In this inaugural episode, Peter Durkin speaks to David Begg: author, academic, entrepreneur, CEO of Transport Times, and all-round transport whizz. They discuss reduced patronage on public transport, and why the industry needs a marketing exercise to recover from Covid-19. Now we've had a 'live demonstration' of what life is like with clean air, can we continue the positive environmental momentum towards a greener future? Is the case for cars stronger now, or weaker? Will we learn from our mistakes when it comes to autonomous vehicles?
In episode 2, Peter Durkin meets Martin Harris, MD of two of the country's leading bus businesses. They discuss approaching the transport industry from an outsider's perspective, and why cross-pollination between sectors is essential for maintaining fresh thinking and innovation. A vocal advocate for sustainability, Martin explains why his philosophy is a personal one; and predicts that, post-Covid-19, we will either create systemic environmental change, or revert back 30 years. The pandemic has forced smarter collaboration and stronger culture: how can we continue to co-create solutions with local government and unions? When it comes to customer service, will technology bolster human efforts, replace them – or destroy them? And has the public perception of Frontline Workers changed forever?
For Episode 3, Peter Durkin is joined by Ex-DHL CEO, Paul Dyer. Having spent an impressive 30 years at DHL, Paul is back home in Wales, the newly-appointed MD of Cardiff Buses. As Peter remarks: “there aren’t many MDs who’ve had to deal with a global pandemic in their first 90 days.”
A key theme this week is the supply of future frontline talent. Paul explains why the transport industry needs a rebrand to appeal to the next generation. How can we encourage young people to see the sector for what it is: vast, dynamic and full of opportunities? Reframe transport as a career path, rather than a stopgap? Show students that a job in transport goes far beyond the stereotype of being a driver?
One aspect of this is public perception. In today’s media landscape, it can feel like we only hear the dangers of frontline work. They discuss why it’s crucial to highlight the benefits of frontline work, and the the potential of social media for achieving this.
Another is company culture, which, as Paul says: “is harder to change than revenue.” But it all starts with strong leadership; and just as DHL evolved into something forward-thinking and aspirational, so can public transport. When it comes to technology disrupting the status quo, the opportunity for disruption lies in engineering and electrification. Replacing diesel engines with batteries, not replacing drivers with robots. That’s why the transport industry will remain culturally-defined, rather than software-defined.
For all this and much more, check out Frontline of the Future, the no.1 frontline industry podcast.
This week, Peter hunkers down with Rob Slaski. Having spent an impressive 30 years at Asda, Rob is now COO of mighty retail solutions operator, Dee Set. Rob’s long and varied career in retail has seen him graduate from stacking shelves on the Asda shop floor to directing the retail giant’s store design. When Peter laudes him for his enduring loyalty, Rob replies that loyalty is ‘created’: a symbiosis that comes from being fed constant responsibility and opportunity.
For him, Covid-19 has been ‘challenging, proud, surreal’. Despite the difficulty - after all, the retail sector has had to deal with food (and toilet paper) shortages – it has shown him what his staff are truly capable of. He’s learnt to ‘unleash the talent you have - faster.’ Part of this has involved cancelling 90% of meetings: “we’ve found a faster way to work, and we love it.” The situation has arguably forced all UK retailers into digital maturity: how does Rob see this panning out?
In his opinion, frontline jobs and merchendising will always be relevant: "we will always need someone on the shop floor.” He sees the frontline of the future being one that relies on agility and fluidity more than anything; jobs being safe, but repurposed and less rigid. That way, we can leverage a more holistic approach to working that takes into account people’s skillsets beyond their job spec, and allows them to go further and take risks, just as he has done in his career.
“The skills are already out there; it’s tapping into them and networking them into something really special.”
Jaspal Singh famously said: “Anyone can drive a bus, but not everyone can be a bus driver.” The Ex-CEO of ComfortDelGro is highly attune to the mindset that gets the country moving; after all ComfortDelGro’s London subsidiary, Metroline, carries 1million people a day. Jaspal is back in his homeland of Singapore, where he previously spent 27 years as a government advisor. Jaspal is full of quirky wisdom and shares his philosophy on the world of work.
On the subject of companies currently being forced into digital maturity due to the crisis, he says “2021 will actually be more like 2030.” His vision for the Frontline of the Future is one where we get back to basics: honour, respect, and belonging. This sense of belonging, or, Maslows Third Hiararchy of Needs, is a key theme throughout the episode: “it’s why we join clubs, why we have families.”
So how will we let employees know they belong when they no longer come into an office? In Jaspal’s opinion, it’s all about communication: speaking to each employee as if you were doing so one-on-one, reassuring them, letting them know their value. He assures Peter Durkin that ‘a culture of caring’ is the only way forward. For this and much more, check out Frontline of the Future, the best Frontline Worker Podcast.
After a week off, Frontline of the Future is BACK with a double-whammy of an episode! This week, Peter speaks to the illustrious Alex Warner. Alex loves MacDonalds, non-league football and having dinner with Martin Dean. He's also one of the most successful businessmen in transport today, having enjoyed a phenomenal career that's seen him take the helm at some of the biggest names in the industry.
From National Rail to British Airways to First Group, now the CEO of Flash Forward Consulting, Alex knows a thing or two about customer service. Himself and Peter discuss what's going right – and wrong – when it comes to customer service in the transport industry today. He believes that, to develop 'omni-present customer-centricity', the first area to tackle is inclusion and diversity. "How can we resonate and engage with customers if we can't relate to them?" This is the number one area that could "turn the dial" if addressed once and for all.
“A Titan of the Transport Industry” Is how @peter durkin describes this week’s guest, David Brown. He’s not wrong. Group CEO of Go-Ahead Group, David is one of the most influential men in transport today. As ex-MD of Surface Transport at TFL, he's used to toeing the line between transport and politics.
Today, he's dealing with an unfamiliar political nemesis: Covid-19. He tells Peter Durkin how the team at Go Ahead stepped up 'without a single exception' to rebuild the business. Why we need a ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme to combat messaging demonizing public transport. ... And how the future of transport relies on talented grads, fast-tracked into Senior Leadership.
"You'll always do better as part of a whole."
Paul Sainthouse FCILT believes in the power of collectives. It makes sense. He's the president of CILT (UK), MD at Dawsongroup bus and coach and APPG secretary at Community Transport Association. His enthusiasm for all 3 is infectious. He's able to put an optimistic spin on every question Peter Durkin throws his way, like: He's confident Dawsongroup plc will "emerge a better business: fitter, leaner, more capable."
The pandemic gave staff an opportunity to shine: innovation, bravery, "excelling far beyond what I could have expected."
And CILT (UK) membership? It's "never been a better time to build your future in the transport industry."
For the ~season finale~... 🥁 We host Phil Greenwood: CEO of WCS Group! Law graduate, Sales Guru and all-round lovely guy. Phil has a true growth mindset. Himself and Peter Durkin talk acquisitions, scaling culture – and empowering frontline employees to be sales leaders 📈 Phil, it was a total pleasure to have you! And huge kudos to the team at WCS Group for keeping 'business as usual' throughout the pandemic 👏👏👏
Don't underestimate the power of an agile frontline. We've seen it in action. It creates loyalty. Better relationships. Increased retention. Better customer service – much better. After all, they are the closest connection you have with your customers. Your frontline is your greatest underused asset. And the companies who equip theirs best now, will be those who win later.
Frontline of the future is the podcast inspired by our frontline workforces, the contributions they make to society, and what the future of work has in store for the 80% of the working population who don't sit behind a desk. Throughout the series, Peter Durkin speaks to a number of frontline leaders, understands their journeys, and explores what we can expect from the Frontline of the Future.
Peter: My guest today is a legend. He's one of those people whose intros could genuinely take longer than the show itself. Suffice to say, he's having a long and distinguished career which has seen him either be a board member or non-exec for First Group, Heathrow Airport, Tube Lines, Commission for Integrated Transport, Transport for Greater Manchester, TEFL. I could go on. Which is why most would keep it simple and simply welcome you as the CEO of Transport Times, David Begg.
David: We're living through uncertain times and anyone who thinks they can predict the future and what's going to happen to the economy and working patterns? Well, the impact is going to be on public transport. Anyone who can predict that with certainty – they're going to make a lot of money.
David: There's no doubt that it's worrying. It's the first time in our lifetime that government has encouraged people not to use public transport. That's a first. I understand why, I get it. I'm not being critical. What we know is, are there any long term ramifications from that? Once we come out the other side from Covid-19. Is there going to be any permanent change in people's moral choice? And is it going to lead to more people using car and less people using public transport?
David: I don't think so. I mean, I think we might see more walking and cycling. But the arguments for public transport haven't changed. You know, the car is such an inefficient use of roads. I'm still far too polluting. The economic and environmental arguments for public transport will remain. They'll get stronger. But I think we need a marketing exercise to try and get people comfortable using public transport. And that's the key. I mean, remember when we had the London bombings in 2005?
David: And one of the best things that Transport For London did was to get the tube running the following day. Think about that. We'd lost 35 people from the bombing. Blackout all over the television. You can understand how people would have lost confidence in using public transport, but TFL got a system running the next again day. It's like a falling off your bike – albeit nothing like as serious as bombings. But you need to get back on it right away to get comfortable.
David: I see this has been a really big marketing job, because even once the virus is gone – fingers crossed – you know, people still be a little bit nervous. I guess, if I'm worried about anything, the one thing I could be looking at more than anything is car ownership. I haven't seen any figures on this yet. But if people decided to buy a car, and they don't already have one. They may have gone from one-car to two-car households.
David: They're nervous about using public transport. That's a worry. Because for every new car on Britain's roads, there's 365 fewer bus journeys a year. So there's this direct correlation between car ownership and busses. When one rises, the other tends to fall. So that's the one thing I look at. But again, I'm being optimistic right here. I think public transport will eventually come out of this stronger.
Peter: And I would agree. I think that, you know, in every challenge comes the basis of an opportunity. One of the questions which is fast becoming a mainstay on this program is about silver linings. I'm curious to think about what kind of silver linings you think it could be, because you're absolutely right there. Have we seen examples of positives, short-term events? If you look at the International Energy Agency forecasts, they're saying that carbon emissions will be down by 8% this year.
Peter: And that's in no small part, obviously, due that the lifting of smog over major cities and so on as car ownership over the period of time is in decline. And that is a very real, albeit short term, positive impact from the virus. Do you think that that has legs or do you think the legs of it depends on how we can mobilize that marketing machine?
David: I wish more people were concerned about climate change and CO2. But there's still a large amount of concern when it comes to air quality. One of the silver linings is that, for the first time, people have experienced good quality air. It’s almost like we've had a live demonstration of what life could be like: less cars on the road, fewer planes in the sky.
Peter: No, I completely agree. I mean, it is I think it's one of the things that struck me personally is how uneven people's experiences as workers have been during the lockdown period, particularly that discrepancy between frontline and traditional desk-based, if you like. You have the frontline folks arguably keeping the country moving. And then the desk-based folks sitting at home and complaining about a four-walled prison that surrounds them? That's a very different perspective on a very challenging time.
Peter: I mean, what you said earlier David, in terms of predicting the future, they would be very wealthy individuals if they could. But that is very much the point of our show: we can navel gaze and speculate. And I'd like to think about what the Frontline of the Future really means in your eyes. I mean, I think we agree that frontline work, particularly transportation, will be as relevant, and as prevalent, and ultimately transport workers have reasons to be optimistic.
Peter: I was listening to Graham Curry's podcast from Monash University in Melbourne the other day, and he's been looking at the evidence after other major incidents at, shall we say, previous pandemics like SARS, which is reckoned to be both more contagious and deadly than coronavirus; or security or terror threats like the bombings in 2005, as you were saying earlier. Or economic crises – there's an enormous amount of change and disruption during those events. All of the evidence suggests that, after some time, our behavior normalizes and patterns of patronage returns.
Peter: How optimistic are you about the extent to which we will recover and those jobs in frontline transport will be safe?
David: I'm really optimistic. I think we will. But the short to medium-term challenge is demand. And I'm going to give you a better example. If you look at the Twin Towers coming down in New York in 2010. How nervous would people have been about flying? Here's the thing, right? We haven't got rid of that terrorist threat: we've mitigating that, but we accept that risk. We fly.
David: Aviation has got a fantastic track record keeping people safe. But you would be a fool to say to that terrorist threat has gone away. Hopefully the threat of Covid-19 is not quite as severe as the threat of a terrorist attack on aviation. We adjust, but I'm hoping that we don't lose sight of some of the upsides. We've witnessed this preciously as a result of this threat, at the same time having vibrant cities, cities that are full of life, with people moving around.
Peter: I agree. It's very important to take the silver linings forwards. And it's good to hear your confidence on jobs in transportation. I think the analogy about terrorists fits, whether it's in London and New York, because it's well-made. Our very nature. We are human beings and we're born to adapt. Now, interestingly, the number of autonomous car trips in the last year been still just a few thousand autonomous trains. On the other hand, you know, hundreds of millions of trains in Asia are autonomous.
David: The autonomous buses come to the fore. I think there are 5 different tests in European cities later this year. So something which has historically been seen as a threat to the industry, is its greatest opportunity. Public transport is embracing, dominating the use of autonomous vehicles. And I think where does that leave frontline transport jobs? Do we start to see a shift where from on transport workers are more focused on customer service orientated roles where they're communicating reassuring passengers and being ambassadors of public transport and not necessarily driving?
David: Look, I think we can do this two ways. We can get this wrong. We can say we're not going to change people's jobs despite the fact that we've got new technologies. So it means that you could have on the autonomous board who's a customer service job. And then in the case of an emergency where you've got someone you can mingle with the customers, make sure they're OK. There's all sorts of examples of how new technology is changing peoples job.
