She keeps commuter railway on right track

SMALL NONPROFIT/GOVERNMENT AGENCIES, Donna J. Boxer, Virginia Railway Express

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With Donna Boxer as its chief financial officer, Virginia Railway Express has been on a fast track to growth. Since the Northern Virginia public commuter railroad welcomed its CFO aboard, it has become the largest transit agency in the commonwealth, and Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner believes Boxer deserves a lot of the credit for that.  She “gets the job done right,” he says.

Boxer says she came to work for VRE six years ago because she was attracted by “its strong sense of mission.”

“We have a clear sense that the service we provide is important, and we focus our efforts on operating an efficient, reliable system,” she says.

Boxer also liked that Zehner valued creativity and flexibility, two attributes she happens to have in abundance. 

She participates in all major decisions that affect VRE, and that includes the organizational nuts and bolts, which do not always concern a CFO. “One of my favorite parts of my job is participating in the institution of business practices that have allowed us to expand our services,” Boxer says. “As a manager, I want people to feel positive about themselves and their contributions to the organization.”

But Boxer’s primary job has been to take the lead in managing the financial side of large purchases in what is a capital-intensive business. “I enjoy coming up with solutions to meet our many complex financial needs,” she says.

In 2008, for example, Boxer handled the simultaneous sale of 13 railcars ($22 million), the purchase of 10 new ones ($24 million), the defeasance (nullification) of $13.7 million in bonds, and the pursuit of a federal loan of $15.7 million.  Zehner says “her persistence and resilience [were] critical to the achievement.” Both those qualities also are essential to another part of Boxer’s job — dealing with the sometimes competing needs and concerns of nine local jurisdictions, the commonwealth and the federal government.

Whatever the undertaking, Boxer delivers results on time and on budget. She has been instrumental, her CEO says, in VRE increasing its capital assets by a whopping 94 percent during her tenure, from $188.8 million to $366.7 million. Its daily ridership has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000, and its passenger revenues have gone from $20 million to $30 million. Boxer proudly cites the fact that the huge increase in ridership has removed the equivalent of a lane of traffic from perpetually congested interstates 66 and 95 — all without any increase in VRE staff size.

In addition to capital concerns, Boxer prepares and reviews contracts and funding grants. She further manages $300 million in insurance, and under her guidance, VRE has saved $500,000 on the cost of that coverage. She is meticulous in documenting transactions, with the result that the Government Finance Officers Association has awarded her its Certificate for Excellence in Financial Reporting for three years running.

When Boxer is not making sure that the financial train runs on time, she volunteers on several boards, including that of an affordable housing development, and she serves as the treasurer for Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community of Greater Washington. She holds a bachelor’s degree of arts degree from Oberlin College, an MBA in finance from Georgia State University and is a certified public accountant. 

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