This a.m., a News&Observer editorial gives an explanation for this puzzling appointment: Art Pope wanted it:
The DOT, long riddled with political patronage problems under Democratic governors, was straightened out by the departing secretary Gene Conti, who had experience in the state department and in the federal Department of Transportation before taking the job. Tata’s lack of experience is quite a contrast, and raises suspicions that his appointment is a political statement by McCrory’s budget guru and adviser Art Pope, the Raleigh businessman who contributed heavily to the GOP majority in the General Assembly. Prior to that, Pope helped win a temporary Republican majority on the school board. That majority hired Tata in 2010 despite his scant qualifications as an educator.We're in for a lot of this sort of thing as long as Pat McCrory plays Assistant Governor to Art Pope.