Fran Inman is proud that her office looks out over an interstate rail line. She says the freight trains speeding past her City of Industry window provide "sound effects" when she's on the phone lobbying public officials. As an expert on transportation for Majestic Realty Co., Inman's strategies to fix L.A.'s infrastructure and keep goods flowing through Majestic warehouses and distribution centers were learned on the job. She met her boss, millionaire developer Edward Roski Jr., when she was a consultant and Roski was her client. More than a decade later, when Roski's Silverton Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was bleeding red ink, he sent Inman to turn it around. Then, in 2002, Inman became president of the firm's charitable foundation. Her current career makeover, as a booster for regional transportation improvements, remains a work in progress. As chair of the Transportation Committee for the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, Inman recently took trips to D.C. and Sacramento talking up the city as an economic gateway.

Question: What's it like working for one of the wealthiest men in Southern California?

Answer: It's an amazing opportunity. Most of the time, Ed Roski gives you a blank piece of paper and tells you to go figure it out. He likes independent thinkers who can operate without a structure. But, by the same token, he doesn't like surprises. When you go to Ed with a project you had better be very well prepared because he has a sixth sense to go to the weakest link in your chain. If you think you can just skip over an area where you haven't done your homework he'll zero in on that one spot every time.

Q: How did you end up on Roski's team?

A: The short version is that I joined a group of ex-Disney executives at a consulting firm called Management Resources. This was the 1980s and we worked on the development side of the leisure and entertainment industries theme parks, aquariums, casinos, etc. After four years, I left to form my own consulting firm, and Ed Roski, who I had known socially, became my client.

Q: What did you do for him?

A: The first assignment he gave me was in 1989. He wanted to develop some industrial land in Las Vegas into a casino, and I was on the entitlement and design teams. The gaming control board wanted an experienced operator to run the property, so for the first three years the Silverton was controlled by Boomtown out of Northern Nevada. When Ed decided he wanted to take the property back, I led the due diligence on the swap agreement and helped him set up his resort division.

Q: Roski later picked you to help turn the Silverton around, even though you had no experience running a casino.

A: I knew the history of the property, and the Silverton was losing a lot of money when my colleague and I came in. We didn't have the fancy restaurants or any of those other profit centers. Back then we were a grind joint, which meant that we had to get people into those chairs and on those machines. Marketing the casino, and figuring out where to cut costs, was our top priority. I'm a very quick study and I always do my homework. We worked really hard over a short period of time to turn things around, and in eight months we were profitable. It's been in the black ever since.

Q: You're still president of GOLD, Gaming Organization for Leadership and Diversity. Was it tough being a female executive in the gaming industry?

A: The great thing about Las Vegas is that everyone there is from somewhere else, and it's an open and accepting community. In fact, in 2000 I was honored as one of the most influential women in Southern Nevada and had become very connected to the Vegas community.

Q: Have you always been so community-minded?

A: I grew up in Fullerton in the '50s and '60s. My father had a trucking business, and some orange groves. It was as much like Ozzie and Harriet as you could possibly get, very small town America. We knew everyone on our block, and their cousins, too. That kind of background can't help but leave a major imprint. Community became the most important thing in my life on so many levels.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I went to Cal State Fullerton for undergraduate and masters degrees in finance. I started working at Knott's Berry Farm when I was 16 years old. By the time I reached graduate school, I had three kids and was still working part-time at the theme park. My husband is a high school teacher, so the extra income was important.

Q: Did you plan for a career in the theme park industry?

A: When I finished school in the mid-70s most of my colleagues were going into aerospace. I stayed at Knott's Berry Farm and kept getting promoted up the ladder into strategic planning. I learned two things from working there: I loved to build things, to see dirt being moved and developed. I also learned that I needed new challenges and wasn't meant to stay in one area. I also learned a lot about customer service. Even to this day, I'm a stickler to make sure my support staff is very gracious to anyone who calls into our office.

Q: So you left Knott's for broader pastures?

A: I was actually recruited into an entirely new field. I went to work for a non-profit child abuse prevention center (in Las Vegas). It was a big risk switching careers, and moving into the non-profit world was a real eye-opener. The organization I was with, in my opinion, wasn't moving forward the way I envisioned, so I didn't stay all that long. But what I took from that experience is that a non-profit needs to use the same business tools as a for-profit company. It doesn't matter how great your passion is if you can't keep the lights on.

Q: Tell us about Majestic's corporate giving program.

A: Our founder, Ed Roski, Sr., formed this company with the concept of giving back to the community. But we really never had a strategy in place. The foundation needed to be run more like a business, so I did some of the same things I did at the Silverton you look at the line item and say where is the value proposition there? You can't just write a check and hope that everything will be OK. You need a business plan to figure out where the funding is coming from and exactly where it's going.

Q: Why does Roski do this?