David: One of the toughest jobs in Britain is to be a bus driver, especially in a busy city. When my friends visit, they hate the prospect of driving in London and asked me what it's like. You can imagine a bus driver, a driver in London, the same time having to take people's fears. I want to make sure that the customers are OK. It's a demanding job.
David: The value we get from bus drivers is better than anything. You know, we should be clapping for bus drivers. What the industry had to do was to move into to this excellent customer service phase. We know good customer service when we see it. If you're going to a restaurant, and you've got a really good waiter or waitress, you know about it.
David: Good customer service is a lot better than any other approach. You can walk onto a bus and if you've got really lively, happy bus driver, it changes the experience. I'm the first to accept that because the job is to challenge is difficult to find that person.
My guest today heads up not one, but two of the country's leading bus businesses. He is chair of The Living Coast in Brighton & Lewes. He sits on the board of transport for the southeast. He's a trustee of the East Sussex Credit Union Foundation, a board member at the Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership and one of the founding members of Women in Transport’s multi-operated bus group. He is of course, Martin Harris, MD at Brighton & Hove and Metrobus, and a very warm welcome to you, Martin.
Good morning, Peter. Good to speak to you.
Likewise. How are you sir?
Excellent. Yeah, things from my point of view are very good. Yes. Tough situation out there for everybody, but yeah, we're doing okay, thanks.
I'm still working from my front room here today and apparently still in dire need of a haircut but delighted that thanks to the modern wonders of technology that we've got the opportunity to speak today. Where are you today, Martin?
Well, I'm actually in my home office today. I've been going into work two/three days in each week and then selectively choosing days to work from home just to kind of maximize efficiency and make sure that time is used to best effect. I've come into the industry and actually nurturing the idea that I'm an outsider. in some ways I try to keep an outsider perspective, even 40 years on, which sounds crazy, but it’s just to make sure we're looking at what's going on outside and bringing in fresh thinking.
Yeah, and it's interesting hearing you talked there about bringing, I guess, fresh thinking and new perspectives to the industry and kind of not trying to be a traditional bus or transport anorak.
It's interesting as well, in that, you know, I think I feel that that trend is continuing listening to David Brown speak at the UK Bus Summit last year, very much talking about, bring friends to this conference next year, bring people into our transport ecosystem that traditionally don't have anything to do with it because there's so much cross-pollination between industries right now. It's important for the growth of the industry to have that.
Absolutely. That was true before Coronavirus and it's definitely true now. So much is going to be about collaboration and I had a horrible word, combining competition and collaboration. I'm not sure I can even pronounce it properly, so I won't try.
But it captures that sense of actually, even with your competitors, you know, you need to be looking at where you've got common ground, joining forces. I don't mean in an anti-competitive way, but in a way that is going to produce better results for the consumer and for communities. I think coming out with Coronavirus, the crisis that lots of people are thinking that way and more and more will follow that route, essential for survival for many of us to be very collaborative.
One of the things, and I guess the spirit of collaboration I was keen to ask you about was the environment. I often hear you speak about the environment. You folks have won a truckload of awards over the years for sustainability and you're investing serious money in electric buses. In your position, you might expect that but I kind of feel like it goes a little bit beyond that for you, right?
In the sense that you've always wanted to be the one innovating sustainably, I saw you launch a competition recently the youngsters invited them to send things in they feel have a positive impact about the environment, which will then be putting on display inside your new electric buses and you’re chair of The Living Coast for goodness sake, who UNESCO recognizes a world biosphere region. It feels to me like a personal philosophy as much as a business one.
It actually starts from a passion for people, a passion for social justice and actually, the environment is a big part of that, because, you know, look at how it disproportionately affects different people in terms of the impacts of climate change and inequality. That started from a simple humanistic approach really, to most things in life, but of course, actually look like many people dearly love this planet we are on, looking after, you know, while it's in our stewardship, I just think we've got to do everything we can to nurture it and look after it. We've done a lot of damage to it over the years and those challenges are getting tougher.
For me, it's almost kind of a no-brainer to be trying to mitigate the worst effects of that but the upside is the powerful effect it has on people socially, economically when the environment around us works well whether that's in a very localized ecosystem, or whether it's in a much wider, more of a global kind of perspective, but it's been very hard to actually clearly paint the picture of what that would look like, and actually now people are seen trying to find a way to preserve the best of that.
I think it's making the case much more powerfully to what could be like in our city centers and also in public transport, we see ourselves as a key part of that. Those buses are reducing car congestion, taking cars off the road, which otherwise will be clogging the streets again. There's a danger that there's a big shift back to the car, which is very detrimental to our cities and although arguably short term, some short term things have a habit of hanging around longer than we would like or expect them to.
We've got to be really careful that we don't push off down a route that actually takes us back 30 years in terms of cleaning up our city centers. We've got to recognize that people have got to move about. They can’t all use walking and cycling, but the city centers can be kept clean and with good access to public transport, great facilities for cycling, good management of all walking routes and pavements, and maybe just kind of turn the tap off on the unbalanced approach to providing for cars.
Agreed. It certainly is an opportunity when you have such systemic change like that, in the aftermath, there is always going to be opportunity. There's a big responsibility on both transport providers, but policymakers to try and harness that opportunity, as you say, and not kind of divert down the other path, which sets us back a few decades.
Just to sort of narrow in then, Martin, I guess, on how the operation has been since locked down. You know, obviously, unlike me, who's been working from home for what seems like ever now, your teams have been out keeping the country moving each day, which honestly actually is one of the things that struck me how uneven people's experiences as workers have been these past few months.
How would you describe the lockdown period?
I think it's been one of huge challenge, but actually, in many ways, it's been hugely rewarding as well and that collaboration works, a big part of it and not just outside the business or other organizations, authorities have been working brilliantly with our local authorities and with government to protect and preserve the services and to keep facilities going for key work. Throughout that, there's been this great collaboration and internally, it's been absolutely fabulous, the people who've been at work, they’ve been flexible, responsive, working together as a team, when problems have come up, people have worked together to solve them.
We used to like to think we were pretty decent in terms of our internal culture, not perfect by any means, and like everywhere problems to address but pretty good kind of sense of working together and collaboration, but it's moved on in leaps and bounds during the crisis.
That's been one of the most satisfying — we coined the phrase silver linings and you know, we've got a whole list of silver linings that were taken from what we've learned during this, the stuff that we're saying now that we really got to keep doing this, we’ve got to keep things this way because it is so good for everybody and so good for the business and many of those on the list, they’re about the way we communicate and the way we collaborate has just been fabulous from that point of view and so rewarding.
I've got to say, I'm speaking from a very fortunate position because health impacts on our colleagues have been pretty minimal. You might expect to be a lot of cases amongst 100 drivers, we've had just four and happily, all of them have gone through that. That has meant it's been a much more positive situation than it might be. We're thankful for that.
Also an indication of how well people have approached it and professional, they've followed the advice they've kept to the right behaviors, we put in place the right cleaning and PPE provisions and achieved a pretty good result which, you know, our number one priority on this, we all said at the outset was protect our staff; number two is protect our communities and our customers; and number three was protect our business.
So protecting the staff bit is in good shape. We're now seeing the protecting the community and the customers more and more evidence if you like. More people returning to the buses 25% almost on a normal levels, which is obviously not enough to run a bus service now, but it's an indication that things that are just starting to come back, quarter of the levels. Bearing in mind, our levels are the highest usage of buses per head of population in the whole country or they were before. We're shifting 20,000 to 25,000 people a day. We still got a big part to play in moving people out even now, obviously, as that grows, that will become increasingly cool.
It’s really interesting to hear you say that. I can see how the culture and the team have responded so well to you almost triaging your responsibility and commitment to staff community, business in that way. I think, you know, you have seen examples of certain, shall we say, essential workforces who have been slightly let down by the system or their employer, but it's good to see that in your case, it's an essential workforce getting those essential protections.
I'm interested in the concept of silver linings that you mentioned there, Martin. I mean, I was listening to an interview last week with India Birdsong, who heads up the transit agency in Cleveland with a guy called Paul Comfort, renowned author and podcast presenter in the US.
She was saying that this has brought them, as a transit agency, far closer to the AMT, which is their union out there, because of the need to co-create solutions. Listening to you talk about the collaboration with both local government and at the same time the council, I'm curious to know whether the union’s been a part of that as well, and how potentially you've experienced a change in the nature of the relationship in the last three months since the lockdown began.
100% they've been part of it and deserve much of the credit for what's been happening. There has been a collaborative approach. We already have in place what I understand to be a unique partnership with Unite, the union and we're consulting more and more than we've ever done and working closer and closer with the union than we've ever done.
The results today, you know, we're seeing really good results because, you know, they want the same things as us. They want people's jobs to be safe, their families to be safe. They want to get the right outcomes from this and they’re productive, positive professional. We couldn't have asked for more really. There will be difficulties ahead and there actually going to be difficulties as we look into the future and the economy's maybe are going to have some struggles and we will be part of that struggle, I'm sure. But I think we've got a good platform to build on.
It's great to hear. Obviously, it's all about co-creating solutions. When you start to look at this concept of the frontline of the future, I think a lot of those solutions to challenge or transference from COVID-19, and so on, they are digital or technology based platforms, if you like. There's temperature tracking apps, remote sign on solutions, paperless depot's and so on, which really does kind of threaten the current way of working in a lot of frontline industries.
Obviously, traditionally, one of the roles of the unions has been to protect the workforce, but arguably the meaning of that is changing. You may start to see the unions having to skill up on certain tech platforms to really have the same relevance in protecting their members as before.
I'm curious in the years that follow to see what union organizations take from this current situation, and how they may have to adapt really to stay relevant if those silver linings and that spirit of collaboration can continue throughout and beyond where we are today.
I certainly endorse everything you said there. I think the key thing, not just for us, but for all businesses is to make sure we're exploring all the possible uses of digital technology in our service to our customers and in the way we work within the business and support our colleagues across the business.
But at the same time, make sure it is a case of using tech for the humans and not the other way around. Plenty of people have written on this subject and can talk far more eruditely about it than I can. But I wholeheartedly subscribe to the notion of making sure we keep the humanity in the technology, remembering the stuff that the technology can't do; well, quality, value adding stuff that you know, even the greatest AI solutions can't necessarily replicate.
We've got to recognize that humans have a huge part to play in the way we deliver our services. Especially where we are at the moment, providing a frontline service to customers in a mass market. We’re currently, and maybe people say, “Well, there's electric buses that can be operated by robots out there now,” but it's a long way off. They may have around 150 meter track in its own segregated space, but that's a far cry from having 180 movements in each direction through the center of Brighton.
The technology is emerging and I think that its real strengths are going to be in the communications area in making our systems a little slicker and that won't threaten many job, but what it will do is add value for the people within the business and particularly for our customers.
We've got to keep exploiting that. We've got to keep innovating. We've got to keep thinking in an agile way to make sure we keep one of the lessons that we've learned from crisis, which is our ability to actually respond quickly, find new solutions together that work for us all to move forward.
I'm hugely optimistic about the future and I have complete conviction that public transport is going to continue to have a massive role to play despite a few people's perceptions of, “Oh, well, you know, this is a bit difficult right now. So maybe we should write them out of plans for the future.” I think that's what, a, nonsense and, and b, incredibly dangerous for the future of our cities. We've got a great future. If we make sure we stay agile, we make sure we take on both the new technology opportunities that are out there and keep it human, we have a lot to look forward to.
Final sort of question on this topic for me is, what else do you see being a key constituent in the frontline of the future?
I don't think it's going to be irremovable, but I think it'll be in a much stronger position and then that is the way key workers are valued in their entirety. I mean, we'll see some difficult decisions being taken as the economy adjusts and there's some structural change, but I think throughout that, the expectation on organizations to think about the way they look after their people, treat their people in when they're going to make those difficult decisions, you can do that.
Actually, you can maintain people's dignity and maintain their opportunities for the future. I think key workers and the whole notion of that has changed the perception, not just groups of people who saw that as an issue, the people who are delivering the stuff to their door, the people who were making sure they actually had food on the shelves, and you know, the bus workers and of course, fantastic, magnificent effort of care is in the health service.
I guess it's changed some people's views. Now, I hope that sticks. I hope it lasts because I think it will say a lot about us as a society if we don't slip into forgetting just how important that's been to us when it's been actually literally a life and death situation.
Think about your values. Martin Harris from Brighton & Hove, and Metrobus, it's been a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you.
