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. 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.
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.