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Brandon Whitaker, 37 Senior manager, telecom field operations Union Pacific Railroad
Nominator’s quote: “By combining a highly technical engineering background with expertise in field operations and customer service, Brandon has been able to effectively leverage his passion for efficiency and improvement into measurable contributions and sustainable impact for the railroad.” — Beth Whited, Union Pacific
What is your educational background? I attended the University of Michigan, where I received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering. After beginning my career with Union Pacific Railroad (UP), I earned a Master of Arts in biblical studies with a concentration in theological studies. I am also a graduate of the Union Pacific Business Development Program.
Describe your current job and responsibilities. As a senior manager in telecom field operations, I lead a team responsible for the installation, maintenance and restoration of critical communications infrastructure in a territory that spans over 2,600 track miles and 22 subdivisions. This infrastructure includes not only backbone data, voice and microwave systems but also end-user devices such as workstations, printers, AVTEC consoles and radios that effectively deliver network access down to employees in every department.
Describe your career path. I began my railroad career in telecom engineering at [UP] headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. I started as a transmission engineer, where I designed communication paths in metro areas. I later became a network design engineer, architecting and troubleshooting critical components of Union Pacific’s core communications infrastructure.
Nearly five years ago, I branched out and transitioned into a management role. I served as the manager and technical lead of the telecom data networking team. Three years ago, I branched out even further and moved to Texas and assumed my current role in management in telecom field operations.
How did you get into the railroad industry? During my senior year of college, a friend of mine completed a co-op at Union Pacific. He raved about the experience and encouraged me to consider the railroad as a career. Weeks later, the railroad held a recruiting event at my campus and I submitted my resume. The railroad flew me to Omaha for an interview, and I was able to tour the headquarters building. That day changed my life. I was captivated by the complexity of the technology and in-house innovation on display there. I immediately knew a career at Union Pacific was a great opportunity, and I wanted in.
What is the best career advice you’ve received? Do not allow yourself to become pigeon-holed by doing only one thing, and create value by being able to see the big picture. This involves not only knowing the ins and outs of your position but also understanding the particulars of the other positions around you and how they each contribute to the interrelated whole. Doing so will allow you to perform your job better, while maximizing future opportunities for career growth.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? Excel at your craft, be vocal about your career goals and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Always keep learning.
What was your very first job? At 15 years old, I was a grocery bagger and cart attendant at a Jewel-Osco grocery store in the suburbs of Chicago. I remember my first paycheck being under $5 (less than I made per hour) due to all the union dues that came out.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. Two things come to mind. First, I once held three jobs concurrently. While working for Union Pacific, I was also a youth pastor for five years and an adjunct theology professor for a couple of years.
Additionally, I was a member of a couple of hip-hop groups in college and may have released a couple of musical albums.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I am a family man, so what I enjoy most is spending time with my beautiful wife and my two young boys. I spend any additional time besides that (albeit a rarity these days) reading history or theology books, writing poetry and brushing up on Koine Greek.
What is the biggest challenge the rail industry now faces or will face? The biggest challenge is continuing to find new ways to simultaneously bolster operational efficiency, increase employee safety and maintain excellent service quality. This will be particularly challenging given a potentially constrained global marketplace and changes in the domestic economy. However, with a focus on integrating advancements in technology, employee innovation and a strong vision, the rail industry should be well-equipped for the road ahead.