Peter: My guest today spent a super impressive 30 years at DHL, having been president of their global automotive business. He was latterly CEO of UK Supply Chain, and is now back where it all started for him; in Wales. He is the Managing Director at Cardiff Bus. Paul Dyer, it's a pleasure to have you on Frontline of the Future. Paul: Thank you. Nice to be here, Peter. Peter: How are you, sir? Paul: Yeah, very good. It's been an interesting few months coming out to recovery phase, so yeah, feeling good. Peter: Yeah, it's a funny one actually. I think that the last time I saw you, which seems like many, many moons ago now, there were simpler times. And there can't be many MDS out there who’ve had to deal with a global health pandemic in their first 90 days. Paul: I didn't quite expect the challenges of COVID-19 coming around so fast, but you got to deal with them. If you're a leader, you've got to deal with whatever comes your way. Peter: You know, you're saying you're up for the challenge and I feel like by rights, humans are up for the challenge, but loyalty is a different thing, particularly in today's day and age. I think it's quite hard to come by three decades of tenure, especially at the same company, and especially with today's millennial mindset of continuously context switching when it comes to jobs and so on. What advice would you give to someone starting out in their career today, then Paul? Paul: Ideally, you've got to choose organizations where you're going to get as much opportunity to develop and looking at companies that have got breadth, scale. Ideally, also international as well. What I'd say for youngsters as well is you want to get as much experience and touch as many things as you can. Peter: I think you're bang on there actually. Someone gave me some relatively similar advice when I was starting out. I did five years at Cisco, a big global company that was sort of awash with different opportunities. In the end, I think those are the things which gives you exposure to different parts of working life and then try and allow you to figure it out what it is that you enjoy, and then the value that you can add. If we move on then and just think about Cardiff Bus now, the first half of 2020. How would you characterize the impact that COVID-19 has had on the business? Paul: Firstly, it’s had a disastrous impact on income. We've seen passenger numbers decline, well, virtually to about 90%, 90% reduction. Like many businesses that rely on large numbers of people traveling through patronage, to be honest, without having the CJRS furlough scheme, like many businesses, we would have basically stopped trading. So certainly cash flow, and just surviving week to week has been a huge challenge. What I found is basically, communication has been absolutely critical during this period to keep employees and the rest of the management team, you know, really involved in close in terms of the challenges that we have and how we're getting through it. Peter: Yeah, it's a funny one, isn't it? Because you talked about communication there in terms of employees and staff as it were. I think one of the things that this sort of struck me is the value of doing that to your customers as well. I mean, I'm not particularly personally one for social media, but I've been amazed and impressed the quite awesome use that has been to by frontline industries in particular. I think lots of the mainstream media focused on the dangers of frontline work, which is fair, you know, to understand the statistics. Public Health England talking about a two to four times higher mortality rate for blue collar workers, but consistently hearing those stories in the news has a psychological impact on the workforce, if you like, and indeed the customers. I think while it is important, you can't just discuss the dangers of frontline work and hear those all the time in the news. You have to communicate something of the selflessness contributions of so many of the workforce. I think those are some of the things which start to resonate with customers as well. I think it's been refreshing to see such a positive use of social media in communicating with those customers that you can't see anymore because they're not coming on the buses. You still have to craft a narrative with them, to reassure them and so on, like you say. Paul: We continue trading all the way through the process. We continue to provide an absolute key service to them, to the workers of Cardiff during this period. I think the public now recognize that bus drivers are an essential part of life here, and many people just can't live their daily lives without the bus. Peter: As you look to patronage returning, I guess there's a sort of a new set of challenges in and of themselves. You're trying to balance I guess, bringing customers back onto the bus safely and all sorts of examples and global transit of deep cleaning techniques, UV lighting systems, air purification, hand sanitizers, temperature checkings, and so on and so on and so forth. It's, I suppose, balancing customers being safe on the bus with them not feeling as though they're on some sort of ambulance and actually patronage threatening to drop off again for almost a second spike. How are you managing that pool? Paul: When you’re dealing with passengers public around, safety is absolutely critical. Unless you've got a safe environment and a professional environment, people are not going to feel confident to get on the buses. Number one is to make sure that drivers are as protected and in a safe environment as we can, which I think we've done to a whole set of new measures around putting screens in place, obviously giving them lots of PPE, reminding them of all the cleaning regime. There's lots of interesting technologies out there. Probably the biggest one that we've implemented is a product called X-Mist, which is a sanitizer bomb. You basically put this aerosol can on the bus, and it throws a huge plume of COVID-19 killing disinfectant in the air, which then settles on to all of the touch points. It basically guarantees that COVID-19 won't live on the bus for a period of seven days and then obviously, the social distancing, whether it be one meter or two meter to maintain that on the bus, so you've got that safe environment. I think safety-wise, we're doing everything possible. The challenge is then from a commercial reality perspective that you can't run buses at 20%. It doesn't make sense. That's when you need then local and national government to support the industry by providing some funding to implement those measures and allow for a recovery period when passenger numbers come back. Peter: I guess one of the questions that's fast become a mainstay on this program is about silver linings following the pandemic. I'd be keen to ask if you personally or the business professionally has recognized any silver linings that you want to take forward through to the end of this year and into 2021. What positives can we take from what has been an exceptionally trying period? Paul: It's the way the team collectively has come together to get through the crisis. I haven't been here that long. I've really seen the core of the business coming through and the quality of the people that are hugely committed and you know, care not just about the company but the service provider to the public. That gives me huge confidence that there are a really great core people here. There's an opportunity also to review where you can be more cost effective, where you can continuously improve and make some of the things we do a bit more leaner and effective. Those are all good things a company should do anyway, but with a dramatic reduction in revenue, you have to look at other ways to be, there's plenty of things there that I've seen that we will implement. Peter: I suppose for you having been in post for, as you say, a relatively short amount of time and being hit with one of the biggest challenges that the global economy has ever seen, you probably got to know your team in three months than you might have done in three years, which is a great thing. I guess you're right coming out of this, you know how and where and with who to build, but it's refreshing to hear you say that the team have really come together in every which way. I mean, it's the people that make it as my mom would say. Paul: You know, in DHL I’ve sat on top of an organization of 40,000 people, so I was miles away from the action. It’s much more rewarding, being in the middle of a team fixing and making things happen. Peter: No, I think that is a as a tip top silver lining. Thank you, Paul. I'm one that you and we should all remember as we move through this and look to the future. Which brings us on to the next part of the program where we look forward to that the frontline of the future and not just in the in the short and medium term, but really in the long term. You mentioned DHL there. I mean, I'm sure a question that was leveled at you all the time there was how my robotics and automation disrupt jobs for frontline workers in the supply chain. But now in your current role, how do you see technology disrupting the status quo for frontline drivers and engineers for instance? Paul: Let's pick the engineers up first. You know many bus companies are looking at batteries and electrification move from traditional diesel engines. Obviously, the engineering associated with battery buses is radically different to normal buses. I've been amazed here around just what we do as a company in terms of maintaining, repairing and fixing the buses. Battery buses will radically change the engineering dynamics of a business. You know, a bus company basically as an engineering company and also a passenger collection service, so the engineer thing, I think will transform. So things like telematics, I've been using the logistics industry for a long time and now pretty much embedded in the bus industry, and just using other technology to ensure that driver has the best chance to be safe out on the road and obviously as efficient as possible. Certainly in DHL, we were really pushing robotics and automation within let's call it logistics and warehousing facilities and trialing more the use of driver automation. I think on buses it's a different environment because of the public dimension, and the stop-start nature of bus stops every couple of minutes. It's going to be a bit longer, I think, to see drivers being replaced in the bus industry. I think there's other areas to look at first. Peter: Do you think they will be replaced or do you think they'll be repurposed? Paul: I think the driving dynamics especially in an urban environment will ensure that those roles are here to stay, dramatic changes in technology for it to work in an urban multi-type environment. The same if you're driving a lorry. In DHL, they were looking at long distance routes from say, on the south coast up to Scotland, an A2B movement mainly on a motorway perspective then. Peter: Understood. Moving away then slightly from the nature of the frontlines contribution to the supply of future frontline talent. You know, one of the biggest trends obviously in the last decade has been the explosion of the gig economy, particularly associated with software defined companies, ride hailing apps, food delivery, and so on. I'm curious to get your thoughts on, how you think the trend towards the gig economy could disrupt more traditional industries like the bus? Paul: We have to look at the—people are using bus and actually work out then how that is going to change going forward. If you look at patronage, it is spread around commuters, shoppers, schools and students and then let's say, the older community that don't have access to cars, we've got to react and understand what's happening in our customer base and almost reposition the offering to the changing dynamics of our customers. Peter: Do you see then that influencing the way that you source your driver pools for instance, and tapping into some of these models? Obviously, at the moment, the bus, broadly speaking, is a fairly traditionally resourced and staffed industry with drivers on a repeatable set of contracts. In responding to those trends that you're talking about there; people not coming back to the office or changing the nature of the high street shopping experience and so on. That will have a big impact on demand for public transport. Does that have a corresponding impact to the structural supply of public transportation workforces? Paul: You look at the profile of a traditional driver, they're probably in their 50s or 60s, have been driving for a long time. There's not a huge amount of part time workers so, but there's a whole area of the population which we can tap into, I think, for more part time working. I think there's a lot of students in Cardiff as well. It doesn't take that long to be able to train someone to get a PSV license. We’re going to have to think a bit more imaginatively around tracting different types of people into bus driving going forward. Peter: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, I guess parallels there with your DHL experience and making that a place that you wanted to go and that was attractive and that you could develop as a person and trying to bring that sort of experience with you. Intrinsically obviously, that's valuable because when people are engaged and they do feel like they are being developed and they want to be there, then their discretionary effort increases, the quality of their outputs, arguably, the quantity of their outputs can increase as well. That's great. It has all sorts of impact on the passenger experience. They're typically the number one thing that the passenger would call out pre-COVID about an enjoyable experience on the bus, is the bus driver. That may have changed arguably and I guess sanitation and hygiene might be quite high on that buying criteria, but that is intrinsically valuable to have a place that people want to be and want to learn and so on. But instrumentally to your point as well, you want to be at a place that can both retain but also attract top talent into the positions. The question there is how do you sort of change people's perceptions; Cardiff Bus today is what DHL was some years ago for you that makes people want to stay there, have the types of tenures that you've had, continue to grow? Paul: Changing culture in some ways is much more difficult than changing the financial situation of a company and then on that's all about, I think it starts with leadership and then it's about changing and driving behaviors and embedding those behaviors not just in the senior leadership team but throughout the organization, walking the talk and making sure they underpin the decisions that we're making in a business. I guess something like Cardiff Buses, the challenge of remote working, our touch points where the drivers are pretty limited, and they may only have 10 to 15 minutes interaction with the company during that day. Whereas if you go back to DHL in a warehousing environment, you can put your arms around workforce at the start of shift, during the shift to make sure they get the messages, you get the feedback, so great two way communication. What I found here is we’ve started that cultural change, they feel something different, they see the behavior change, and they understand the environment is improving. Peter: I think it's a very important point. I think all too often when we think about the frontline of the future or the future of work, the first things that often come out your mouth and new technologies and automation and applications and so on. Those things realistically, they're not necessarily enablers of change in and of themselves. Actually, the cultural aspects to the frontline of the future is the really important thing, arguably in some instances over and above technology. If the frontline of the future has got placed in public consciousness and we want to be creating the best possible talent pools, culturally, the industries have to adapt and be a place that people want to be. Because like you were saying earlier, it's the people that make it. We can continue to make sure that frontline jobs are ones that people aspire to. There's a danger that they could be seen as antiquated, irrelevant, and not as sexy and as, I suppose, contributive as they are in the society. The frontline of the future is culturally defined, not software defined. : Paul, it's been fantastic having you on the show. Thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you again very soon and we wish you all, at Cardiff Bus, a swift and safe return to high levels of patronage. Thanks for coming on.