A: Majestic Realty is a company that builds portfolios. We develop a project in a community and then we stay there, so charitable giving makes good business sense. We call it our third bottom line. We're also an operating foundation and don't have an endowment. So we ask all our broker-developer partners to kick in a certain percentage on each project, as well our construction companies and property managers.

Q: How did you know what areas to push forward in?

A: We wanted to give money on the violence prevention side to the cities where we had a presence. The vast bulk of that is in Los Angeles, so we started having breakfast meetings with leaders of area youth centers, as well as the kids in the centers. These are kids that live blocks from each other and have never been in the same room together. Admittedly, our giving is to a pre-qualified group the kids have to want to join the youth centers in the first place. Every kid that's benefited from our programs has graduated high school.

Q: You have a real passion when you talk about this subject.

A: You never know where you're going to be a tipping point in a young person's life. This program has given me more gratification than anything I've ever done.

Q: Let's talk about your most recent career incarnation, goods and transportation. How does a transit improvement project benefit an industrial real estate developer?

A: We need to efficiently operate our facilities, so we have a vested interest in where the new transportation corridors will appear.

Q: You have no background in supply chains or logistics, and yet now you're the firm's point person in these areas.

A: I, obviously, didn't come from the warehousing industry, but I did have strategic marketing responsibilities for the firm, and needed to learn more about our core competency, which is industrial distribution centers, to better market Majestic Realty. I joined what used to be the Council for Logistic Managers and went to their annual conferences. I listened to what these guys had to say about how hard it was to get their goods out of the Port of L.A./Long Beach and the Alameda Corridor. I listened to our tenants when they talked about the difficulties truckers had in getting in and out of their distribution centers. I basically went to school on this stuff for several years.

Q: Voters just turned down a $600 million library bond in June. What do you think about Gov. Schwarzenegger's $116 billion public works measure on the ballot this November?

A: I'm not running the messaging campaign. But I think everyone is at a crisis point in terms of gridlock and our lack of mobility. I've publicly chided the Auto Club for naming their report "the quiet crisis." This is not a quiet crisis! It's 50 years in the making of using up the excess capacity and putting more goods through without proper planning. Part of the challenge is to get the public to understand we are not going to fix these problems overnight. The good news is that, so far, it's been a bipartisan effort, and the politicians have pledged to keep the issue bipartisan.

Q: Have you gotten any positive signals from Washington?

A: The federal government has not made goods movement a priority. We don't have a national freight policy. The best hope is to explore public-private partnerships, which some states are doing after the passage last August of SAFETEA-LU, a federal transportation bill set to expire in 2009. This new bond allows for four public-private partnerships two in the north and two in the south, so that's a start.

Q: Does it address environmental concerns that have traditionally put the kibosh on infrastructure improvements?

A: There is one billion earmarked for air quality improvement that will be administered by the California Air Resources Board. The focus is blended on maintaining a healthy economic base and local economy, as well as protecting the environment. I'm on the joint task force between the mayor of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and we're looking carefully at what projects in this bond will have an impact in terms of reducing emissions. The mayor has been very clear about growing the city in a green manner.

Q: What areas of L.A.'s infrastructure need help most?

A: One of the first things we need to do is to get the MARPOL Annex VI (an international agreement limiting emissions from shipping vessels) ratified and put in place. We need the EPA to recognize that the ships coming into our deepwater ports are the region's biggest polluters. Right now those ships are under international flags, so we can't do anything. This (agreement) offers the most bang for our buck, and the chamber is stepping forward to make sure we have the advocates on the hill.

Q: What's next on your list?

A: The trucks leaving the ports are the weakest link in our supply chain. The good news is we have the Alameda Corridor; the bad news is that it's only 22 miles long. I'd love to see some dedicated truck lanes, which goes back to the private-public partnership. Really, there's no
silver bullet when it comes to infrastructure.

Q: What passions do you have beyond your non-profit work?

A: I love to travel. I'm particularly fond of the Backroads biking and hiking trips. I've done them in Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and Nova Scotia. One of my happiest days was to stand in a European train station with my family and a Eurail pass and say: "we're supposed to go here, but this pass will let us go anywhere so "

Q: What's your biggest blind spot?

A: I have no clue as to how long something will take, and I don't have a lot of patience. I'm trying to remember that with all the transportation issues. Changes won't come overnight.

Fran Inman
Title: Senior Vice President, Majestic Realty Co.; President, Majestic Realty Foundation
Organization: Majestic Realty Co.
Born: June, 1946; Fullerton, California
Education: B.A. & MBA, finance, Cal State Fullerton
Career Turning Point: When she started her own consulting practice. Clients included Seagram's and Monterey Bay Aquarium
Most Admired People: Sister Jennie
Lechtenberg, Executive Director of Puente Learning Center; Dr. Fran Kaufman, Pediatric Endocrinologist, Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Hobbies: Walking and biking, buying and fixing up houses.
Personal: Lives in Santa Ana with her husband, a high school educator. Her three adult children, Kelly, Chris, and Melinda, all live and work out-of-state.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.