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Our expert in-house capability provides accurate, up-to-date and incisive research to deliver swift, precise outcomes. Targeted individuals are engaged with care and professionalism and the client opportunity presented in a clear and well-prepared format.

Our News

Our expert in-house capability provides accurate, up-to-date and incisive research to deliver swift, precise outcomes. Targeted individuals are engaged with care and professionalism and the client opportunity presented in a clear and well-prepared format.

Finding the right excom leaders in transport

A time-lapse photo showing train lines moving through a city

By Chris Green, aviation and transportation practice, Howgate Sable

Finding the right leader for the business is vital in any sector. It’s imperative that every member of the executive committee is a perfect fit and works together to achieve success, and I’m particularly interested in how to find the right leadership in transport.

After a tumultuous few years, particularly for rail in the UK, the industry is taking a long, hard look at who is steering the ship and asking the question, how do we effect real change?

Rail is peppered with political agenda and it is always the operators who are vilified when things go wrong – take Arriva and Northern as recent examples. Similarly in aviation, failings are widely dissected without much consideration for the bigger picture. 

So what qualities need to be found on the excom to deliver genuine change?

  1. 1. The ability to wholeheartedly embrace values

Corporate values are an incredibly powerful tool. But there’s a caveat — they only work effectively when they’re done well and embraced fully at every level from top to bottom. Values give everyone in the organisation a shared purpose and intrinsic understanding of how to operate. The British military is an excellent example of this — every single member of the organisation understands precisely what their purpose is and how they fit in. Strong, well-articulated values are a silver bullet for a successful business. 

  1. 2. A relentless focus on safety

Across every sector we work in, the best run businesses are those with the most robust safety records. Safety is about rigour, process, control and accountability. A strong safety system underpins and enhances an outstanding operating platform. Safety is also a key litmus test of a business’ leadership and values. 

3. Resilience in the face of adversity

It’s imperative that excom members have the fortitude to deal with issues arising because they invariably play out on a national stage. Transport tends to become a political football during elections (local as well as national and international) with policy declarations manifested to alter service delivery in return for votes. Trade unions and environmental groups supply year-round pressure and boards absolutely must deliver true and meaningful engagement with them. The same is true of stakeholders and regulators — a great transport leader will fully embrace the need to engage with all parties and, more importantly, how to do it effectively. 

4. Customer experience

Customers are becoming increasingly demanding. Coupled with demands for improved comfort, reliability and value for money, environmental and sustainability concerns are only going to grow. Planes, trains, ships, cars — they’ll all need to continue to evolve and so will maintenance times and schedules to support this. But perhaps the biggest change of recent years is the digitalisation of consumers. They expect up-to-date, accurate information at the touch of a button and organisations need to invest in the technological capabilities to deliver this. 

5. Great leadership

 Leadership is the ability to influence others to willingly follow. It can be summed up in two words: “follow me”. Leading by example is the only way to get others to embody the values and ethos of an organisation. Perhaps this goes without saying, but it is always worth reiterating that an effective leader makes all the difference. 

6. Solid operating performance

Of course, a proven track record of delivering solid results is non-negotiable, but this doesn’t necessarily need to be from within the transport sector. Often the transport industry can be resistant to bringing new talent in from outside the sector but there are excellent people in manufacturing, energy and consumer-facing businesses who could add real value in operations or consumer-facing roles.  

At Howgate Sable, we have placed countless C-suite members in aviation and transport and believe that our sector knowledge is unrivalled. Get in touch to find out more. 

The EMI Practice at Howgate Sable really took the time to understand our situation and find exceptional candidates who could fulfil challenging international leadership assignments for a truly global company with a history that spans well over 200 years.

It was a first class experience and positive outcome on many levels.


Barry McDonnell – Director of Manufacturing at De La Rue International

I have worked with the Howgate Sable team on several occasions whilst hiring mission-critical executives. Partnership is the byword for this organisation – they act as an extension of my team and work hard to support me not only in the technical solution, but in the sense of a deep understanding of my specific requirements. Delivery is the key measure of our talent partners and Howgate Sable have always achieved what was asked of them.

Jesper Berg – SVP HR, ABB

Having worked with Howgate Sable as a client and as a candidate I can confidently say their ability to deliver on complex searches is second to none. They not only have a detailed knowledge of the marketplace but also understand the importance of cultural fit. 

Bridget Lea – O2

I was particularly impressed with Howgate Sable’s knowledge and network in the aviation sector, the quality of the candidates provided at shortlist and the availability of Nick and the team to provide us with advice and guidance on candidates when required. Nick was particularly effective in understanding our needs as a Company and being flexible in adapting requirements and plans.

Paul Hutchings – Thomas Cook Group Airlines

I have recently worked with Nick from Howgate Sable to recruit a new Head of Aircraft Operations for Thomson Airways. I was particularly impressed by the wide-reaching search undertaken and the quality of the candidates put forward. The skills match to the brief was excellent and I am delighted with the individual we selected.

Dawn Wilson – Thomson Airways

From their initial call to me the Aviation practice team at Howgate Sable demonstrated a significant difference. Straightforward and to the point, the extent of their network and deep insight into the industry was immediately evident. The added value I have received as a candidate is tangible. An almost instant rapport quickly developed into a focused business relationship which is open, honest, respectful and above all trustworthy.

Carl Gissing