Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader;: Who's the bus boss you'd like to have on board?

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The Independent Online
Phil White

Chief Executive,

National Express

I AM responsible for strategic development: where do we want to be, and are our services perfect? I rely on our decentralised management team - local transport should be organised locally. This is a fascinating industry. On the one hand, it is very political, run by four or five major groups worth over pounds 1bn. On the other hand, our customers often pay in terms of pennies. It is a people business. Our customers and staff must mean everything to us and communication with them is paramount. To succeed, a company must develop a reputation for a good quality product, and know how and where to invest to maintain that reputation.

The predominance of larger groups makes the market more stabilised, and the smaller groups fill in the niche markets and keep us on our toes. To be fair, Brian Souter of Stagecoach has done incredibly well to build up its business so remarkably. First Group also has qualities to be emulated.

Peter Snape

Chairman,

Travel West Midlands

MY ROLE is pulling together company policies to ensure service quality is maintained. I continually check and regulate contracts with managers, and make sure I sample our services at last once a week. I love delivering the standard of service our customers expect. This industry is subject to a lot of criticisms which I think are unjustified. Running the most intensive urban bus service in the UK effectively is enormously satisfying. A bus company is judged on its quality of service. Making quality decisions at a high level is imperative. Above all, we are all anoraks, we love public transport.

In spite of the criticisms levelled at it, Stagecoach provides an unparalleled service and an unrivalled product. Brian Souter's flair and the quality of his product sets him apart.

Brian Fisher

Managing Director,

Plymouth Citibus

I LOVE dealing with people, and a bus company is all about customers. Investing back into the business is my greatest pleasure; spending pounds 1m on new buses is great fun.

One needs to be visionary and brave. Executives need to spend time promoting public transport. It is also important to be accessible to the workforce at all levels.A sense of humour is vital. Things can go wrong over which I have no control. Next week's eclipse in Cornwall will be a test; perhaps a million people will turn up in Plymouth. All we can do is lay on additional services and deal with problems as they occur.

The way Brian Souter has developed Stagecoach has taken real vision and innovation. Brian sees an opening and goes for it. He is ruthless in protecting his business and prepared to make decisions which are not popular.

Roger French

Managing Director,

Brighton and Hove Bus and

Coach Company

WE CARRY thousands of people every day and have a great team of staff. Motivating them to keep our passengers happy is a rewarding challenge. This business is experiencing a renaissance. There are great opportunities to be creative; every day we're trying to improve. Investing in new and more frequent buses and devising value fare schemes feels very positive.

We have fostered a good partnership with the local authority; as it has introduced bus-friendly measures we've been investing in better bus routes. All we need now is better enforcement. In this industry you have to believe in buses and love working with people. I do, as does Brian King of Trent buses, with whom I liaise regularly. David Leeder of West Midlands Transport is also doing exciting things.

Brian King

Managing Director,

Trent Buses

MY MAIN responsibility is to make sure that strategy and policy are running smoothly. It's a little like being the conductor of an orchestra. This is a people business, variety is the most exciting thing. One minute I'm dealing with minutiae, the next I'm talking to the Deputy Prime Minister about transport policy issues. Attention to detail is crucial. I have to see through the eyes of a customer. The details are the difference between a run of the mill operation and an exceptional one.

I admire Roger French of Brighton and Hove. They are a benchmark, reminding us to strive for something better. We exchange ideas regularly. Competition helps us learn from each other. The real heroes, however, are my drivers, company ambassadors under extreme pressure.

Moir Lockhead,

Chief Executive,

First Group

I LOOK for new opportunities and work with a great team to maintain our focus on direction and performance. The best part of the job is putting deals together. Everybody enjoys success, and looking back on our high points such as getting into trains and North America, and increasing our scale, is exciting and boosts morale. In this business we need a clear focus. Customer service is imperative; we are measured by it. If we let people down, we have failed. Brian Souter of Stagecoach shows remarkable drive and dynamism. As a municipal company, Trent Buses shows great innovation in service provision. In spite of the differences between us as companies, we have an affinity, and they are to be respected for driving forward quality standards.

Bob Davies,

Chief Executive,

Arriva

A FEW years ago this business seemed to be going nowhere. Now, we are right at the heart of government policy. Arriva has 600 million face- to-face transactions with customers a year. That is very fulfilling.

We win or lose on how we deliver to our customers. To succeed, a company also needs to develop and grow by investing and acquiring new businesses. A market leader needs to motivate people with a vision of where we can and will go. The UK is at the forefront of this business. First Group and Stagecoach's Brian Souter prove that we can do something special in the UK and lead the market in other countries.

Gordon Tennant,

Managing Director (London)

Metroline

MANAGING METROLINE'S two London bus companies can involve me in important commercial decisions, people matters, vehicle-buying policy and corporate image issues. The bus industry is instrumental in reducing congestion in our towns and cities and I help achieve that objective. Qualities include maintaining a talented team and having common sense, an eye for detail and a sense of humour. Good communication skills are key. Many of our frontline staff show tremendous dedication to serving the public and often go unsung. They have my genuine admiration.

Martin Ballinger,

Managing Director,

Go-Ahead Group

PUBLIC PASSENGER transport is very much the flavour of the moment. Operating in public transport demands that you put your business in the shop window every day, even though the quality of the output is frequently entirely outside of your control, due to, for example, a delivery van parking on a bus route. My job is to lead and support a team of semi-autonomous and highly-articulate subsidiary company managing directors, and to use our combined talents to seek out and gain profitable opportunities to grow.

I am attracted to action-orientated executives who immerse themselves in the companies they control and talk from real experience of the triumphs and disasters which overtake their businesses from time to time. In passenger transport, I admire people like Richard Branson. He knows his Virgin Atlantic business in great depth and it shows through in the people he employs.

Veronica Palmer,

Director General of the Confederation of Passenger Transport

THE CPT represents the interests of the transport industry to the Government. We also give advice and work with transport companies on issues like integrated operation and ticketing. Realising the potential of public transport is vital. An important quality is recognising that one is providing a service. Bus companies must provide what the market wants if they are to survive. A company can only re-invest if it is making a profit. It takes skill to balance a company's duty to its investors with public expectations of it.

I couldn't possibly name one company or individual as being more capable than another. My life would become impossible if I were to discriminate in that way. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but they are all trying to achieve the same objectives. I will say that the emergence of large groups has brought a certain stability to the market simply because they are able to make improvements and changes by trading on their achievements in order to access capital from the City.

Interviews by

Katy Guest

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