Chamber chief to T: You get what you pay for

Rooney also says he hopes interim GM stays on

A correction has been added to this story.

JIM ROONEY, the president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, is encouraging the MBTA to pay top dollar for its next general manager and do everything it can to keep the interim GM at the agency.

Rooney, a former T general manager himself, said landing the agency’s next general manager will require base compensation in the range of $450,000 to $500,000 a year, roughly $100,000 more than what the T paid former general manager Steve Poftak.

He bases that estimate on a survey of salaries of top officials at comparable transit authorities conducted by a firm retained by the chamber – Executive Rewards Advisory out of Washington, DC.

The survey found base compensation ranged from a low of $280,000 at New Jersey Transit to a high of $485,000 at Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. WMATA is headed by Randy Clarke, who was hired in 2022. Clarke at the time ran the transit system in Austin, Texas, and previously worked as deputy chief operating officer and chief safety officer at the MBTA. (CORRECTION: Due to incorrect information provided to CommonWealth, the figure for New Jersey Transit compensation was inaccurate in an earlier version of this story.)

Rooney said Clarke’s pay is a “pretty good bellwether” of what it would take to land a new GM in Boston. He said he wanted to get that information out to the public so they won’t be shocked at the next GM’s salary.

“The future of downtown and the entire Commonwealth hinge on the future of the MBTA,” the chamber said in a statement. “It cannot be overstated that we are at a critical turning point with our public transit system that impacts people, families, neighborhoods, and businesses every day. The oldest public transit system in the country desperately needs a general manager with the transit expertise to lead and transform the complex operations, systems, and workforce.”

Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s interim general manager, has brought a refreshing sense of honesty to the job and drawn praise from officials in the Healey administration, but Rooney says he doesn’t think Gonneville will land the job permanently.

“The sentiment that I’m sensing is that we need fresh eyes, proven leadership, someone who’s done it is necessary in this moment,” he said.

Rooney says he has a personal affinity for people like Gonneville, who has moved up through the ranks at the MBTA. “You’ve been through quite a bit when you start at the bottom and work your way up in the organization,” he said.

Rooney acknowledged bringing in someone who is new to the MBTA means there could be a ramp-up period where the person learns about the agency, about Boston, and about Massachusetts politics. Rooney said it will be important to have people at the T who can bring the new GM up to speed quickly.

In that vein, he hopes Gonneville continues at the T “in some capacity,” Rooney said. “I hope they can convince Jeff to stay.”