Egon Zehnder to lead search for new Network Rail boss

Headhunters briefed to find a chief executive with experience in a complex international company
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The Independent Online

Headhunter Egon Zehnder has been hired by Network Rail to find the state-backed infrastructure group's new boss, with a brief to seek candidates who have run international companies.

The brief will be a blow to rail industry insiders who are keen to succeed the current chief executive, Iain Coucher, who is hoping for a swift process so that he can leave by October. Mr Coucher said he would stay on until his replacement is found, but he is eager to step up his own plans to become a private-sector boss.

Mike Mitchell, the director-general of railways in the Department for Transport, is understood to have privately expressed an interest in the role. He was formerly the UK chief operating officer at listed bus and rail company FirstGroup, but it is thought that this would not be a broad enough background to meet Egon Zehnder's brief.

Nicola Shaw, who left the FirstGroup board last month, is another said to be interested in the role. A third FirstGroup alumnus, Andrew Haines, who is currently the chief executive at the Civil Aviation Authority, is widely rumoured to be in the frame.

However, an industry source said that Network Rail's chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite, is "of the view that whoever becomes chief executive must have dealt with serious and complex issues at a national and international corporate operator".

"The new chief executive will have to keep driving down costs, have good customer service skills and the hide of a rhinoceros," added the source.

It is thought internal candidates, operations and customer services director Simon Kirby and investment projects boss Robin Gisby will be interviewed if they choose to apply.

Egon Zehnder has worked for Network Rail before and led the search for a new chairman in 2008-09.