Colin Chambers of Mid-Hants Railway
As part of our 'Meet the MD' series we meet the conductor and MD of Mid-Hants Railway, Colin Chambers, who has a 'life-size train set to play with!'
What is it the company does?
We have a heritage railway which runs 10 miles across picture perfect landscapes from Alton to Alresford in Hampshire. Saved from closure in the 1970s by a passionate team of volunteers and enthusiasts, we re-opened in 1977.
We run numerous events throughout the year from Steam Galas and 1940s revival events, to Thomas the Tank Engine and Santa Express family days out.
What does your role involve?
I have a life-size train set to play with. It is a very hands-on role; I do everything from meeting the bank manager to driving the steam crane. No two days are the same.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started as an articled clerk at a chartered accountants firm, where I was poached by a client company (chemical manufacturer) to computerise their accounts system, subsequently rising to the position of financial director. Following a similar trajectory at several building and reclamation companies where I took managing director roles, I worked at the Coal Researchers Establishment as an adviser on privatisation.
From there, I became financial director of a house building firm and ended up as managing director. During this time, having been volunteering at the Mid Hants for 20 years it was discovered I had some financial acumen, and I was asked to join the board as financial director in a voluntary capacity. Three years later, the railway required a managing director and I was offered the role.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Willingness not to ask anybody to do anything you haven't done, or wouldn’t do yourself.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Money - lack of it! There are also challenges when leading an organisation which is primarily volunteer-based. We meet problems which wouldn't be recognised in the commercial world, such as so-called run-away wagons, while running a business with equipment which was scrapped for being obsolete over 50 years ago.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Don't get stressed in the first place!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A pilot but I settled for finance, and get to be hands-on with steam trains instead.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
People leaving lights on! I do have a habit of going around switching them off whenever I see them on and have been known to plunge enquiries office staff into temporary darkness.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Still running trains between Alton and Alresford, but carrying more passengers. To be rather more serious, I see a large part of our role as encouraging families, young people and children to become more engaged in the work we do, particularly from a science and engineering role. While our technology may seem old-fashioned, getting hands-on is a great way to bring scientific theory to life for our young visitors.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
How quickly your life goes past, don't waste it.