As Chief Operating Officer of London Underground, Howard Collins achieved many a man’s boyhood dream – to drive a train!
Even when he reached the top of the organisation he never forgot his roots, driving a tube around the Jubilee line at weekends to keep his train licence up to date.
After a 35 year career with London Underground, Howard has now moved ‘Down Under’ to take over as Chief Executive Officer of Sydney trains, a major achievement for someone who left school at 18, and a position he feels he would never have attained without his Westminster Business School MBA (Master of Business Administration).
Howard left school at 18 and, against his parents’ wishes, skipping the university route and joined a two-year training programme at London Transport, earning £2,700 per year.
He was put through every operational job, from guard and station staff to working in signaling and even driving the trains. Driving a train was every boy’s dream, and as Howard believes it is important “to remember where you came from” he continued driving trains while being promoted through the London Underground ranks, maintaining his license until 2003. “I would go out on a Sunday with a friend who was an instructor operator, travelling around the Jubilee Line to keep my skills and licence up to date,” he said.
Howard‘s lack of degree hampered his progression at London Underground: “Because I hadn’t gone to university I was finding it quite a challenge when going for jobs against graduate trainees. When you are in the world of headhunting and they ask about your qualifications, an MBA from a good university makes all the difference,” he says.
Howard and two colleagues received sponsorship from London Underground to study the Westminster Business School Executive MBA where be combined working full-time while attending classes in the evening, on half-days and at the weekend:
“I was really keen to do a practical, pragmatic course where I could put my learning into practice straightaway. We were closing the East London line for major refurbishment at the time, and I did my thesis on the impact – a piece of work which directly influenced my day job,” he says.
The MBA was also invaluable for his personal development:
“Many of my classmates were from different industries, which was conducive to good teamwork and without any doubt my ability to study and work simultaneously helped me when I became a general manager in 1999 and was responsible for a number of lines,”
Reflecting on his career highlights at London Underground, Howard said:
“We have had such a great time in the last few years with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London 2012 games and the London Underground’s 150th year. I was delighted with the Olympics and Paralympics. We couldn’t have done more planning, and what made it fantastic was the staff.”
Although Howard was satisfied with his career at the London Underground he is keen to take on the challenges of his new role:
“Sydney Trains is much more vertically and horizontally integrated than the London Underground, with 12,500 employees and 350,000-400,000 journeys a day. It is about a third of the size of the Tube but much more complex, although it is growing rapidly.”“Sydney’s transport system faces major problems with traffic, congestion, a lack of investment in railway and old technology. The way to make a city work well is to have decent public transport, and key to this is developing a more upmarket and modern railway system.”
“I’m taking that experience I’ve had in the last 35 years and hopefully bringing along that knowledge of how we’ve improved London Underground.”
Howard will be looking after the rail operations, maintenance and development, which will include securing a share of the $53 billion that the government is planning to spend on transport over the next 20 years. Howard took up his post at Sydney Trains on in July 2013.
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