Brightline is getting a new chief financial officer. It is the latest in a series of executive changes from a company launching the country's only private high-speed rail network.
In a release Thursday, the company announced a series of new appointments. Jeff Swiatek, who previously held several executive positions with insurance giant AIG, will replace Heather Enderby as CFO, who has resigned. The company also said it had appointed Ravneet Bhandari, previously chief executive of a revenue management software startup, as chief commercial officer. Michael Cegelis, formerly senior vice president at American Bridge Company, was named vice president of infrastructure development. A former Amtrak executive, Jeff Schappert, will be vice president of technology.
Enderby had worked with Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, since January 2015. She referred a request for comment to a Brightline spokesperson.
“We are thankful for the contributions and tremendous leadership provided by Heather Enderby and all former Brightline teammates.” – Patrick Goddard, Brightline’s President
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Over the past 12 months, Brightline and parent company Florida East Coast Industries have seen a cascade of executive changes.
One year ago, FECI CEO and President Vincent Signorello, a former real estate executive, left the company. In January of this year, former sports executive Dave Howard was replaced as Brightline president by then-COO Patrick Goddard, a former hospitality executive
Signorello could not be reached for comment. Howard declined to comment.
And in March, Mike Reininger, who had preceded Howard as head of Brightline and then became chairman of FECI, resigned from that position. He has since joined a Saudi investment group, according to his LinkedIn profile.
For its part, FECI issued the following statement: “FECI has a strong leadership team with a combined 55 years of experience at the company. The executive team has overseen the recent launch of Brightline and the successful development of 4 million square feet of transit-oriented development." In addition, the statement noted that Flagler Global Logistics, a subsidiary, is delivering more than a million square feet of industrial development at Countyline Business Park.
The changes come as Brightline opens its Miami to Fort Lauderdale service for customers starting as low as $10 earlier this month. Service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach launched last year.
The company also faces scrutiny from Congress and state legislators about whether it is eligible to sell up to $1.75 billion of tax-free private activity bonds to finance the construction of its planned route running from West Palm Beach to Orlando. Such private-activity bonds are usually reserved for highway projects and rail projects faster than 150 miles per hour. Brightline's top speed is 100 mph. Brightline says it has met all the requirements to receive federal approval to sell the bonds, which typically cost companies less than private financing.
Last week, Brightline won a seven-month extension from the U.S. Department of Transportation, giving it more time to seek investors for the bond issue. Originally the company was given until May to find investors.
That move was lauded by members of Miami's Congressional delegation, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Frederica Wilson., who issued a statement in May that read, “We are concerned that financing programs created by Congress with the express goal of encouraging private investment in projects that serve a public purpose are under attack by certain interests attempting to undermine this project."
But the extension rankled Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, who had called on federal transportation officials to suspend the bond issue citing credibility issues with the company's application.
"The fact that Brightline needed to request an extension underscores that their business model is questionable at best without taxpayer subsidies," Meadows said in a statement. "And the Department of Transportation’s continued disregard that Brightline is in fact not a highway is absolutely unacceptable. We will continue working to hold both Brightline and the Department of Transportation accountable for their serious abuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Florida State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, told the Herald that until Congress intervened in April, the company had not been responsive to concerns raised by Treasure Coast residents about safety issues. Seven people have been killed by Brightline trains since the service began running between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale last year, although Brightline has not been cited in any of the deadly encounters. Three were deemed suicides by investigators.