NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Commission (NOPB) has named Tomeka Watson Bryant as its General Manager effective June 1, 2022. With this promotion, Watson Bryant, who has received industry-wide recognition, becomes the first African American woman to lead a short line railroad in the United States.
Watson Bryant, a second-generation railroader, brings both operations and commercial experience in the railroad industry to lead NOPB, a Class III railroad on the nation’s fourth-largest rail gateway that connects with six Class I railroads and serves Port NOLA and local industry. During her five years with NOPB, she oversaw business development and customer service as Manager, Sales and Marketing and pioneered a successful safety program. Watson Bryant’s experience includes Class I railroad experience; she launched her career as a Trainmaster for both CSX and NOPB.
“We applaud Tomeka for this well-deserved and historic appointment to lead the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad,” said Brandy D. Christian, CEO of NOPB and President and CEO of the Port NOLA. “She is a leader who has earned this role for her productivity, innovative business development ideas, and commitment to safe operations.”
Watson Bryant said, “It is an absolute honor to take the helm of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad and continue our progress as a safe, efficient, competitive and environmentally sustainable rail service in the New Orleans Gateway. As the daughter of a railroader, I am proud to follow in the footsteps of my father who worked in the industry for 41 years.”
Watson Bryant succeeds M.D. “Mike” Stolzman, who is being promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Port NOLA in a portwide reorganization that optimizes synergies between the two agencies, provides seamless multi-modal solutions to shippers, and further integrates the New Orleans gateway.
“Mike’s track record, broad skill set, and specific ideas on optimizing operations made him the right choice for this new role,” said Christian. “His experience with Class I and short line railroads serving the nation’s top ports are unmatched. Mike’s leadership will help the entire organization realize its full potential and build on our ability to serve the state of Louisiana.”
Before joining NOPB, Stolzman served in leadership roles managing operations, budgets and rail lines. His accomplishments as General Manager of NOPB include the lowest dwell times in history of the railroad, increased rail storage capacity and usage, increased efficiencies and profitability, and investment in environmental sustainability with eight new lower-emission locomotives.
This is truly an exciting time for NOPB and the Port NOLA gateway,” said Stolzman. “I look forward to building on the momentum that is already underway by working closely with the Class Is, the ocean carriers and shippers to enhance their user experience while optimizing operations.”
Three General Managers in the Operations Division will report to Stolzman; Christie Coats as General Manager (Head of Maritime and Asset Management), Janine Mansour as General Manager (Head of Business Development), and Tomeka Watson Bryant as General Manager, NOPB. This alignment supports the ability to optimize business development opportunities, serve tenants and effectively address operational needs in both organizations.
Other organizational changes include the promotion of Ronald Wendel to Executive Vice President/CFO for overall strategy, negotiations and financing of Port NOLA’s revenue and infrastructure projects, including the Louisiana International Terminal as well as initiatives to support peak performance.
Organizational culture, diversity, inclusion and professional development have been key priorities for Port NOLA under Christian and the reorganization elevates this focus. Former Human Resources Director Garri Brown has been promoted to serve as the Port’s Chief People and Culture Officer; Ari Ferrand-Rogers will serve as Director of Organizational Development.
Laura Mellem has been named Chief of Staff, with general oversight responsibility for the Board and Executive Offices, Public Affairs and Emergency Management. Michelle Ganon, who has served as Chief of Staff and Vice President of Public Affairs for six years will retire in August 2022.