Peter: My guest today spent a quite awesome three decades as Asda. From the shop floor to the boardroom, he lived through the Walmart acquisition, and famously became an expert in buying whiskey and importing TVs from China. He's a family man with three children. He describes himself as a listener, which may be tricky on a podcast, and he is now CEO of one of the most innovative retail companies in the UK. Rob Slaski, welcome to the show. Rob: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here. That was a great intro. Excited. Peter: How are you, sir? Rob: I'm very well. Thank you, Peter. I’m very well. How are you doing? Peter: Yeah, I'm tip top, all the better for being with you. Where are you today? Rob: I'm actually in Dee Set HQ. I’m one of the very few people in the office these days, we've all figured out how to work from home, but every now and then I have to get away and get back down to that office just to experience the different four walls I suppose. Peter: Certainly. Let's talk about you for a second then because you've had both accounts and incredibly impressive and loyal career. Talk us through your journey then Rob. I mean, what choices would people have had to make to get to where you are today? Rob: Loyalty. You know, I think it's about being engaged and being interested in having opportunity. The one thing that I would say you know, Asda never stopped putting opportunity in front of me, in front of my colleagues, big retail businesses. There's so many different facets to them that once you're into retail, if you're engaged and interested and energetic, you can keep reinventing into different parts of the business. It wasn't really a question of—I wasn't consciously being loyal. I think I was just continuously engaged and interested in what was happening and really enjoying my job. You look back on it, and having a measure of a good job is whether you get up in the morning and saying, “Yeah, I'm looking forward to going in to work.” Peter: Yes, it goes back to that kind of philosophical question of you know, is there such a thing as a selfless good act, and from what you're describing there. Loyalty from the outside is inherently impressive and honorable and admirable trait often displayed by tenures somewhere. I'm interested in what you're saying that you weren't consciously being loyal as there was considering continuing to serve up opportunities for you and that was something that created loyalty. Rob: I started at a time when pretty much the boom years for multiple retailers, [Inaudible 00:03:01] and the business was absolutely flying. I doubt I'd have been loyal if I've never had an opportunity for a pay rise or a bonus or anything else. Of course you do. It's incumbent on all of us to do the best we can for our own career and our families and everything else and earn as much as you can. The best bit about it was the fact that there was always new things to learn, the opportunity in front of me to be a booze buyer or whiskey buyer, as you say, when I didn't really know anything about it, but those opportunities arose because you've proven yourself in other things, and you've proven yourself to be engaged and interested in and capable enough of learning new skills. Yeah, that's where a loyalty in my view comes from. It's just about constant opportunity to grow and to develop and to enjoy what you’re doing. Peter: Did you have someone guiding you through those opportunities? Have you ever had a mentor over the course of your career? Rob: Whether or not they would mean anything to any of your listeners, I don't know. But you know, one of the things about Asda in those early days was that many of the current captains of industry in retail all came through the Asda school. I had the privilege to work with some brilliant people. On occasions, I was mentored by one or two of them, that whole mentoring process if you get it right, it's absolutely brilliant, isn't it? To think most of the time, we were just too busy to be mentoring, probably the last 10-15 years of my time at Asda, it became a bigger thing, but in the early days, we were just flat out busy. You know, we kept the organization quite lean. So you had a lot of responsibility, you were learning very quickly, get feedback immediately. I think that's the best way to develop. The best way is to learn on the job. If you're in an organization that makes you fearful of making mistakes, you're just never going to move forward, are you? I think in those days, we were very good at allowing people to have room to experiment and explore what they could do, and give them encouragement. Peter: There are many ways to learn and sometimes just getting on with the job, as you say is one of the best ways mentorship can, I guess, often be a luxury of time more than anything else. I guess if we think about you, the first half of this year then, then how would you characterize really the impact that COVID-19 has had on the business? Rob: Staying close to your colleagues, engaging with them, motivating them. That's what this is all about. When something like COVID happens, you can imagine that it is almost sort of catastrophic for those colleagues, suddenly they're bombarded with the kind of headlines that our media likes to put out. You don't quite know what's right, what's wrong, what you should do, what you shouldn't do, you know, you feel perhaps a little bit of separation from the company you work for. First and foremost, the frontline was where it impacted and that was where all of our focus was, making sure we were able to look after our colleagues but also keep working. The reality of what was happening was that people were struggling to be able to buy products in supermarkets, food was getting scarce, and we had a labor force, not a huge one by comparison to the retailers, but we had a group of motivated colleagues on the frontline who actually wanted to play a part in that. Very early on, we were called into action by the retailers, we just made ourselves available and helped with that effort. Peter: Did your client base sort of change in the first half of the year then, Rob? Were you sort of supporting more essential retailers, you know, the groceries and so on, who are feeding the nation to cope with that demand more so than the non-essential retailers like Bolster X maybe? Rob: What we were doing with the retailers and I have to say, I still have a place in my heart for Asda obviously, but they were brilliant. As we're Morrisons, as well as the others, they're absolutely brilliant. The first thing they did was put an arm around a lot of their supplies and said, “This is going to be tough, but we're going to look after each other.” As small medium enterprises we are, to have that kind of support from your retail partners, that was just a godsend. It meant we can move forward without worrying too much. We were able to keep the machine going. First, it was great to be able to very quickly join forces, and so, “Great. What do you want us to do? How do you want us to fill up?” It was just really sort of surreal, but also quite proud moment for us. Yeah, I think it changed a lot of things for us in how we thought about the world and how we want to move forward. Peter: That is super interesting. You talking there about changing the way it made you think about how you wanted to be moving forward. It's something which has been a common denominator, should we say on the series so far as it is the concept of silver linings. I'd be interested and curious to learn from you, Rob, you know, what have you learned personally, and as a business over the first half of this year, that you folks want to take forwards through and beyond 2020? Rob: I think probably the most interesting thing is that, the capability that you have in a crisis. You suddenly see your colleagues who suddenly want to stand up and be counted, wants to help with the effort, want to take on more responsibility and act faster than they've ever acted before. I think you realize sometimes as a leadership team, unleashing the talent you have in your organization, doing that faster, that's what business should be about. That requires then I guess the exact group to challenge themselves more and to think more about leading in a different way. You have heard all the stories about this, of course. I think, again, every business that survived through COVID suddenly realized that half of the meetings they had, honestly, were probably executive ego or management ego. Why do you have a meeting? We have a meeting so that you can listen to people talking to you and informing you. If you trust those people to do their work anyway, let them get on with it, support them. One of the things we did was we just wiped out so many meetings and actually ran the business in a completely different way. 15-20 people again, around Dee Set that I have to take my hat off to were sensational through all of that, and actually contributed to all that sort of thinking and decision making that we had to do on the fly; how do you communicate to the frontline? What equipment do you have to give them? How do you source PPE quickly and get through the business? How do you make sure it's the right kind of PPE? I think a year ago, we might have had too many committee meetings. We found a faster way of working and we love it. Peter: Absolutely. No, I mean, conceptually, it makes complete sense, Rob. What's this period giving you? It is giving you insights necessarily that you would never have had before. Practically, how does that play out? Well, people whether it's the 200 folk in the head office or on the front line, which by the way is great to hear because some industries have seen a bit of a division between head office and the frontline, not so at Dee Set, which is fantastic. I guess this brings us to the point where we do like to look ahead to the frontline of the future, if you like. The point of acceleration is, I mean, it's fascinating, no more so than in retail. I mean, there are so many retail trends, which have been accelerated because of Coronavirus. I read this stupid post on LinkedIn the other day saying Who's been responsible for the digital transformation of your company, your CIO or CTO or COVID-19? Rob: Coronavirus. Peter: Certainly from a retail point of view, folks have been forced into digital maturity almost overnight, if you like. The move to online has been the most basic, pre-COVID, I think the penetration of all online grocery sales from all the major players, Ocado, Tesco and everyone who delivered, only accounted for 7% of grocery sales. You can absolutely see that online subscription based shopping and the value behind the delivery slot being more important than ever, you know, as memories of that food scarcity you were talking about earlier and the empty shelves in the supermarket stay in people's minds. What does that mean for frontline workforces in retail? That we'll see some sort of seismic shift to more dark stores to support that online shopping? Rob: All of that measure multiples have been kind of wrestling with for years, how did you fulfill that online demand? I guess the thing you've got to kind of realize as well, you know, by shifting from in-store purchase to online purchase, you've effectively—as a retail, you’ve effectively moved an hour of the customer's time for free in doing the shopping to your colleagues time, which you need to pay for. Actually, for the retailers, it is quite challenging the move to—switching to online because I don't think it is quite as profitable necessarily as you automatically assume it is. Potentially, the future of it is more dark stores, but again, for most retailers, it's very efficient to do it from their existing shops, which are effectively food warehouses anyway. Frontline merchandising will always be relevant. It's going to be relevant for years to come. The idea that it'll all move to sort of a robot solution, for me, that's going to be years, decades in the future if ever. We're always going to have people working on the frontline of retailing, but what we're going to be able to do more and more is target those workforces more effectively. That's the real sort of secret to, I think, is deploying your workforce really effectively. I think there's some interesting changes coming, and I think the landscape I was trying to paint is one that's challenging for retail. They are going to undergo change, you know, the big four anyway and the majority of food retailers are in this battle with Amazon and online and with discounters. Peter: You know, arguably what I'm thinking is that the frontline of the future, perhaps has got to be more fluid and agile with capability to relocate the supply of the workforce, if you like, effectively giving it capacity where it's needed, and ensure workers are still getting paid. Those jobs aren't at risk. Let's be clear, based on what you're saying. It's just that they are being repurposed into a different environment in a little bit more of a fluid way than they can be today. Rob: You talked about moving the workforce, I think we're aligned that flexibility is what you need to see coming through in retail, but it's how to identify where to move them to, you know what's important? When is it important? What's the next priority in any given day or hour or minute of the working week? The next big thing is, how do you read all the fixtures all at once, so you can identify where the opportunity to move that workforce to? We've seen things just move ridiculously quickly around us. That development, as people have all said to me is exponential. It's just going to get faster and faster. We've all got to be at the forefront of that. Otherwise, we will be left behind. Peter: The other side too for me, is the people aspect to it and almost the perception of frontline work and attraction and retention of talent. Do you think there'll be a lasting change in the way that frontline workers are valued by their businesses and indeed, by the consumers and the general public? Rob: I certainly hope so. That's where I started out. For me, that's the kind of be-all-and-end-all. I think if you're in retail, being engaged in innovation at one end, it is very exciting, but being engaged and serving the public at the other, that's what it's all about. I think for too long, we've probably taken those colleagues for granted. We've not really ever had the capability to listen to them well enough, to understand them, to know them well enough. I think that's one of the really exciting things for me that we're seeing more and more of. Every time I go out and I visit a store or a college, certainly, I find somebody who's brilliant at something. If you could tap into all of that and bring all of that back into your business, how powerful would that be? We’ve got three and a half thousand colleagues that can do amazing things. Peter: Reactive supply of static labor, to a more proactive supply of dynamic labor, if you like, and facilitated by technology platforms and so on, but then almost the human side of the equation where you know, actually we should stop taking frontline workers for granted and arguably defining them just by the functional role they play within an organization. But actually stepping back and thinking about the wider contribution that they could make, not just to society, but to the business as a whole, I think are very interesting reflections on what we can hope and expect frontline industries to learn in the future. Rob: The skills are already out there. It's tapping into them and networking them together in a way that allows us to build something really special. Yeah, it’s what we're looking forward to. Peter: Absolutely Rob, I really enjoyed your musings, some very fresh perspectives and some top notch opinions there. Thank you very much for coming on to the show, Rob Slaski. We wish you all the best and we’ll speak to you soon. Rob: You’re very welcome. Thanks a lot.
Peter: My guest today began his career in 1978, serving the public sector in Singapore, where he held a number of roles, including Director of Budget for the government and Deputy Secretary in both the Ministries of Finance and Transport. This culminated in him being awarded the long service medal for 25 years of public service. Fast forward to 2004 and the Singaporean government's loss was most certainly London's gain, as my guest took over as the CEO of the ComfortDelGro group in the UK and Ireland. He spent 14 years taking the group from a turnover of 173 million to 384 million. His hard work, loyalty and success once huge [Inaudible 00:01:15], both in London and in Singapore; Metro line in particular fast created an innovative and dependable reputation within TFL, and my guest was rewarded with Singapore's outstanding overseas Executive of the Year award in 2018. I'm incredibly excited to welcome Mr. Jaspal Singh. Jaspal: Thank you, Peter. That's a very flattering way. It almost sounds like my obituary, but…yeah. Peter: Far from it, Jaspal. Far from it. It's been a while. I think the last time I saw you was in November. How are you? Jaspal: I'm well. I'm well. I've been here back in Singapore now, since February. Before I knew, come 20th of March, a lockdown and I've been stuck here since then. I did manage to make one short trip to Sydney to see my daughter. Peter: Very nice. You managed to sneak in that visit. Let's begin, Jaspal, by talking about you, and the path you've taken in life if that's okay. Jaspal: I worked in Singapore in the public sector for 27 years. I said, “Look, I'm at the point of time now, I’m 51, try and do something differently before I'm too old.” That's when I said bye-bye to the civil service and then I came to London. I happened to know the CEO, the group's CEO of ComfortDelGro at the time, and at the time, I also was the Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Transport. I asked him whether I could be of any use to that group and he said, “Yeah, you can go to the UK and look after our investments there,” and that's how I came to London. Peter: It must have been a real change for you. I mean, not just culturally in terms of coming to a new country again, but professionally in terms of doing something completely different in the role. Jaspal: Truly loved it. I came from the civil service. I was a policymaker, a policy advisor to ministers. I was put in a job where it was bottom line oriented, I had to be commercially oriented, from spending money to earning money on the public sector to the private sector, from Singapore to UK to the total change of environment. When I was in Singapore, in my last job, I was a regulator. In the UK, I was a regulatee, a very tough regulated. So Peter Handy, who is today, I think, Chairman of Network Rail, he taught me a lot on how to manage transport. Peter: How would you characterize Peter Handy and his mentorship to you? Jaspal: Peter is a very no-nonsense guy, somebody whom you can relate to, and somebody who tells you the things and you remember them. For example, if you have to make difficult decisions, he'll tell you, “You can meet your commercial objectives, even if you have to do this.” It comes back to trust and respect. When you trust somebody and he tells you something, you believe it. Every year you should talk to the unions before the annual wage negotiations and I'd say this same thing, “Look, guys, I may not be able to meet your demand, but I'll be fair to you,” and you keep your word, and they believe you. That's it. All they want is fairness. Peter: When you have that mutual respect between two individuals, that's a far more productive platform to create a fair and equitable relationship when you're dealing with a regulator, whether you're dealing with unions, whether you're dealing with your staff, your customers, and so on; principle, which I think sometimes might get clouded in this country. I think often people are quite eager to please and to feel as though they are saying what the other person wants to hear, when actually sometimes you need some hard truths that will set you up for a far more respectable and equitable relationship. Jaspal: You don't have to say the truth unkindly, you can be kind and still say the truth. Peter: Spot on. Jaspal, you're resettled back in Singapore now, and it wasn't long before your Prime Minister introduced lockdown or circuit breaker as I believe it's been dubbed in Singapore. What impact have you seen in the first six months of this year and everything that COVID-19 has brought, have on frontline workforces in Singapore? Jaspal: There is a confidence in Singapore that things are under control and it is under control. I don't know how it's in the UK, to be honest, but I can say honestly hand on heart that in Singapore, I couldn't find it better managed than it is currently. Peter: Well, they've been some great examples of simple technologies coming to the fore in Singapore. I was reading about obviously, the track and trace app, the trace together tokens as well, which just goes back to some very kind of basic Bluetooth technology in terms of people wearing a device. They're almost like one of those old Tamagotchis