Extraordinary Woman: Katharine Eagan


As CEO of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit system, Katharine Eagan, 42, will be responsible for 15 million trips this year. While that’s exciting, it may be even more fun at home, where she and her husband, Chris, live with their two under-4 sons—Finn and Bash.

Work-wise, Eagan is responsible for more than 50,000 people on buses a day. “That’s more than the entire population of Bradenton, so we are pretty proud of ourselves,” she says. “We do buses, express service, the street car, and a bunch of services for folks who can’t use the bus for different levels of disabilities.”

“One thing I think is interesting is when people tell me that I have it together,” she says. “I lost weight after the kids because my mother has fantastic genes and for that I thank her– but I didn’t eat a real meal for like a year-and-a-half. It was whatever the kids had eaten– and that is not the experience for everybody, but people assume I worked really hard. Or I have a fantastic team I work with and we’re successful TOGETHER, but people say, ‘Oh YOU must have it together.’ Or my husband works a flexible schedule—we never have the full weekend off together because he is off during the week and works the weekends and we have a sitter so that we can do tumbling and swimming—but we share a load and the kids get more time with each parent. So all of these things come together. So when people tell me I have it together or ask how I do it all, I feel like I am just holding it together like everyone else. And when people ask how I do it, it implies that parenting, or life in general, is something to overcome as opposed to something to experience.”

What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
I would say success for me is giving our kids the space to become the people they need to be, raising them to be decent human beings using their own model, not ours. They are very happy and very affectionate and they love their parents and they love on us and kiss on us and they always want to grab us to do things. So, I guess that is success!

What is your biggest fear?
I think if you are going to be honest about it, there is not a parent in the world for whom their biggest fear isn’t something happening to their children. It is a fear that you don’t understand before you have kids. I also don’t like turbulence on airplanes and I would never jump out of a plane. I also don’t like cockroaches.

What advice would you give to other women?
We are all faking it in different ways. It is like impostor syndrome, which is applied to professionals and younger women a lot. Professionally, it might be like you get a degree or a big promotion and you don’t feel you deserve it. When I got my black belt in taekwondo I was over the moon, and when I got my instructor’s uniform, I was excited. But when I was 9 months pregnant and putting a car seat in my car, I felt like I was faking being pregnant. So I think all of us have something that we’re not getting done—like the kids will get a bath every other day, or they have an extra corn dog, or you let them watch a video. My biggest advice is to find somebody else with the same sense of values, with kids around your age, with whom you can talk about how you totally didn’t get it when your kid says a curse word or they’re not potty training fast enough. Because we are really bad about building relationships and acknowledging just how difficult this is.

What is your proudest moment?
A personally proud moment is that I just did something recently for the business journal and someone here at HART who works with me texted me and said they are proud to work on my team. And I thought that was a huge accomplishment for our team, so I was very proud of that conversation. With kids, you’re proud when they stand up on their own or when they speak in Spanish. Sometimes you’re just proud to get out of the house.

What is your biggest achievement?
In 2003 going into 2004, for a couple of weeks I was in the top 10 for the American Taekwondo Association’s World Standings female black belts, age 30-39, second and third degree black belts for weapons. My weapon was double nunchucks. That was pretty cool.

Different times of your life though, your achievements are different things. I got my bachelor’s degree with honors in 2-and-a-half years while I was working 20 hours a week, doing taekwondo and going to church with my grandmother. That was an achievement, but it was like a sustained thing, and you hunker down and don’t realize you get it done. So there are different things you are proud of with different stages. Like I’ve never roasted a turkey and I am sure I would be proud of that.

What makes you happy?
I am a huge fan of expectation management. If you want to be happy, you will be happy.
There is a difference between happy and content, and content is actually more elusive. So find the happy: your dog snuggles, your kid goes to the next milestone, your husband remembers your birthday– that is happy. Last night my husband was in the driveway with a telescope and I was painting a piece of furniture after the kids went to bed, and he was showing me stars. He showed me Jupiter and the Moon and Arcturus, and that made me happy.

How do you relax and take time for yourself?
What is this relax word? I am lucky we have early bedtime and naptime; naptime is for getting caught up and the time for me is after 8 p.m. I try not to look at my phone after 9 p.m. I try to read and do things that are not work related. Everyone needs to unplug and I understand that much more as a parent.

What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in the Bay area?
My boys love the aquarium and they love jumping through the sprinkler.

What is your biggest inspiration?
I have a couple of really fantastic influences on me and one I would like to call out is a woman I worked with in Baltimore named Ortense Lewis. Ortie is a Baltimore native and from a really different background from me, but we ended up very good friends and she took good care of me (and I hope I took good care of her). Her counsel and guidance, and her love and support has been a big deal for me and I feel fortunate that she’s been my friend. I have had really wonderful friends who have made me be a better person.

Of course my dad always told me I could do it and my mom always told me, “I don’t need to tell you that, I already knew you would.”