What leaders think
Posted on

The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Sir Derek Jones

Sir Derek Jones | Keolis UK

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?

We got our first project signed and over the line within the new Keolis/Transport for Wales Joint Venture. The JV is a new way of working with a client, with interesting future opportunities.

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

Keeping up! There is a very, very busy landscape of policy and politics in the public transport realm at the moment, anticipating Government response to the post pandemic world, Williams Review, Union Connectivity Review, new targets for introducing zero emission vehicles, the new bus strategy – “Bus Back Better” (which definitely wins my award for best title for a policy paper in 2021!) – to name just a few. Together with the new Infrastructure Bank and the Levelling-up Fund, we now have the outcomes of the elections last week, where many manifestos had commitments on public transport and infrastructure. So strategic planning, understanding changing policy and positioning ourselves to take advantage of future opportunities requires fresh thinking. We believe public transport demand will be revived and so it is an exciting time.

We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and have you made, or will you make any further adjustments as we slowly begin to emerge from the 3rd lockdown?

I think we’ve all been struck by the aspects of crisis management that we could have been doing before and should hold on to after. More flexible working, of course – although I believe we will see public transport come back strongly – but also from the earth-shrinking potential for new forms of conferences and presentations, to everyday communication with staff – where the lockdowns just made us raise our game.  A lot of our staff have worked on the front line throughout the pandemic, which has seen their loyalty, guts and commitment to customers, rise to a new level; and I will never forget that.

Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?

Yes, but the change will vary between differing companies and sectors. Working from home has proved itself as a viable option for many office workers, but just remember how many people have been, or will soon be, working and do not have this choice. For those who do, sentiment seems divided between some longing to return to the office and some now wedded to a more blended approach. But humans are social animals, and it must be good for our wellbeing to be able to mix with people again.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

As a train operating company we have carried on throughout the pandemic and are now ready for a ramp up in demand. At the same time we’ll need to reassure passengers that it is a very safe way to travel – working more closely with employers. Our own office staff are already working a blend of home/office and we’ll aim to find the best point of equilibrium for the long term.

There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?

We will naturally be doing this, by restoring passenger numbers, so reducing car travel. I anticipate large scale investment by government in new transport infrastructure as part of the ‘build back greener’ ethos and there will also be a drive for zero-emissions rolling stock throughout. Keolis UK will be aiming to play a big part in all that. We already operate Europe’s biggest electric bus fleet, in the Netherlands.

In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made, and will you stick to them post lockdown?

For the first time in decades, I bought a new bike, and it’s great being back in the saddle!

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)

The Queen – following her bereavement; and at 95, already now back on duty.

Given the recent announcements pertaining to a roadmap out of lockdown are you planning to book a summer holiday this year? If so where ideally would you like to go?

Staycation!  Now that we can travel freely in the UK, I’ll be spending as much time as possible in the glorious Black Mountains, where we have a small farm. So overseas travel doesn’t seem essential just now.

Any words of wisdom?

Never underestimate what your team is capable of achieving.