for anyone who remembers those. If you come close to someone that will register a Bluetooth handshake if you like so that if you do then start to feel symptoms of Coronavirus, the system knows who you've been in touch with and kind of head back and speak to those individuals. Jaspal: And the speed with which you can do that. Peter: It's super interesting. I mean, that's one micro example, right? I think, you know, we've all seen this digital overnight maturity in so many different industries. We were talking off air and you were saying about how 2022 is effectively going to be 2030 brought forward in a time machine. It's super interesting. I mean, have you seen more change in the past six months, Jaspal, relative to the past six years? Jaspal: I think the idea of working from home is a reality. I think the fear about stuff moving off and so on, I think those are misplaced fears. People work because they want to work. Let's face it, people work because they want to make a difference, even though you may not have a need to work, but you want to. I think this fear of people not doing work if we let them to work from home is misplaced. Why do people come to the office? It is because they want to belong, not because they need a place to work. Why do they join clubs? Because they want to belong. People have families. Why? Because they want to belong, the need for love. Now, we don't have the office anymore. How do you make people feel that they belong? Peter: I think that question of how we make people feel as though they belong is a very interesting one, especially as we look to the future. We've had, on this series, David Begg on the show, talking about the importance of transit agencies in particular, really getting to know their customers. There’s been a lot of public examples of frontline transit leaders doing that to great effect. You know, Andy Byford of New York comes to mind, and of course unimportant, but the lifeblood of frontline industries is frontline staff and therefore, understanding your people, their thoughts, their motivations, their needs is fundamental to creating a successful frontline business. One of the things that's always struck me about you, Jaspal, is your application of psychology and philosophy in business. You and I obviously, have talked about Maslow's hierarchy of needs before. Our first need is physiological; water, air, and so on. Our second need is safety, health, property, employment, but our third need, and this for me is the intersection of where our professional employment can impact our human needs. Our third need is that sense of belonging, of encouraging, of connection. How important do you think that need has been for frontline workers over the past six months in particular? Jaspal: I think it's a need which we all have. We’ve always had it since the beginning of civilization, 70,000 years ago. It's just that we never recognized it as such. Maybe because in the past, they always had it being met by coming to work and so on. Maybe the need was being met without them knowing it, but now, they are in the frontline, they are out there and—I mean, they are out there, they don't have an office to come to, so maybe they do feel the need to want to belong. Keeping in touch with them in a way that makes them feel that they matter, that they're making a difference, that what they do count, that they’re appreciated it. I mean that helps a lot. Peter: Especially if we look, I suppose at, you know, the past six months, right? I think so many of us have seen our in-built negativity bias come into play in our lives, especially in frontline work, you know, people dwelling on the danger and fear effectively of fighting the virus on the frontline, whether you're a healthcare worker, whether you're a transit worker, whatever you might happen to be. What I'm saying is, in the midst of Coronavirus, that feeling would have been very acute. Feeling as though we belong, that we're part of some coordinated effort against that enemy, something bigger than ourselves, shall I say, I think that starts to combat our anxiety and our fear. Jaspal: I mean, it's this thing about caring for each other. In your heart of hearts, you must know that somebody cares for me out there. I'm speaking to you from Singapore. There's another person here who I should mention who has influenced my thinking a lot, and that's a chap called Mr. Lim Siong Guan. Mr. Lim Siong Guan was a public servant for many, many years, became the head of civil service ultimately, and he's a person who has this tremendous belief in honor. When he left the civil service, he started a movement in Singapore called the Honour Movement; a, respect, respect people, honour other people and honour yourself. In other words, doing the right thing, even when you don't have to or when no one's looking. The second thing was care for each other. There are two principles here; act or behaving honorably means respecting and honouring each other, and looking out for each other. Ultimately, that's all we need. People look to Singapore because they know they can trust us. Peter: Let's take innovations for instance, you know, you've built quite a reputation in London as an innovative operator, you ran the first route master, you ran the first electric bus. Who knows? Possibly you'll run the first driverless bus in London in the future in metro line. Will it not be a challenge to create a sense of belonging for those frontline when they're not sure what future they'll belong to? Jaspal: The reality in life as I see it, Peter, is people don't work for organizations, people work for people. In the old days, yes, maybe when—you know, I worked for Shell because Shell has got a big business in town. The innovation of the future; big buildings and big signboards and big organizations as we know them, are going to disappear. If I, for example, work for a person who I know cares for me, I will work fine. I will do my best for him, I will behave well, I will do the right thing and I will not leave the company. I will do the best for the company because I'm doing the best for the person up there who cares for me. If you can create that sort of culture, if you look at organizations, you know, like the mafia, for example, I don't know too much, but I've seen enough shows on television— Peter: It's interesting. I feel as though almost in the face of significant disruption and change, that sense of belonging is almost even more important than it was previously. You know, I used the example earlier of British people liking clubs and relationships and so on. At the point of which you're going through a tough time in your life or there is an enormous amount of change coming, you thrive off that sense of belonging, whether it's to a club or a group of friends for that support in the face of uncertainty in the future. Arguably, the same is true now. There is going to be so much technological disruption over the next decade, and allowing people to have that sense of people belonging, you know, as if I as a frontline worker, I'm not working for my business, I'm working for this group of people, I think is all the more important because in many ways, to your point, Jaspal, who knows what the frontline of the future has in store. The one thing that we do know is that it will be human and our human tendencies are to feel as though we belong to a group of people and have common purpose. Almost a way for businesses to mitigate the external threats of technological disruption is to forge a sense of belonging and purpose in their frontline through the likes of which it's never seen before, to almost insulate themselves from that shock, and create the foundations from which their business can then go and thrive. Jaspal: Absolutely. We don't live in houses, we live in our minds. Peter: Jaspal, I'm keen to ask because I think there have been some very interesting insights from you, the gamekeeper turned poacher, what more do you think we could expect from the frontline of the future? Jaspal: I think the frontline worker of the future, if you want to really succeed in your business, you have got to make the frontline worker feel that he is one on one with you. You could be the CEO of a company with 10,000 staff under you, but every one of them people has got to feel that he is special, that he is somebody, that he's making a difference. That's all. It's not a very difficult thing to do if you recognize that, and you make an effort of doing and you passionately want to do it. I think it becomes more and more of an imperative, because no longer will you have the physical aspects which have been keeping you together, like, you know, in the office and check in, checkout and so on. I think so the frontline of the future is really the heart and soul of the company really. It's not really frontline, it is the company. Peter: Absolutely, but I think sometimes you need maybe those frontline leaders to get out of the weeds, and maybe to have a little bit more of that helicopter ability that we were talking about earlier, you know, showing the linkages between one person's individual day to day contributions, and the overall success and progress of a frontline company in this day and age. Jaspal, some very, very interesting musings from you and an incredibly human aspect to what the future of the frontline could look like. Thank you, Jaspal. Jaspal: Alright Peter. Have a good day. Take care. Bye.
Peter: Now then, we have a very special guest on Frontline of the Future. His career is a podcast in and of itself, an English graduate from UCL. My guest today stormed the charts of the UK’s most talented transport professionals in 2010 and has continued this past decade to live out the promise of those praises. He's worked in London Underground, British Airways, at Strategic Rail Authority and countless talks. He's been an MD at Royal Mail and MD at FirstGroup and non-executive National Rail. In short, he's done people, parcels and planes, and he prides himself on performance, passenger satisfaction and Crystal Palace. He is the CEO of Flash Forward Consultancy and the non-exec Chair of the Grand Rail Collaboration Board. He is of course, the inimitable Alex Warner. Welcome to the show. Alex: Thank you very much. I don't know how I live up to that introduction. Thank you very much, Peter. Very pleased to be here. Peter: Likewise, great to have you on the show. How are you sir? Where are you? You’ve got a very nice flash golden star background on your Zoom. Alex: I think that's to mask over the mess of my studies. I'm in a place called Shepperton which is in Surrey, although actually the postcode is Middlesex but my wife likes to say Surrey, because she says it sounds better. Peter: Lovely stuff. Well, listen, I must say we always get started on the show with some pretty pertinent and cutting questions. It's your last meal on planet Earth, Alex, and you can invite three transport professionals. I want to know who's coming around and what are you eating? Alex: Goodness me, right. Okay. Will it be a McDonald's because I love McDonald's, a big big mac meal, the medium sized one. I think it's someone like Peter Wilkinson from the BAT would be a good starting point. I mean, he is very good company, but you'd like to think that you know, you could maybe ply him a few drinks and hope that he would tell you what's going to happen in the future of the rail industry in the next few months. He’s a consummate professional, so he’d probably wouldn't tell me anything, but it'd be the thrill of the chase would be worth inviting him around for dinner. Someone like my old mentor, David Franks who's at Keolis would be very good because he's always got a thing or to say about the railway industry. I think we've got to choose a bus person because it could get a bit boring talking about trains all evening over a Big Mac and fries. I’ve got to go for a friend of mine, Martin Dean at Go-Ahead, who's the Managing Director Business Development there. The reason is, Dean is always such great company. We're probably, if we get—if the other two are talking about transport and we get bored, we can talk about sport. Frank C. Dino at Wilco. There you go. It sounds like a pop group, doesn’t it? Peter: Very good. All right. Alex, let's talk about you for a second because you have an interesting career by all accounts. I don't want you to sort of relive every role for us in the introduction, but what I do want to ask is, which one of those roles; and there maybe one, there maybe two, there maybe three. Which one of them did you find the most challenging at the time? Alex: I think there's two roles right now. I'm going to choose one much earlier in my career, back to 2000. I was the Head of Customer Relations for UK and Ireland for British Airways, and I left BA because I really wanted to get back into transport. I wrote a letter to Sir Allistre Balsam, who was the chairman of the fledgling strategic Rail Authority at the time, and he replied, and those are days where there wasn't really—people weren't doing emails. Anyway, I got this job like franchise manager or franchise exec, I can't remember, I saw pitched up on the first day and there wasn't a job description, there was no remit to the role. I was in this organization that had grown from being very small and off [Inaudible 00:04:08] the operative role, regulator effectively for franchising to the strategic role authority, which is growing in size but still a bit small and it was a completely consensual collegiate organization where you didn't really have a JD. You were just told to sort of go along to a few working groups in meetings and find what interests you and create a portfolio from there. From having a role that was very structured in my career running in a large leadership teams and having outputs. It was a bit of an old man's club, to be honest, I found it very difficult. I needed that structure. I can remember at the time, trying to get into certain internal roles and getting bounced back and feeling really, really depressed by it. I've done some big leadership roles in London Underground and British Airways, and to go into a much smaller, culturally different organization was really difficult. As it was, it turned out okay and that I created this role of setting up processes to the management of franchises in the last 12 months, which is still with many respects still alive today, given how many franchises always in the last 12 months, and also planning the merger and splits of different talks to create the different franchises. I worked with consultant, John Nelson, who's our chairman of Flash Forward Consulting now. He is a massive bigwig in the industry, and that was a brilliant privilege. We were facing off with the Managing Directors of different talks to split and separate merge talks as part of the second round of refranchising. I created this niche in many respects, and I was really happy. I wasn't there long. I ended up—I got a couple of offers from the people I were dealing with it to join train companies. But for me, that was a real challenge from the start is, as a young person is coming to terms with culturally different organization. I was at Royal Mail for eight years. The first sort of 12 to 14 months, I was the Regional Director running their letters business in Wales. There was a big job, just under I think, you know, between several thousand now it might have been sort of 10,000, even staff and all the delivery offices, mail centers across Wales and the border regions. I'd come from FirstGroup in their bus division, and I took on this job. The deal was, “You'd only do it for a year and we'll give you a job closer to home in Surrey,” and I just find it really challenging. Just the culture of Royal Mail in that organization, when I started was very, very challenging. It wasn't—when I joined, so many people, even my boss at the time, and my boss's boss said, “Oh, it's quite surprising, you're doing okay, because most people get sort of fired when they come from outside. It doesn't work out.” The boss that recruited me left. I had a new boss that came in, didn't really gel if I'm honest, and I found it a hard job living away in a hotel in the week. There wasn't a lot of focus on customer in that part of the organization at that time. I couldn't really come to terms and even on day one. I'd began, “Where's my name badge for when I see customers.” It's like, “Well, we don't do that.” It was a very, very process driven, very KPI driven part of the business. Literally every month, I'd be sort of sitting worrying about what the score was going to be like. If any of you post a letter and think the Royal Mail doesn't care if it gets lost, I can tell you that if one letter is delayed, there is some amazing investigation into it. It's like nothing else. It’s so KPI driven and quite a cold part of the organization. I have to say, though, I loved the team I worked with in Wales. They were actually fantastic. I've kept in contact with a number of them. In fact, I recruited one of them recently to do a very large leadership role at Northern and he is brilliant. Watch this guy, a guy called Tony Baxter. Two really challenging roles, I think, which I look back in hindsight, I might have done them a bit differently. Peter: No, that's awesome. It's interesting, I guess, because you know, the roles that you've done at different stages during your career, but the common denominator seemingly is the cultural aspect to the challenge. When you're trying to instigate change, either when you're quite young, you're starting out in your career and you're trying to disrupt things, you're going to have a fairly thick skin, I would guess from a lot of people that have been there for a fair amount of time doing things a certain way or you're just joining a massive organization that's got this kind of inertia and resistance to change naturally built-in, as so many of them do, because they have an established playbook for the way that they want to do things. Trying to really disrupt from within when you are new and coming into those roles, it's a huge challenge. It's like an internal marketing exercise, a test of your personality, your resilience, your persistence. Alex: I think part of the problem I have been—you grow—I mean, that was nearly 10 years ago now is a confidence thing. I felt very confident in front of my own people, but I was a bit like a rabbit in headlights when you're working with other regions and more senior people in Royal Mail because I thought—I felt a little bit like a football manager that was sort of struggling to get results early on. To be honest, I love public transport and I missed it. I was lucky because then when I took my Managing Director role at Royal Mail, with their consent, I was able to carry on with Flash Forward and set it up and establish it. In the evenings, on weekends at a manual lead time, I had my outlet of my love of public transport whilst going back to the real job of Royal Mail logistics. Peter: You talk about that confidence there. Where does that confidence come from? You mentioned David Franks earlier as a mentor to you throughout your career. Is that a source of confidence or is that more of a nature rather than nurture when it comes to you? Alex: Early in my career, I was quite confident because I came into roles at London Underground, as you know, 21-22 years old with managing large numbers of very militant people, dealing with suicides on the track, complex operational problems, and you naturally had to—you just had to get stuck in and I didn't really enjoy my time at university, I found it quite boring if I'm honest. It wasn't that productive in my view, and I couldn't wait to get my hands dirty in a real job. In those first years at both the London Underground and British Airways, whenever I was much, much older than you and you're moving up the ladder, you have people telling you some really good things as such. Then when you went to SRI and it was like, “Well, what's the role here,” you know, it's a bit of a jolt. You gradually grow confident. Peter: I like it. I wanted to ask you, I mentioned in the intro, you being part of the on top of the charts for the 40 Under 40, but also, you almost sort of taken the baton on and been writing that column yourself, right, and recognizing that the 40s Under 40 of today, I'm keen to get your thoughts on who you think might be topping the charts of that list. Alex: I stumbled across someone the other day actually, a guy called Abu Siddeeq. You want to watch this guy because he wasn't on the list last year because I didn't know him. He's the Head of Customer Experience at LNER, and he's been in that job for about six months now. He is a really talented guy. He's a great communicator, he's got style and confidence. I said, “You're going to be the Managing Director of a train company.” So watch him. There's another guy. Alan Riley was at Chiltern as their Customer Service Director. He's the head of stations at LNER, really intelligent guy, got an MBA, but not one of these people has got an MBA and can't talk to people. Great with frontline staff. Lovely personal chat. So