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November 01 2017
By Mel Holley

A former routeone editor, Mel has more than 30 years’ experience in road and rail transport journalism.

All coming together for the industry

How do you make the best of your career as a young manager? Simple: Find out from those with experience. That’s what happened in Oxford.

“Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Do the jobs no-one else wants to do.” These were two nuggets of advice to the industry’s managers from Arriva UK Bus MD Kevin O’Connor at this autumn’s Young Bus Managers Network (YBMN) conference.

In a no-holds barred after-dinner speech to the 92 delegates he set out his career, which included his time initially as a manager, then later director, at the Securicor cash-handling business (now rebranded G4S).

Mr O’Connor is the latest in a long line of inspirational senior industry leaders who’ve addressed the biannual YBMN conferences.

Protocol means much of what he said cannot be reported, but he explained how the experience of working in a “challenging environment” gave him the ability to progress in management.

He also warned: “Don’t be complacent when you’re in an industry for a long time.” He pointed to the rapidly reducing use of cash, which has led to a race to the bottom for cash-handling and parcel businesses.


Speaking about his passion for the best service and innovation, Stagecoach Regional Director England and Wales Mike Watson, 44, outlined his career progression.

On the debate about the industry’s structure he is clear: “We need to demonstrate that we can develop the market better under the commercial model, than under a franchising regime.” He argues that turning buses “back into a vanilla product” is not going to generate growth.

“Our role is to do the ‘right thing’. To be responsible and work in partnership and provide exceptional service delivery.”

Delegates visited Go-Ahead’s Oxford depot and learned about the city’s political and transport dynamics

He believes that Clean Air Zones are an opportunity for the bus industry, not just for cleaning up emissions, but also tackling the root cause of congestion.

“In the future the industry will succeed if it behaves like entrepreneur – that’s what de-regulation was about.”

He closed by setting out some personal goals for managers. He added: “Cherish your time at the sharp end; meet as many people as you can and experience as many different environments as you can.”

While in Oxford

The conference was staged in Oxford, and Go-Ahead-owned Oxford Bus Company MD Phil Southall kindly hosted a visit to the modern depot, opened in 2006. Not only did delegates get the opportunity to visit the site, but they also gained a valuable insight to possibly the toughest political operating environment in the country.

With Stagecoach as a competitor in the city, it’s also proved a fertile ground for new ideas – from the country’s first park-and-ride scheme in 1974. Today, up to 65% of people in the city centre have arrived by bus.

Go-Ahead has pioneered many developments, from the first provincial smartcard scheme in 2007, to free wi-fi. “We were the first to roll-out free wi-fi on coaches, in 2007, and the first to have free wi-fi on all our bus fleet.” Today it costs £180,000 a year to provide free wi-fi, but is considered worthwhile.

He added: “I would encourage you to fight for the bus – no-one else is going to.”

A different course

With a non-graduate background, Reading Buses CEO Martijn Gilbert, 34, had a different career path that saw him running Arriva-owned Yorkshire Tiger, until he was headhunted for the Reading post three years ago.

“It’s not about the size of the business you’re in, but its strength and depth,” he says.

Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Do the jobs no-one else wants to do

Like other speakers he emphasised the need to have an understanding and knowledge of all areas. He started his career as a scheduler at London Transport, a role he disliked, but concurred with Mr O’Connor that you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.

He sent out a clear set of lessons for young managers. “You need to take the initiative, understand everything, really care with a passion, and get out there.”

Success comes down to four things, he concluded: “Your people; running the business commercially; attention to detail; and being out and about – both operationally and with stakeholders.”

The future

The day ended with a discussion about how to make the industry more gender equal. Graduate trainee Jade Watson, from First, outlined her plans to form ‘Women in Bus’, building on the successful ‘Women in Rail’ organisation that promotes the sector as an attractive career path.

routeone Comment

Young managers have never had it so good. Thanks to the Chris Moyes Scholarship Trust and support of bus operators, the conferences provide networking opportunities unseen in other industries, and all at a very modest cost. To be able to get first-hand advice from the industry’s leading figures on your career, while seeing best practice in operation, is incredibly rewarding.

The day concluded with Passenger Transport Intelligence Services MD Chris Cheek explaining the latest Department for Transport travel statistics, and the factors behind them, meaning that young managers went away much better informed.

So much ground was covered in a relatively short, and cost-effective use of time, that it gave the delegates a useful and worthwhile insight. Meanwhile, a number of returning delegates are rapidly advancing through their careers, having taken the advice on board.

What is the YBMN?

Open to all, the Young Bus Managers Network was founded in 2008 and helps the industry encourage the next generation of leaders. Supported by the Chris Moyes Scholarship Trust, its patrons are Roger French, former MD of Brighton and Hove, and James Freeman, MD of First Bristol and West of England.

It holds two conferences every year. Details at

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