Three CAs driving the transport sector

Boarding bus
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

13 December 2016

Have you ever considered the skills a CA could lend to the logistics of public transport? Eleanor O'Neill speaks to three CAs who may have a hand in your commute.

Sir Brian Souter CA

Sir Brian Souter CA, Chairman, Stagecoach Group and ICAS Deputy President

What attracted you to your current role?

I have always been passionate about public transport. My father was a bus driver and so it was kind of a natural direction for me to go in.

I think people are attracted to businesses and roles that they have an affinity for. Some people can make amazing art, some people can write poetry and I can schedule buses - it's not a very glamorous skill but it's something that I can do.

Combined with my financial background, that made the transport business very appealing.

Which part of your job are you most passionate about?

Public transport is very much a people business. That's the part that excites me. Even working as a bus driver or train conductor - you're meeting people all the time.

It's also one of the few businesses left that's very labour-intensive. It's a bit of a Cinderella industry, overlooked by lots of other people.

How has the CA qualification benefited your career?

It has been tremendously helpful. Historically, people in transport didn't tend to be from a particularly numeric background but, even when I was young, working out the economics of this business interested me.

Back in the day, they didn't even have route costing. They didn't know which routes were making a financial contribution and which were making a loss. That sounds crazy now.

The CA qualification was an enormous benefit when bringing that expertise to the public transport system. Along with my detailed knowledge of the sector, I think it was quite a unique combination of skills.

What has been your greatest achievement?

The creation of Stagecoach, identifying that opportunity and developing the business.

That isn't an achievement I have managed on my own. I had a partner in my sister when we launched the business and I have a great team of people running the day-to-day.

We wouldn't have achieved anything without them.

Who has been your inspiration?

My dad was my inspiration. Though he was a bus driver, he was also an entrepreneur. He sold cars to taxi companies and had a property portfolio.

He used to teach me about how to do business and, even when I was a teenager, we'd buy and sell cars together. He taught me a lot about trade and general business principles that have been really helpful.

He was quite an unusual bus driver, really.

What challenges are facing the transportation sector?

One is the digital age and changing technologies. When looking at the big disruptors, we have to assess if they are a threat or an opportunity and I think that new technology is both.

There are always political challenges in the sector. There are government policy issues and aspects of funding that has a profound effect on our business. We need to keep up with the changes.

The environment is obviously also very important for public transport.

What are your predictions for the future?

I think we will see electric buses becoming the norm within the next 15 years. That will significantly change the dynamic of our business and will have enormous implications for the oil and gas industry as well.

We will continue to see a development of disruptive technologies that will have an impact on railways and buses in coming years and we will have to adapt or become casualties of that.

Simon Loh CA

Simon Loh CA, Managing Director, Arriva

What attracted you to your current role?

The competitive landscape of the transport industry is rapidly changing with evolving customer demands, better technology and increasingly easier access to different modes of transport. There are vast amounts of challenges and opportunities on the doorstep, so I see it as an exciting place to be.

Arriva was an obvious choice for me as it is the largest European transport provider, operating across 14 countries with 60,000 people. It is a business run by people for people, which resonates with how I see great companies.

Which part of your job are you most passionate about?

Working with my team to create a diverse business that meets our customers' needs, improves the lives of our people and delivers the very best in everything we do.

How has the CA qualification benefited your career?

The CA qualification has helped me get to where I am now. It has both opened doors and gifted me with the business skills and knowledge to help make critical business decisions.

What has been your greatest achievement?

I have recently made the transition from a Finance Director to a Managing Director in Arriva.

To lead a large business with 2,000 employees and balance impeccable service delivery with strategy and innovation is a truly rewarding experience.

Who has been your inspiration?

There are well-known leaders like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney who inspire me to push boundaries and be a visionary in my industry.

But my children also constantly remind me of some of life's basics: to be creative, have fun and always seek out new opportunities to learn.

What challenges are facing the transportation sector?

Following government austerity measures, there have been significant reductions to concessionary travel, which has impacted how people use transport and is redefining our business model.

Customer demands are also evolving as other modes of transport open up: we are seeing private and public transport beginning to merge and customer expectations evolve on how they plan, book and pay for travel. Coupled with the speed of improving technology and how it influences customer choice and operating costs, we have an exciting few years ahead of us!

In addition, a major concern is how traffic levels continue to worsen, with the south of the UK being the worst affected. I welcome discussions on how we can find a collective solution as congestion should not be accepted as an inherent result of how modern society operates. We need to be bold and innovative and work together on this issue.

What are your predictions for the future?

I see autonomous transport coming to the UK quicker than one may expect. There is a vast amount of money being ploughed into the technology across the world and we are already operating with some aspects of it in our cars, trains and aeroplanes. Yes, there are a number of obstacles like legislation and infrastructure, but that just makes the challenge more exciting for hungry tech and automotive companies trying to ride this wave.

There will also be some changes in the competitive landscape over the next 10 years. Great service and value for money is now the expected and customer loyalty is diminishing. There is a growing freedom for customers to choose their transport mode and countless available platforms to share their views and feedback to the masses on their experience. We are in the age of the smart and savvy customer.

Mike McKeon CA

Mike McKeon CA, Non-Executive Director, National Express Group

What attracted you to your current role?

When I left my full time role as CFO of Severn Trent in March 2015, I was looking to continue my contribution to and interest in business generally but on a part time and non-executive basis.

My thoughts at the time were to use my CFO and Board level experience to consider joining a company that had an interesting set of business activities, some international perspective and a high quality group of board directors. I found all of this in National Express.

Why is the transport industry so vital?

As an internationally diverse transport group, National Express is providing a vital public service on a daily basis to many millions of people across three principal regions of North America, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

It really is a business that offers customers a service every day and every single journey is important to each customer who gets on one of our buses or trains. It is therefore very much a 'people' business that requires great attention to detail by tens of thousands of employees.

What challenges are facing the transport sector?

Transport is an inherently risky business and one where an accident may literally only be around the next corner. Safety is a very real focus for the Board, the management and all employees of the company.

This dynamic means that you need good people throughout your business and the Board must lead by example.

What is your company's focus for the future?

From the Chairman, through to the Executive Directors and Managers, to the non-executive Directors, there is a wealth of experience in transport and other areas of business in the company. We all come together to bring our focus and attention to the areas of the business that matter.

This is an exciting dynamic to be part of and has met my desire for working alongside some high quality people. Our role is to lead and support our people in their daily efforts. We are therefore, like our customers, on a journey and one that I find fascinating and very rewarding.


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