they’re too, really good people. Peter: Exclusive unofficial look at what we might expect— Alex: Yeah. Well, you're under 40, aren't you? I might put you on the list if that's okay. Peter: Peter Pan, Alex, is what they call me. I’ll be there for many years to come. You're in quite an interesting position now, right? Because at Flash Forward you're working with countless transport businesses. I'm kind of interested based on that almost bird's eye view and perspective you have of the number of conversations that you have with different operators and so on. What's the most kind of surprising or unforeseen impact that you've seen the virus having on frontline transport businesses? I mean, obviously, we can talk about patronage and we can talk about, you know, the need for good hygiene and so on. But sometimes there are sort of unintended, unforeseen or dare I say, quirky consequences that make people stop and think about models. Have you seen anything like that Alex, which has caught your attention? Alex: Well, I think a positive thing, if you can call it positive to come out of this horrendous crisis is this cleanliness thing because we've been doing mystery shopping and we call these root and branch deep dive customer experience health assessments, we've written customer service strategies on training, etc, etc. We've been droning on about cleanliness, particularly in the bus industry for years and years. People say, “Yeah, yeah, okay, Alex, I get that. Thanks very much,” but some of the time you think the same, “Yeah, I get that. Could you just shut up and stop boring us.” It's really interesting now. When you look at cleanliness, it's really, really important. It's almost, in fact, it's more important I think, in some respects the driver friendliness. It's more important than the branding on the outside of the bus, and even more important than whether the bus turns up on time or what his frequency is and the fares. It's great clamor to watch everyone getting obsessed about cleanliness. It is phenomenal. Now there's one guy, Alex Hornby, CEO of Transdev Blazefield. I mean, he's always been obsessed with cleanliness. He’s a very clean person of course. What he's done and showed videos of what they're doing on their buses with the steam cleaning and he's done it in a really positive way that doesn't scare customers. It's been brilliant, it has, but the interesting cleanliness is phenomenally good now and I was saying to someone yesterday who was petrified about going on public transport that you know, you're actually, you got the trains and buses now they're cleaner now than people's homes. I mean, Alex sent out a recent video, and you're safer as well on public transport. I mean, I got on [Inaudible 00:13:15], and you can eat your McDonald's off the floor. It's that clean. Obviously, the whole patronage thing. I mean, that's really, really depressing. What's amazing is how everyone's just got on the bandwagon of the Zoom calls and it's like, “Aren’t I big? Great. I don't need to go that close for a meeting now. You know, I can just—isn't technology great?” That's also irritated me a lot. I mean, what caused me some concern is going on calls with wholesale teams in trains and bus companies and they're all sat at home on their Zoom in teams and yet their frontline staff are out subjected to the elements of the cold late at night, subjected to the threats of Coronavirus or even idiots threatening to spit at them and beat them up and give them Coronavirus, blah, blah, blah. I just think that sends some poor signals out. I mean, I've traveled still. I'm not trying to show off here, but I've been to Penzance, Birmingham, Wales, obviously London, Blackburn in the last sort of six weeks. Sometimes some meetings I've been to, people have dialed into that meeting when they live just down the road and you think, “Something's not right here,” and that's disappointed me. It's getting a bit better but I can't understand how leaders can't necessarily see that their frontline staff must be sitting there or standing on the gate line at some station in the cold in a rough area potentially subjected to the said all these potential threats and problems. They must be saying, “Oh, yeah, yeah, [Inaudible 00:14:43] senior management. They're all stuck in their studies with their books behind them on the screen and the corporate coziness, and their husbands and wives are coming in and giving them tea and coffee and sweets, and yet while we're doing the real job.” I think it's a lack of self awareness. Granted, some people are mixing up with being on their calls and going into the offices in the dead pose. Someone the other day said to me, a guy called Matt Kitchin, Ops Director Stagecoach mentioned and he said, “The best thing to come out of this Coronavirus is we've got closer to our people. We're spending more time in the Depo with them, and so on, and the relationships are better than ever. Matt is a class act, so I'm not surprised. What I've also noticed, I might be being nice to Union relationships seem a lot better. I'll give you a bit of an anecdote to this. Last week, I was doing one of our customer service mystery shops, and we were talking to customers who talked to non-users in Cornwall for FirstGroup. In the evening, I got a call from the MD, Alex Carter, a top top man, I have to say, and he said, “Oh, Alex, could you come to the BMV we put you up. We’re downstairs. We load union reps tonight, and we're having a steak and a beer with them, and we want you to come along and listen to their ideas around how we can improve customer service, and they got loads. We've told him you're coming. I hope you don't mind. Sorry, short notice, but they are brimming with ideas.” Yeah, I went to this place and I mean it they took out the pub basically. I think there's an old driver's pub, and it was running but there were actually about 25 of them, I don’t know how many union reps, some Carnaby union reps and the whole evening I was just overwhelmed with positivity. Can you move/get the bus route to go here or there, change the fares, work with this Tourist Board, this is how we get bundle seats, we can be sightseeing, tour operators; some great ideas. I've noticed that great commerciality from frontline staff. Coronavirus is shocking, but there have been a few snippets of good practice to emerge. Peter: Yeah, a few silver linings if you like, which is one of the questions of our series. It's interesting, actually, because Martin Harris, who was on the show from Brighton & Hove Metrobus and Go-Ahead. He was talking about how they experienced the same thing and really kind of remembering what the union is for in some instances. I'm not saying everyone needs to do that, but I think reflecting on that though, and what you're saying previously, the danger is as we come out of crisis mode, where everyone is in the Depo, together; unions, driver, management, creating solutions together, all going down one direction. As we kind of come out of that, and you know, we're lifting the lid on the crisis and starting to emerge from our hovels as it were, you get this divide, which you kind of alluded to whereby the drivers are out on the frontline doing the work and management retreat, if you like a little bit to their home locations. That sends a very bad signal. I think it's an interesting part of human psychology, like when the adrenaline's going when backs are up against the wall, and you're in crisis mode, as that tension and that pressure starts to get relieved, you just want to make sure that that transition is managed in just the same way that the crisis was itself. Alex: And there's also expectation management because you know, they've come up with all these ideas now and it's like, how do we deliver them when the new normal is in or business as usual, and equally, part of the problem I've got a worry in the rail industry in particular is because of the whole sort of structure of the industry now. It's largely, if not entirely, government funded now. If you have a situation where you move to a service concession contracts in the new railway operating model, if it has be mooted, and you take the autonomy away from the local managers and the local markets, or the cloud of these managers are the only interface in many respects to the frontline staff is diminished and therefore their respect is diminished. The staff could be saying, “Well, I'm not going to talk to Sarah or Alex, the station manager because they're powerless, they can't do anything, they go away and listen, and then they come back and they can't deliver results.” That's a real concern, a real real issue for relationships between frontline staff and the respect and credibility that the frontline managers have got or lack of because of the industry framework and set up. Equally what I've also found is that in some owning groups where perhaps station managers don't feel that they've got that flexibility using station managers as an example a lot of them have disengaged. I'll say, you know, “Why haven't you walked down the road and talked to the people at the bus company who’ve worked in the same organization as you and thought about you know, changing these posters, getting bus information. They say, “No, no. Our role is just to just dispatch the trains and make sure that the station is clean.” That was never the role of station manager in my day. What you found is they've actually disengaged themselves because they think, “Oh, no, we're not going to have the ability to do that. We’ll just get stamped down.” It's almost like, “Lucky me, I don't need to do that anymore. I don't need to think creatively.” That's another problem. I sound like, it's a bit like, you know, doom and gloom. Peter: No, not at all. I mean, look, right, there are silver linings, but there's also classic threats and things that we need to take heed coming out of this, which is what I want to kind of turn the direction of the conversation to now you know, the future and the very namesake of this podcast. I can't have you on this podcast and not speak to you about customer service, the very concept of customer service has become synonymous with Alex Warner in the industry. I'm curious to know, Alex, how do you define customer service in transport? Alex: Well, I think you define customer service as the experience that customers get at the end-to-end journey proposition. It's the relationship with the company for the moment your might be wandering around the city center, and you see images of clean buses, and they're frequent. And you think, “Oh, this is a city where there's lots of buses here.” Therefore, your instinct is, “I can travel on a bus.” It's a bit like when you're at a football match and you ignore all those advertising holdings but then when you need a bank or building society, you remember that you know the thing, “Oh, yeah, Santander do that. I've seen them at a Crystal Palace on the advertising or whatever,” but I think it is the end-to-end experience. It's from the moment your eyes touch looking at a bus or looking at the website, looking at the social media, through to the drivers, through to the bus stops, the whole—through to when you phone up customer relations and want to make a commendation to a great driver that you’d seen. Increasingly, there is that focus on every single touch point. I think we calculated in one of the pieces of work we do is we did this customer journey mapping. There’s 160 customer touch points in the end-to-end typical transport experience. It's about having that consistency of brand, real brand integrity. It's not a roller coaster experience. The experience you're getting with the brand on the website, on Twitter, through to the driver, through to your customer relations is a branded personality. That for me is what customer service is about. It's about having this omnipresent customer centricity. Everyone is alive. There's that energy. It's that customer centricity, and that's reflected behind the scenes where you walk down the corridors and they're reverberating with talk around customer service, you know, people are walking down the corridor, and are like, “Did you hear about that customer complaint the other day?” “Oh, yeah, I was out and about the weekend on the network and I saw that customers were at a good experience in this area and that,” and it's about segmented customer service, it’s about not just the typical lazy transport way of saying, “Oh, there's two types of customers, there's business, there's leisure.” It's about segmenting that further and further down to Alex Warner, the idiot that lives in Shepperton. There is a certain customer type like McDonald's and non-league football and County Cricket and loves having dinner with Martin Dean. It's got to get that granular. We've made some progress, digital experiences a lot better when he exists now. It didn't when I started my career, but equally, everyone just talks about the digital experience or lots of people do. I've worked with some companies where the [Inaudible 00:22:20] and the drivers aren't important, customer relation is important. It's all about the app. App, app, app. I find it on the app. The app will tell you everything. The app will save my life. The app will put 10 years onto my life. The app will make Crystal Palace win the Champions League. If people think digital is the panacea for everything and to some extent they've neglected the fact that it's actually about that really care about customers and imbued with product knowledge and a thirst for driving revenue and patronage. Peter: Apps and technologies. They're just lines of code, right? They do nothing in and of themselves. They're an enabler. Alex: Exactly. Peter: I agree with you. Customer satisfaction, whether you're talking about bus and transit, or you're talking about retail or whatever, yeah, okay, fine. We now have omni-channel ability that shouldn't have all focus such a human element to customer satisfaction. Interesting, I was listening to a lady called Carrie, a Comms Consultant for public transit in the US recently. She'd done some research, talking about the fact that the communications’ effort to improve that relationship with your drivers from a management perspective, which we're saying in and of itself has a huge impact on passenger satisfaction, starts well before that bus driver or train driver even becomes part of the opco. It starts in their job applications. It starts in their interviews. It starts in their training and their onboarding. I really buy that because I was having a conversation with Mark Stapleton at the UK bus summit last year, he was telling me how Stagecoach were looking at how they can kind of change the job applications the way that they are talking about drivers. Stopping defining them by that functional role they perform for the company and more defining it by the contribution that they can make to society. In doing that what you're doing is engaging your future workforce on a mission which is far loftier than just transport. I think in doing that you're engaging your number one force of increasing passenger satisfaction. Alex: It’s a lot of sense. I mean, we talk about apps, for instance, where they do have a real value is around engaging staff. Where the drivers let themselves down or they're let down by their companies is this lack of product knowledge, a lack of sharing information and gossip. You don’t watch out for the disabled customer that gets on every day on the number 21 at this street, she needs particular help. Mark Stapleton is absolutely right there. It's about making the field work for the greater good. Peter: You’re going to have a healthy dose of realism in all these things. Alex: Right. Peter: A lot of the listeners no doubt will have read you piece in passenger transport around dealing with customer service dissidents. Alex: Well, someone emailed me and said that's the most odious and offensive article they've ever read. Peter: That person shall remain nameless, no doubt, but what I'm keen not to remain nameless, I would like some naming and shaming here. Who do you see doing customer service particularly well then Alex? Alex: Well, I mentioned him before, Alex Hornby at Transdev Blazefield. When he was at Trentbarton, we recruited him, Flash Forward did, for the CEO job and he was obsessed with the customer service; he completely gets it. There's some great people we deal with in Ireland, a guy called Kevin Philpott, the head of customer experience, one of our recruits really gets it, gets the process, gets the culture, the whole wider customer experience and is a realist as well as could see the end experience and vision. There are plenty of good people there. There is another person we're working for at First Bus, a guy called Mark Morgan Hughes who's been around the block a bit in the bus industry. He's not one of these people that looks at sort of minimalist approach to customer service. He is always looking at growth even in adversity and wacky ideas. Alan Pennington South Western Trains Customer Service Director as well, very hot on it as well. Peter: Great to hear these names. Great to hear these stories because you know, there is nothing more important than customer satisfaction in the passenger transport industry right now. Alex: But another big challenge for the industry, sorry that I get on my high horse, it's the whole diversity and inclusion piece. If we're really really going to make the change in the industry, we've got to ensure there's more female representation at senior level, we've got to ensure that the ethnicity of senior workforce reflects that of the frontline workforce and more importantly reflects the communities we serve. That's really, really important because actually the widest diversity spectrum of people with talent you have in the industry, the more experiences, the more insights, the more exposure to other cultures that they can bring and resonate with their customers. It pains me when you look at communities that serve the high centricity of Asian population and they're run by you know, white middle aged, bald people—I’m white middle aged, I’ve got hair fortunately, but how can you really engage and resonate with those communities? For me, you can do all the stuff in customer service unless you really tackle that, it's going to be a real challenge. It's interesting those names of people I mentioned, they're mainly male, and there's some great females in this industry leading lights. There's not enough and that for me, is one of the main three or four things that are really going to turn the door. If we solve the diversity inclusion challenge properly once and for all, that'll go a long way to solving it. Peter: In frontline industries, that issue is all the more important because when people feel like they are represented, and I suppose that the people serving them with the product, whatever that might happen to be, they are arguably more comfortable, more ready and more willing to engage with that service when they feel that the workforce represents their values, but their ethnicity, their nationality and so on. Now, what advice would you give, not necessarily to your kids, but kids talking to you about getting into frontline work within transport? Alex: Have roles in the early part of career that focus on customer. My first job was obviously the one person dealing with all the customer complaints to the Northern line when it was the misery line, the London Underground and that gave me a grounding to the how the internal areas of the business works and obviously what customers wanted, really important. I think do leadership roles early in your career. There's a danger that people get pigeonholed into cerebral sort of process program management roles in their 20s. And then it's almost getting too late to get some of the experiences I certainly got managing very militant frontline employees in very difficult positions. Have the right attitude, prepare well, don't be arrogant. If you've got a meeting, turn up, look smart, wear a tie, wear a suit, prepare in advance, respect senior people, respect their experience, and show the motivation and preparation for those meetings, you know, in that vein. Dominic Booth the CEO of Abellio road division once said to me, “Alex,— ,” when I was sort of flitting from job to job, “Alex, it's a marathon not a sprint.” At the time, I was like, “Oh, please don't tell me that,” because I just want to move up the ladder quickly and get lots of experiences. He’s absolutely right. It's a long career and you know, get grounding. Dominic was spot on. Stick with the jobs and collaborate with peers, with other operators, with other industry bodies and figures. I think they're just the key tips that I'd give to my kids Peter: Thank you. I like the practical nature of what you're saying there. Alex, it has been great having you on the show and some fantastic insights and some great warnings and some awesome advice there as well. We wish you all the very best and look forward to having you again soon on the Frontline of the Future. Thanks very much. Alex: Thanks very much, Peter. All the best too.
