Patrick Verwer of London Midland
Patrick Verwer of train operator London Midland charts his career so far and explains why it is an exciting time to be in the Midlands...
What is it the company does?
London Midland is one of the UK’s busiest train operating companies, providing over 200,000 passenger journeys every day. We run trains from London to Liverpool and across the West Midlands. This network covers 150 stations. So, we think of ourselves as a national brand with 150 local businesses serving 150 local communities.
Our passengers come first. Our aim is to provide ‘simply better journeys’ for everyone. The diversity of our network means that people have many reasons for using our services. It could be a trip into town on a quieter branch line, the daily commute on a Cross City service or a one-off trip between London and Birmingham. Each of these journeys is important and we strive to give our customers the best experience possible.
What does your role involve?
Like any MD or CEO I am responsible for the running of the business at a strategic level. In reality this means making sure we deliver for our customers. How I do this is by talking to people – a lot of people. Customers, of course and colleagues – that’s how I know what the real priorities are. But the rail industry also has a large number of stakeholders who take a keen interest in everything we do. This can range from rail user groups to local politicians – like our new Metro Mayor Andy Street, Secretaries of State or our 73 MPs.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My career originally started off with the police force, working in Rotterdam, before switching over to Netherlands rail. This took me from Eindhoven to Utrecht and eventually to the UK, where I spent four years working at Merseyrail where I was Managing Director. I then joined London Midland’s parent company, Go-Ahead in the aviation division before becoming London Midland MD in 2012. This was a turbulent period for the company but five years and a lot of hard work later I’m pleased to say the business is in much better shape.
The switch between the police force and the railways may seem an odd one. But to me it is all about delivering the public with a much-needed service and this is achieved by leading and motivating people to give their best. As strange as it sounds, I like looking after people and enjoy the accountability and responsibility that comes with my role. In our industry we are given a licence to operate by the people we serve; our customers are the foundation of our organisation.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
For me, a great leader is qualified by the people he or she leads. I can’t say if I am a good leader or not – ask my colleagues at London Midland.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The biggest challenge I have faced during my time at London Midland was turning the company around after 2012. We were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons - unreliable trains and poor customer service. Over the past five years we’ve managed a massive turnaround. I wanted to fix the service for our customers and make our colleagues proud of London Midland again.
This year we were named as the most improved train operating company in Britain and the most improved organisation in the UK for customer service. Many didn’t believe that a total reputation change would be possible – especially for a train operating company – we managed it.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Running an organisation the size of London Midland leaves me very little time to actually get stressed! However, when not at work cycling is my real love – we’re lucky enough to be sponsoring the inaugural Velo Birmingham sportive this year.
Cycling aside, I am vice-chair of the CBSO - in my opinion the best classical orchestra in the world.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Cycling has always been at the forefront on my mind and at one point I would have loved to take it to a professional level. If my career path hadn’t lead me to the trains or uniformed services, I would have likely trained to become an osteopath. I was totally in awe of the skilful treatment I received for an injury once and would have loved to learn to replicate those skills.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Life is far too fascinating to get hung up on pet hates in the workplace. It hardly fosters a happy atmosphere at work if you let irritated by little things on a daily basis. However, if you were to press me, I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would choose Shimano bike gears over classic Italian Campagnolo.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Hopefully the next five years will see the West Midlands rail franchise building on the successes of the last five years. Rail has a vital role in supporting and growing the local economy. The Midlands Engine is gaining power and I would hope that we will be playing a part in ensuring that the region’s rail network continues performing well, with high levels of customer service.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
So many people nowadays are obsessed with their careers. Balance is everything and my advice to any aspiring business leader would be: don’t forget to enjoy your life outside of work.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Over the course of my career I’ve been lucky enough receive a huge amount of good advice – perhaps almost too much! Looking back there isn’t much that I wish someone had told me when I was starting out – where I’ve felt there were gaps in my knowledge I’ve taken active steps to fill them. I don’t look back with any regrets about things I wish someone had told me.