Interview with Annabel McKnespiey

Flagship Duty Station Manager at South West Trains

How did you get into the rail industry, was it by choice or accident?

My journey into the rail industry has been a long one, from birth to be precise!  Born and bred in Woking, a town with a strong railway heritage, both my parents and grandparents worked on the railway before me.  Through a family friend, I managed to gain part-time work with South West Trains during my university studies, working as an administrative assistant in the Human Resources department.  This was a great introduction, dealing with employees from recruitment and selection through to exit interviews from the company, learning about reward and recognition as well as disciplinary procedures.  After university, I was successful in my application to join the South West Trains Graduate Management Trainee Scheme, which was an incredible year of placements and projects learning about the industry.  I have now moved into my current role of Flagship Duty Station Manager.

What do you do?

As a Flagship Duty Station Manager, I am responsible for the day to day running of Woking station, as well as our outstations around the network.  This involves managing around 20 people (Ticket Office Staff, Platform Staff and Customer Service Assistants), problem solving with staff and station issues and getting things done to make the difference to our customers.  It’s a cliché, but every day is different, which is what I love about my role.

What is a typical day?

There is no such thing as a typical day!  I work on a shift pattern of earlies and lates covering all 7 days of the week, which adds great variety to the role in seeing the station and customers at different times and stages of the day.  My shift generally starts with a large cup of coffee, having a handover from my colleague on the previous shift and making an action list of tasks for that day.  Flexibility is key as your day can change in the blink of an eye.  One moment I may be completing periodic safety checks, corporate stakeholder meetings or station property updates. The next, major disruption can occur and I am helping to get the service back to normal; managing crowd control in a high visibility vest and safety boots.

What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging?

Working within the ‘Stations’ function for South West Trains, there is always so much to learn; whilst I find this to be challenging, it is also the aspect I love most about my role.  Stations encompass everything from retail and customer care, to contractors, to stakeholders and business development, so it can be challenging keeping abreast of updates and constantly learning new things.  Whilst it can be difficult maintaining being a Master (or Miss!) of all trades, I love this challenging aspect of the role. I thrive when facing a new problem, often in the midst of disruption.  Fortunately, I work with a great team and there is always someone to call; I believe it is important to always ask for help when you need it, at whatever level you are.

What do you like the most about your job/the rail industry?

I like that my job allows me to work with such different people from all walks of life.  We have over 60 members of staff on the station and I really enjoy the people management aspect of the role and the rewards this can bring.  There is no better feeling than developing a member of staff, coaching them, watching them grow and move on to bigger and better things.  I also really enjoy interacting with and helping customers; from small queries like which platform their train is arriving on, to receiving detailed feedback about how we can constantly progress.

With regards to the industry, I really enjoy following the constant improvements and advancements we are making in the rail sector.  In South West Trains for example, I have enjoyed experiencing the successful Alliance with Network Rail, advancements in technology and customer service roles, as well as other exciting plans for the future.

What made/makes you stay in the rail sector?

The fact that I am constantly learning!  I believe you never stop learning in a role and the rail sector is an industry that thrives on new challenges, new projects and new directions.  Moving forward in my career, the rail sector can provide me with challenging and forward thinking roles that can help me to continue professionally grow and develop.

Why did you join Women in Rail? What would you say are the benefits of joining the group?

I initially joined Women in Rail in 2014, and am now also part of the Women in Rail Mentoring Programme.  Through Women in Rail, I also appeared on BBC South representing South West Trains as a woman in the rail industry.  I enjoy reading the blog posts and articles Women in Rail post on LinkedIn, and find this an interesting way to learn more about the industry and rail news.  Overall I find Women in Rail a great organisation, in line with my own beliefs of equality within the rail industry, and think it is an excellent platform through which to meet like minded individuals from across the sector.

What do you think could be improved within the rail industry for you personally?

I believe that to embrace modern travel, it is really important for us to look to share best practice within Train Operating Companies to improve the British industry for all.

What would you say to a young graduate considering a career in rail?

At the end of the Graduate Management Trainee Scheme year, my colleagues and I stood up in front of our mentors, senior managers and directors and presented all the work we had achieved over the year.  For me, this included completion of nearly 10 projects with topics ranging from charity collections on stations to gaining customer experience feedback.  I also completed over 30 placements ranging from the British Transport Police to shadowing a Network Rail Mobile Operations Manager, to a three month placement with the Stagecoach Bid Team.  I also volunteered on the Swanage Railway painting fences, and won the Siemens #Rail2050 competition in creating a vision of what our railway will look like in years to come.  Looking back at what I had achieved I felt extremely proud, excited and motivated for my career ahead.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a woman on journey towards achieving a senior position?

Being a young woman starting out in my career, it is rewarding to look up to other women in senior management positions, admiring their journeys and learning from them.  One day I hope to also be in their company, and to mentor and inspire other young women within the sector to grow and develop their role within the industry.

Do you think men and women handle leadership roles differently?

I think that whilst gender can influence a manager in role, the biggest differences within leadership are amongst individuals.  A great leader uses life’s experiences to motivate, challenge and inspire. I believe that anyone can do this, despite their gender, age, race or orientation.  I am a great believer in equality and ultimately believe leadership comes from within.

 

Interviewed March 2016