Peter: Now then today on Frontline of the Future, I'm super excited to welcome a titan of the transport industry. His career began as a graduate with London Transport. He would become GM for CentreWest London Buses, Operations and Managing Director for London General and London Central, and then CEO of Go-Ahead’s London bus business. Well, that was chapter one anyway. Chapter two takes us to the public sector. As my guest took the reins as MD of surface transport for TFL in 2006, effectively becoming Boris Johnson's right hand man with responsibility for bus network, taxi regulation, cycle high schemes, congestion charges, you name it. Chapter three saw a return to the private sector and indeed to Go-Ahead. This time as Group CEO which he’s been since 2011, when he took over from Keith Ludeman. David Brown, it's a pleasure to have you on the show. David: Thank you very much. Peter: How are you sir? David: I'm very well. Peter: Great stuff. I've got to level with you, David. It was tough doing an intro for a man who doesn't have LinkedIn. David: People can contact me in so many different ways. One day, I'll get around to doing it. Yes. Peter: All right. Cool. Let's talk about you for a second, David. I mean, I've enjoyed researching your career. You coming back to Go-Ahead in 2011, after your stint at TFL is seemingly a defining moment. You were taking over obviously from Keith Ludeman, who originally brought you on board in 2008. How did it feel to eventually succeed the man that recruited you? David: In many respects when I left TFL, I actually wanted to do both jobs. Now that would have been obviously impractical, but I wanted to carry on at TFL and I wanted to be CEO of Go-Ahead. I wanted to see the Olympics through because I had done quite a lot of work on the Olympics and I really wanted to finish that job. I’m a finisher/completer. I like to finish jobs and move on. But actually, this is a job I always wanted as CEO of Go-Ahead. That's a long answer to a short question, which is, was there a problem in following Keith? No, absolutely not. Peter: It's not necessarily the fact that you were replacing Keith as much as the time you were making the transition, but sometimes you can't dictate the timeline of your career. David: You can’t. You can’t. There was never in doubt in my mind. I was quite clear about what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do things, and sometimes things turned up early than you expect. One of the advice I give to people when I talk to graduates, in my own business, or I’ve talk to young bus managers or I talk to other leadership groups, you got to grasp an opportunity. You may not know it's from but you’ve got to grasp it. Don't let them go by because they won't come back again. Peter: Let's talk about graduates for a bit. Before any of this, you'd started as a graduate. I'm curious to think about what the graduates of today can learn from your career. On the one hand, your commitment to transport, having started as a grad and the experiences you've gained are laudable, huge props, by the way to the apprenticeships and the grad schemes that I know Go-Ahead in particular, invested a huge amount of time and money into. But on the other hand, and I've heard you talk about this, the transport industry and its future frontline leaders still had a lot to learn from other industries, you know, when it comes to customer experience, inclusion and diversity, marketing in particular. Respecting your path, your decisions and your loyalty to the transport industry, would they still be the right decisions for aspiring David Browns to take today? David: One of the things that happened through privatization, which is a lot of the graduate schemes or stuff, it was an easy way to save money, to look at the bottom line and we ended up with a hole, almost a generation hole of senior managers coming through. I've got some fantastic people working for me. They're all in their 50s, and then we've got another lot of people coming through. One of the first things I did when I got to Go-Ahead was reintroduce a graduate scheme. I'm really pleased that we're starting to see that cadre of people come through. I think they've got like 93% retention rate. Where I want to be is making those people make a big leap from junior management jobs into senior or into directorship jobs. I'm trying to see how I can get them accelerated in their career because they need to bridge that generation gap. That sort of answers your question in that if you want to deal with people have real responsibility and accountability and you can see a trajectory to get to the top of an organization quicker. You would want to be in our industry at this moment in time because to be perfectly blunt, if you're good, you will stand out. There will be masses of opportunities for you to do that. Peter: Yeah. The ideal maybe some combination of both, right? Where you're investing heavily in a grand scheme, which in its outlook is inclusive to other industries and allows those graduates to get an experience outside of transport. David: Some of our graduates are coming to us having done other things as well, which is quite good. So they've got some broader range of skills, and also the other thing is, I've always been quite relaxed about people leaving, because what I say is, you'll come back, but you'll come back with another set of skills and other set of experiences which will help us in itself. We need these people as part of the industry and I'm passionate about that whole industry, not just the Go-Ahead version. Peter: All right, so let's think a little bit more now about the frontline at Go-Ahead over lockdown. The last time I saw you actually, David, we were having dinner together at the London Transport awards in March. I remember for a number of reasons talking about whether Louis Lynagh will end up playing rugby for England or Australia, watching a very fitting tribute to the outgoing London Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown. But really the overriding thing was it being the last time I was allowed out of the house before lockdown. Now here we are in September, when you reflect how do you think Go-Ahead will remember the past six months? David: In some very strange way is a very positive experience, and in an obvious way, one of the worst experiences ever. The positive experience of it all is without a single exception, all of my leaders stepped up because they all understood the roles they needed to perform in their businesses, and worked extremely hard. I mean, in the early days of lockdown on a personal basis, I don't think I've ever worked so hard. It was 24/7, full on all the time because what you're trying to do is reconstruct your business, you’re trying to put it back together again, basically. We needed the leadership locally, which was happening. Our IT worked. So from day one, all happened to be on teams, nobody blinked, we just got on and did it. It’s we all can do. I was exceedingly proud of our people in dealing with that. And just as exceedingly proud of our frontline colleagues, because they had to step up as well. They had to be out there in some circumstances, which were quite scary, because they didn't know what was happening and they didn't know what was going on. We're trying to catch up in terms of doing all the right things for them. We had three guiding principles for ourselves as a business. One is health and well-being of our colleagues. Secondly, we need to say, “Well, how are we going to play our role in society.” I mean, just the stuff we did with local initiatives for procurement, so we diverse and diverted some of our own procurement of PPE into the northeast and use that. It's all done through connections. There was a plethora of positive good stories about how people had worked collaboratively through the NHA. And then we had to protect our businesses. I said, we had a 90% drop in patronage on trains and 90% drop in patronage, 85% drop in patronage on buses. That is one hell of a problem to get over. What we were doing was dealing with government, at a national level and at local level, trying to persuade people, “This is the right thing to do, you need to actually put money into these services to make them happen.” For me, this wasn't just a UK issue, this was an international issue, and try to influence people in other countries with different government systems and with different crisises. One of the things, one of our learnings in all of this, is how different every country dealt with the same problems because to be frank, some other countries dealt with this a lot better. We had those three principles, which is, protect and safeguard our colleagues, play our part in society and the communities that we serve, and then protect our business. I think we did all three very well. One of the things you could have asked me at the beginning about, you know, what do I say to graduates, one of the things I say to graduates is, “Learn from your mistakes.” What we did is we reviewed everything that we'd done through the crisis and said, “What do we do well, and what could we do better?” Partly because that's what you should do, but partly because if there's going to be a second wave, we should be ready to remember all the things we did instinctively and intuitively. The downside has been the dissemination of our business. The downside has been the real public message about it; the unsafe to travel by public transport, and demonizing public transport. That is a real big hurdle that we've got to overcome. The downside has been we, some of our colleagues died. That's a pretty big downside and that brings things seriously home to you. A lot of our colleagues also had relatives and friends who died, and so you have to be respectful of that. And then part of the community. And then a lot of people felt quite isolated as well from working from home. How do we bring them back in and how do we look after them? How do we deal with the health and well-being? I think we did pretty well. [Inaudible 00:09:48] to see now as we're coming out the other side, but some of the messages from government over do not travel are very difficult to overcome them. Peter: Absolutely. I mean, you mentioned David Begg earlier. We had him on this program talking about that fact that, you know, transport had been somewhat demonized, as you were saying, and that really what's needed now is some sort of macro marketing campaign. I've seen a number of videos from you personally on Vimeo to that effect, David, you know, really trying to reassure passengers and then create confidence in the hygiene and the safety of public transport, which ironically, it's probably cleaner and safer now than it's ever been. But I think, the interesting point you were raising there, and the way that you've kind of triage those three responsibilities in that order, really speaks to something which Martin Harris was talking about in this program, which is the silver linings of the pandemic, you know, not withstanding the clear, and really emotionally heart wrenching impact that this has had on individuals lives. As humans, we have to adapt and try and look at what we've done well. That brings us to the part of the show where we like to look at the frontline of the future. You were mentioning earlier what we could learn from other countries and then you mentioned politics there. In an effort to try and tie those things together, I was reading a speech the other day, David, that you made at the Young Bus Managers Network in 2017, where you said, transport affects the quality of people's lives and that's why it's political. Of course, you're right, it is political, and the future of frontline transport work must have a place in politics. Now, in America, after the Cares Act was passed by Congress, there was some ambiguity on that side of the pond about whether those funds could be used for private operators, as well as public transit agencies. What they did over there, the big six transit operators, they got together and they formed the North American Transit Alliance. Effectively, they collaborated with apt, they hired a lobbyist and effectively got approval from Congress,that some of that cares Act funding could be used for private operators too. Now, I'm curious to understand how that translates across the pond in short, you back the bus and the National bus strategy, like there's no tomorrow. But when we look towards creating the frontline of the future, do you think there's a place for greater formal collaboration between the private operators in the UK to create more systemic change? David: For that sort of collaboration to take place, you need to change some of the CMA rules, you will find all the bus PRC companies and beyond have all grown up in an era of not collaborating, because of fear of the Competition Act, and the CMA and being caught out or any of that. Those sorts of activities are never taking place. We do talk to each other, but we talk to each other on new species of CPT, which is our trade body. But of course, we've got a huge amount in common and I do see that some of the CMA, some of the traffic Commissioner type rules are going to have to change the future, because we're going to have to be far more agile, and far more responsive to a very changing situation we're in at the moment. One of the interesting aspects of when we went into lockdown back in March, is people said, “Well, we've got to tell the traffic commissioner, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do the other.” I said, “You just go do the right thing, and they're going to have to catch up with us. We’re going to have to do the right thing, get on and do it, and plead forgiveness afterwards,” because we haven't got the time anymore to wait 270 days to do some of this stuff. I think we're going to be into a world now where we're going to need more of that, not less of that. We’re going to have to be more flexible, more agile and more collaborative going forward. Some of that requires the legislation to change to accommodate it. Peter: It is interesting, and the chicken and egg point is well made. In order to change that legislation, so that there might be to be more formal collaboration, folks need to come together and make their collective voices known, but then we're back to square one. What more, might I ask, might you expect from the frontline of the future? David: Well, it certainly I mean, technology will change a lot of that. I think there's two particular themes. One is how technology can automate a lot of aspects to make the frontline member colleagues’ job easier, and therefore leaving the driver to do the bits that we want more of which is looking after customers. There’s technology in terms of what we do for making us relevant towards the issues of air quality and climate change and there's technology that we use, which is how we communicate with our employees. I think one of the things I've welcomed has been our engagement with our colleagues’ representatives from the trade union has been much more collaborative than it has been in the past because we've realized that this is beyond the small issues, the legal. This is a big issue and therefore we've got to collaborate and we've got to work together to find solutions for it. That is going to change going forward. What the pandemic has done is accelerate trends that were taking place anyway, and we were preparing for them. At the beginning of this year, I saw a new dawn for buses. I could really see that we were going to get some really good funding from the government. What we needed from the government was to look at how transport fits into every single department and it's not just in Department of Transport issue. What we need now is to pick that all up and we need the government to spend as much money in telling people not to travel to tell people to travel now. We need to help out type scheme on trains and buses. We need that sort of level of commitment. Because if we don't do that, we will end up with hollowed out cities, and if you've been into central London of late it is a hollowed out city. Peter: Yes, yes. Thank you very much for all your thoughts and musings, David. It's a pleasure to have you on the show. David: Thanks mate.
