I was indebted to my good chums at the excellent Route One magazine for an excellent article that they published recently after they had interviewed a man whom I have the highest personal and professional regard for and that man is Giles. It is seven years now that he has been the captain of the super tanker that is First UK Bus. When he joined it was a business that was in trouble, for different reasons the Company had been drifting into trouble. It needed someone with vision, tenacity, and really good empathetic skills to lead from the front.
There is a saying “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” and in this case it was certainly true with First UK Bus, Giles always said that he would need time and support to rebuild a culture of a Company that had lost its way. The morale was low across the businesses, countless re-organisations had taken place that simply caused more unrest, the driver was considered rightly or wrongly as a commodity. Managers were demotivated and turnover was high, another bleak symptom of problems. So, the first thing that Giles did was go out and talk to people and understand what the problems were and why they had happened.
An honest open review of what people felt was needed and that was what he did, hands dirty, tell me how it is, warts and all. From that point he started to shape what needed to be done. Some of the businesses were beyond salvation and needed to be discarded, and were sold off. He also instigated a change in the culture of the workforce, by far and away the hardest part as many views were ingrained and these guys had heard it all before. To be fair it is a really tough process changing peoples hearts and minds, and for me I was at an event last week in Reading when a person who does not work at First gave a real accolade about just what a great culture change has been achieved across the UK bus division. Now, you can all me a cynical Old Hector if you like. But, when I hear glowing praise from employees from within organisations, I am not always convinced, however, when these eulogies are given by independent outsiders with no axe to grind then I do take notice.
So, Giles strategy of strong investment in both vehicles and people, coupled with honesty, challenge, and sometimes making tough decisions has paid off. For me this was not a surprise, far from it, he has demonstrated the same strong and clear leadership from when I first met him back in 1983 when we both worked at West Yorkshire Road Car Bus Company. He was a very capable and decent man and I was not in the least surprised as I watched him rise through the ranks and become an immensely successful and admired captain of Industry in both the rail and bus industries.
So, hats off to a man who makes a difference where ever he goes and whatever he does, as the former President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, or as the head of ATOC (the association of Train Operating Companies, or as the CEO of Blazefield Holdings, the list goes on success always follows and so there is no surprise that Giles has been able to work miracles. It just goes to show that transformation is possible if you keep faith with the right people as First have done with Giles, then the results will start to flow as they are in Bath, Leicester, Bristol, York etc.So well done First and the team in UK bus, great job.