DUNCAN MCINTOSH: MAKING CALTRANS SHINE
Graphic Services Chief is improving the District one button at a time.
"As far as I'm concerned, there's no ceiling here at Caltrans," says Graphic Services Manager Duncan McIntosh.
That's certainly true for the District 7 Headquarters Building helipad, where McIntosh elected to be interviewed-highly (no pun intended) fitting for a manager who prides himself on thinking outside of the box.
He also sees himself as an agent of change and is very comfortable with the process. Good thing, because in his 28 years with the Department, McIntosh has seen a lot of it. A second-generation Californian who graduated from Wilson High School in Long Beach and Long Beach State College with a major in Art, he took the Junior Engineering Technician exam in 1979 and was hired by Caltrans in 1980.
While that might seem like an odd direction for someone with a background in drawing and painting (not to mention selling jeans beginning when he was 15 at a pre-Gap store on the Long Beach waterfront), McIntosh says he welcomed it. "They asked me why someone with my background would want to work in engineering. For me it was obvious-to get another perspective and broaden my skills."
McIntosh originally was hired by Traffic Operations but was quickly "loaned out" to Graphics Arts, as it was called then. While there, he often worked with the Operations-based video unit which recognized that "I was more useful there than trying to get me to calculate the volumes of trucks on the freeway," he said. The practice of placing employees where their skills could best be utilized was common at that time, "which was a great way to benefit an individual while also benefiting the Department."
With the wide experience he gained in the video unit and the mentoring he received there, he soon passed the Audio Visual (AV) exam. An opening in Graphics brought him in as an Audio Visual Assistant working under supervisor Otto Poehm, an accomplished photographer and one of McIntosh's mentors. "When he retired, people just assumed that I was a photographer too, so I was forced to become one."
And that's how he landed the role for which he is possibly best known in the District. McIntosh became the "Governor's photographer" accidentally, he said. Then-Governor Pete Wilson was coming to Los Angeles for an event and his regular photographer was unable to be there. Someone knew someone who knew McIntosh, and he was invited to do the shoot. "Apparently I didn't screw up too much, so they began calling me whenever he needed a photographer in L.A.'\," McIntosh said.
Through relationships with people in subsequent administrations, he also took pictures for Gray Davis and is often called to photograph events for Governor Schwarzenegger. McIntosh downplays his significance to the Governor, however. "For me it's the 'serve' in civil servant," he says, "although he did empower me to wear cowboy boots."
Between the Davis and Schwarzenegger administrations, a lot more changed than parties, he added. "Gray Davis was all film photography; very little was digital. My whole life changed in a matter of months." Where he formerly would shoot 10 roles of film and be finished, he now spends hours involved in digital processing.
Although that part of his job really pushed his limits, he welcomes those types of pressures, he says. "One of the things I'm really proud of over my 28 years is being able to stay technically relevant." Some of the new technology implemented under his watch included computers for the Graphics unit, which arrived the very day he was promoted to supervisor. He also was tasked with setting up, promoting and training people in video teleconferencing and feels that he has had a large hand in shaping the direction of internet and intranet usage in the district. All this from someone who used to do his timesheets using a pencil, electric eraser and four sheets of carbon paper!
It is important to embrace new technology as a means of attracting youthful employees to the Department, McIntosh says, adding that managers and leaders need to be able to communicate with them in their language. "It's basically just adapting to change." He sees the internet playing an even greater role in the workplace, along with smart, hand-held devices such as Blackberries, which he sees taking on more and more functions of the computer. "I always want to take things to the next stage and I'm not afraid of pushing buttons (both literally and figuratively)," he says. "I have a whole vision of how I see the District using the internet."
External Affairs Deputy Deborah Robertson, McIntosh's supervisor, praised his abilities and contributions to Caltrans. "Duncan is a skilled manager and a highly valued member of my team and I appreciate that he is not afraid of pushing buttons," she said. "It may not always be the Staples `Easy Button,' but it helps move the Department forward into even greater achievement."
When he was the new kid on the block in Graphics, the unit consisted of a 'working supervisor," two graphic artists, an AV assistant and a composing technician (as pretty much everything was done by hand). The latter position was eventually dropped and McIntosh added a videographer and an internet specialist who is now called a webmaster. His current staff consists of television specialist Steve Devorkin, associate Caltrans administrator Stephanie Jones, audio visual assistants Thomas Ritter and Tim Baker, graphic artists Monica Murillo and Rene Trujillo and webmaster Marc Wong.
"Everyone has their expertise but they are not islands," McIntosh says. The unit works together on many projects. "We are about visual communication. Our goal is to take the complexity of an engineering concept and make it a visual statement that the layperson can understand and relate to."
McIntosh believes he has the best and most enviable job in the world. However, that doesn't mean he has no further aspirations. His leadership capabilities are illustrated by 28 years of success with the Department, his willingness to take on change, and his flexibility. "I'm really dedicated to the Department and the people who work here," he says. "My goal always is to make Caltrans shine."
Oh, and unlike some negligent Academy Award winners, he is quick to credit his family: his wife for running the household, thus enabling him to focus on his career and his son, a star athlete at UC Berkeley, where he intends to major in (what else?) art.