experts. Next they will be training the Field Supervisors, because they must be able to do everything as well. We have to train from the top down. Every possible thing you can think of, we have to be able to do before we can train the operators.”
“That’s why I made sure that I was able to be trained as well. I have to be able to do whatever they’re doing out there. If I can’t do it, I can’t speak to it. And I have to speak to it. I was excited to drive one of the first sbX coaches that came in. I think it’s even smoother than the 40-footer—you don’t feel the bumps in the road quite as much. You’d think there would be a drag, but there’s not. It just glides and follows. Although it’s kind of trippy when you’re making a turn and you see the back end of your coach in the mirror!”
You can read more about Diane and some of the interesting stories from her military career here.
– Juno Kughler Carlson
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