Peter: My guest today is the enthusiastic owner of two restored London Transport Routemaster buses and still proudly possesses both LGV and PCV driving licences. He is a president, a managing director and a secretary all at the same time. Paul Sainthouse, it's a pleasure to have you on Frontline of the Future. Paul: Thank you very much for that very glowing welcome. I'm delighted to be here, and hopefully we can have an interesting discussion this morning. Peter: Spot on. Okay. All right. So let's start with Paul Sainthouse, the President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, no less. Now, obviously CILT has over 15,000 members. How does one become elected as president in the first place, Paul? Paul: Oh, that's a good question. I've been the recipient; I'm not sure how quite you are chosen because it's done by others. I think that clearly, what you need to do is to be shown to be capable of leading the organization for a period of time, you certainly need to have an opinion on most things and I genuinely do, I suppose to be multifaceted, and knowledge and understanding of various modes of logistics and transport. To be honest, as somebody who's prepared to give up the time and put the effort in amongst everything else that you need to do, in order to fulfill a role and to promote the interests of CILT which, ultimately, is what I'm there to do. It's a leadership role and it's something that hopefully the institute will benefit from my tenure. Peter: Okay. Okay. I watched you talk in your integration interview, about the need, particularly amongst the younger professionals, for there to be tangible value to their CILT membership. Paul: Absolutely. Peter: The challenge is to work out what that value is. Do you feel you've worked that out? Why should the next generation of frontline talent care about CILT? Paul: I think that there's an importance in identifying yourself as somebody who actually takes what they do very seriously. I think people are less interested now in the post normal side of things, but generally interested in a value that membership would add to their careers. It's also something we recognize people will dip in and out of. We can't provide everything for everybody, but what we want to do is make sure that sale team membership is something that they take on a career journey throughout the whole of their working lives. Certainly, as a young professional, there's a fantastic platform for individual personal development and training, there's an awful lot of opportunity to develop your experience and knowledge of a broad range of topics and disciplines and appeal to be involved in a profession that clearly is now recognized by society. Peter: You know, I think about it from my perspective, right? Like, why am I interested in CILT? It's not just about kind of careers in transport and letters after your name, it's recognizing that it's a way to do business with the transport industry and it's a way to engage professionally in the field. People are trying to start incubators and accelerators and conferences, and blah, blah, blah, all the time. But what are those things if they're not just collections or networks of people? The CILT is that body, a network of people on a plane, and that's a significant value offering, in my view. Paul: Absolutely, and you'll always do better as part of a whole than as an individual. So often do I see in people tried to start from scratch, when in reality, those are already out there. If you've got the right connections, and the right resources that you can very quickly fast track what you're looking to know. As you point out there, loyalty, it provides you the opportunity to engage with a fantastic network of highly experienced individuals who will benefit from knowing you and you will benefit from knowing them. It's not something that you can necessarily create yourself. It’s something that the institute provides you an opportunity to buy into. Peter: I think, Paul, I'm right in saying that you're the first president in passenger transport since Sir Peter Hendy in 2011. So congratulations to you. The only president though, who's had to cope with the impacts of both Brexit and COVID-19, during his term, what do you foresee at this stage your biggest challenge being as president of the CILT? Paul: Looking back at the history of CILT, there was an initial Institute, which was separated in 1991. CILT International became separate from CILT UK and UK president. Our objective was to rejoin those two paths, and to make CILT a global institute for a global profession, which is totally appropriate to the environment that we now find ourselves within. CILT did a fantastic job in preparing its individual and corporate members for all eventualities that may come along as a result of Brexit. Of course, it was a bit stop-start at certain points. We weren't sure what they said and what requirements are going to be there, but CILT had pretty much an answer for everything, and also provided the government with good counsel. That was all part of the plan and all very interesting. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed what goes on within our professions. As I’ve said previously, the depression. I'm pleased to say is now recognized for what it delivers for society in its broadest possible sense. The fact that transport workers were being thanked alongside NHS workers with providing key services to society while everybody locked down. It is something that, to be honest, I never thought I’d see within my work life. It's been a very interesting, exciting time and we’ve covered an awful lot more than I thought that we'd ever cover. CILT did a phenomenally good job as well of providing a consolidated resource throughout the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, giving NHS and other bodies access to resources in a consolidated way that allowed them to continue to make sure things are moving about. Peter: Very good. Very good. Now let's talk about Paul Sainthouse, the Managing Director of Dawsongroup, of course, and indeed, that the frontline of the lockdown, because as many will know, you joined Dawsongroup as a management trainee in ‘87. Since 2002, you've been the MD of the group's bus and coach business. Now, I dare say you've not seen anything like the last six months in your tenure so far. How would you characterize the impacts that COVID-19 has had on Dawsongroup. Paul: One of the things that I've always said about Dawsongroup, one of the strengths of this business is very stable, long term structure in its management. I'm not typical in the management team of having completed in excess of 20-30 years service. There's never a day where anything happened where I hadn't seen something similar before. The great thing was I generally had an answer for anything that we needed within the business. 2020 changed that. I've definitely now seen things that I've never seen before in business, in transport, in logistics and in people. We've seen some very good and positive things and some very difficult things. Within Dawsongroup, I think we first of all benefit from having a range of products and trading areas, commercial vehicles and traditional marketplace of trucks and trailers, light bands, buses, coaches, through processing, medicine and storage; lots of different things that, to be honest, during the COVID pandemic, rather had heavy demand or not demand at all. I think one of the strengths within our business was our ability to be agile and to adapt to an ever changing set of circumstances, to recognize what the marketplace always requires from us, and the way in which we could support our customers and society in a very immediate and changing needs. That was a very good and rewarding thing to do. The team bought into it, we placed those in their various trust, and they went out there, and they helped people which was rewarding. Then logistics, the distribution business suffered quite badly initially, with everybody locked down, the requirements for retail goods has subsided quite rapidly and trucks and trailers were sat down. Likewise with bands, that was a very quick downturn, but then almost immediately bounced back with everybody, as we know, ordering from Amazon and taking home deliveries. Yes, without any shadow of a doubt, from our business point of view, it has been a very difficult year, probably our most difficult year. It's tested our management, it's tested our processes, it's tested our resolve, but we have shown our capability throughout them. It will be certainly a tough year financially for the group, but I do think like a lot of businesses will have learned an awful lot about what we can do, what the marketplace needs from us and what we're capable of as a business individual. When we come out of this, we will be a better organization, a better leader and more capable. You have to look at the positives as well. Peter: The importance of being agile, obviously, you know, everyone's been asked some incredibly difficult questions in a very short space of time over the past few months, really kind of testing our human capability to adapt and adapt fast. But I do want to talk to you about the positives you mentioned there. One of the questions that's really a mainstay on series on Frontline of the Future thus far is about silver linings. You're also mentioning that seeing things in people that you've never seen before in this past six months. I'm interested to get your perspectives, Paul, on what those silver linings look like. Paul: We have a great team of people in Dawson. I think we've always been very proud of the team that we have. We haven't necessarily recognized their full capability because I think like a lot of businesses, if things are okay, you don't need to change things. You don't need to fix things. We have a lot of processes and a lot of procedures that we have to adapt very rapidly and probably contrary to our instinct. What we have found is that people that were involved with that process really showed some really strong innovation, really took the lead and took control the situations that they were facing. They didn't need as much coaching as probably the management would have expected they needed. When the chips were down, were really capable of delivery far in excess of what I think the company would have expected of them and certainly their own capability as well. The number of people I've spoke to now that genuinely believe that they've grown as individuals and professionals. Now throughout the past six months, I think the other thing that we recognize now, or have been able to recognize is that some of the people that we had in our team maybe were overlooked in the past, maybe they would go in about what they do quietly, they weren't necessarily very obvious within our structure, they did a very good job and as such, they didn't necessarily get picked up particularly quickly. What we've seen now and what we continue to see is that people who really do deliver, there are people who go the extra mile and there are people who try incredibly hard to make sure that the business they work for continues to be a success, and continues to support its clients. When I look at the list now, I do feel a lot more empathy for an awful lot more people that are in my employ, because I've seen actually what they prepared to do. They're not just sitting up every day to take their wages. They genuinely are connected, engaged and have bought into what the company is trying to do and for that, I’m very proud, yeah. Peter: Yeah, I think there's a significant silver lining, you know, recognition of the full capability of your workforce in light of the situation that's unfolded these past few months. Here's the hoping that we can learn and take from that in the months and years that follow. I guess that brings us on to the latter part of the show, Paul, where I want to talk about you, Paul Sainthouse, as the Secretary along the APPG no less and discuss the frontline of the future and in that vein, if we may. I say that of course because you are responsible for reconvening the all party parliamentary group for the road and passenger transport industry and indeed, you are now secretary of the group. One of its key purposes is to encourage operators to collaborate, develop the sector's voice and participate in the group's parliamentary functions. Why did you decide to reconvene the APPG? Paul: From the APPG’s point of view, it was quite obvious that we could do a better job of promoting road passenger transport within parliament to get a better understanding of exactly what we did for society to dispel a number of the assumptions or the wrong assumptions that are made about passenger transport. A good number of MPs assumed the buses are run by local councils. They had no idea that they were businesses and operations behind these. They thought they were council sponsored. We really did need to raise our profile. Peter: Now on paper that that makes total sense to someone like me, right? I'm curious to kind of zoom in on that a little bit more. We had David Brown from Go-Ahead on the show recently talking about the role of politics in the future of frontline transport, and we discussed how the CMA and the Competition Act currently can inhibit some of that collaboration between private operators, but it's a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, right? Because without that collaboration, you can't lobby to change legislation to allow for that greater collaboration. How do you see the APPG helping with that? Paul: What we'll do through the APPG is we show that we can be a coordinated and unified voice with an ability to work cohesively without affecting the way in which we need to compete with each other. Clearly the marketplace needs to be competitive, there needs to be value for money provided to the passengers, the end users and to the other people who provide the funding. But what we do need to do is to provide primarily a fantastic quality of service to the end user, to promote public transport as not only a critical part of the UK infrastructure, but also a solution to many of the key topics and problems that we face as a society. However, in order to attract the right number of passengers on board, it's got to work properly. It's got to be connected. It's got to be cohesive. You've got to be able to buy a ticket for your journey that is multi operator. You've got to find a way that you can easily move between modes without the whole process been particularly intimidating. All of these sort of interactions between the various commercial stakeholders in the industry are crucial because if they can't work together in a way that provides the end user passenger with a great experience, they may have been achieved full potential. I think that's probably what David and the other key businesses have to achieve is a coordinated and positive customer experience. Peter: Absolutely. You’re absolutely right. Broad ranging perspectives on the implications on future frontline transport work, Paul. I'm curious to understand if you have any other bold predictions or opinions from what we can expect from the front line of the future. Paul: I think, first of all, we've got to recognize that the marketplace in which people operate will be more competitive in the future. There will without any shadow of a doubt be a very large choice available to prospective employers and people that go into the sector, you have to make sure that you have the best possible range of skills and services available. What I do think if you're looking for predictions is that we're going to come through this, a slightly different world than the one that we were maybe used to in the past. Certainly one in which we will see a greater push towards professionalism, towards orchestration, globalization, and a way in which businesses and individuals will operate more cohesively. There's definitely a more of a sense of society, almost post-war spirit coming through because we've been through a set of circumstances that we never predicted. We've made the best out of that circumstances. Peter: I mean, it seems somewhat of a perfect storm for the industry right now, key workers on the frontline in transport particularly are ingrained in public consciousness just now. At the same time, obviously, you've got some of the great work that you folks are doing at the APPG to lobby government and really foster a spirit of greater collaboration between operators. But then the third part of this Bermuda triangle is at a grassroots level, trying to attract and retain talent in the industry, like the CILT seeks to do and excite the next generation of talent that the transport is a fantastic place to forge your career on. I'm excited [Inaudible 00:15:38] about what's coming and it's been super interesting getting perspectives from the various different parts of your career. Keep going, Paul, keep fighting on all fronts and thank you very much for joining us on the show today. Paul: Absolute pleasure. It’s been great to talk to you, Peter. Peter: Thanks, Paul. Paul: Thank you