Role: Principal Consultant
Career Area: Research, Modelling and Analysis
My role at SYSTRA
My role mostly comprises three main aspects of work – doing, managing and coaching. The doing is based on my own skills and experience, so in my case this largely involves analysis and report writing, usually in the realm of business cases. These involve bringing together (and estimating quantities where possible) the various costs, benefits, and impacts (good or bad) of a proposed transport scheme over time, and weighing these against each other. Sometimes this involves developing sophisticated spreadsheet models.
I also manage some projects, ensuring the right staff are doing the right work at the right time and that the costs to SYSTRA remain within their planned envelope.
Coaching involves setting tasks for junior colleagues; teaching them the skills required and processes to follow; and ensuring that they have learned and understood.
My career journey
Although my career has always followed the path of the transport industry, it wasn’t until a later stage that I moved into Consultancy. From university (having failed to get accepted for the national railway’s graduate training scheme!) I opted to get started in Information Technology at London Transport. Some of the work was unrelated to transport, but I did get to spend some years developing very sophisticated software to support train service scheduling.
After doing my Master’s degree in Transport Studies at Imperial College / UCL, I found a path into project development and the world of business cases at the age of 36, going on to advise and support many others across Transport for London (TfL) within this discipline. After a reorganisation and displacement from TfL, I responded to a job advertisement for SYSTRA – and the rest is history!
We asked Adrian…
When did you realise this was the career path for you?
Having an interest in transport (particularly but not exclusively railways) has always been inherent for me, so I think I was always going to seek to work in this industry. In the event I did move between different areas of work (within London’s transport organisations), the move to consultancy was really a hope for the best decision following a previous period of career dissatisfaction – I wish I had made the move earlier!
Have you got any words of wisdom for someone starting out in a similar role?
Gain as much variety in your skills and experience as you can. At the start of your career and throughout, seek widely valued experience, not just employer-specific experience. You will almost certainly not stay with the same employer for your whole career, and sooner or later there will be another interview! Be flexible; always have a can do, or at least a happy to try attitude; neither oversell nor undersell your skills and experience; and remember to ask for support when you get stuck – your managers and colleagues want you to succeed!
How does SYSTRA stand out from the rest as a Great Place to Work?
Firstly, the variety of work in terms of clients and content. But also the sheer quality of working relationships I have built through working collaboratively with colleagues and clients. My previous roles have tended to involve the extremes of working a lot with very few people, or just a little bit with lots of different people. During my time in consultancy there has been a much better blend somewhere in the middle of that.
With such power in diversity, what unique perspective do you bring to the table?
I think it’s unlikely that there’s any one thing I bring to the role that nobody else from across the organisation could, as we have such a talented bunch of people here at SYSTRA! However, what I do have is a particular blend and combination of experience and interests. From business case development; transport operation and operational planning (including ‘live’ experience in train scheduling); to a wide range of analytical skills; and programming (so I’m pretty hot on model development and formulae) – I definitely bring something to the table.
Also, having travelled through 62 countries over 6 continents, covered 90,000 miles of railway route, and used 98 airports, I’ve experienced a fair few transport operations first hand!
Where is the place that has inspired you the most?
I’ve always been inspired by the TfL operations, especially the London Underground. I’ve also been inspired by other great examples of high-frequency, integrated systems such as Germany’s Verkehrsverbund (authorities coordinating regional rail, bus, metro across whole regions) – and of course on a national scale, Switzerland. I also find Queensland Railways in Australia really interesting. It spans a large transport spectrum, from frequent commuter rail for Brisbane, through heavy mineral trains, to twice-weekly sleeper services to Mount Isa (for example… long story!) – all on 3ft 6in gauge!
What would a green future look like?
A sustainable and green future to me means avoiding depleting natural resources, minimising waste, and combatting further climate change. In transport terms, that means reducing need to travel in the first place, and then transferring as much remaining travel as possible (and freight transport of course) to modes that are (or are on course to be) electrically powered. It also means transferring away from private to public transport wherever feasible, and increasing active travel such as walking and cycling.
How do you look after your wellbeing outside of work?
The demands of earning a living, parenting, and seeking to develop a modest property-based legacy for my son, leave rather less time than I’d really like for relaxing and wellbeing! But, I do try to take a walk most days, do an hour’s cycling a couple of times a week, and sneak in periods of leisure reading wherever possible.
If you could spend your lunchbreak with someone you really admire, who would you choose?
If I was to pick someone from the world of transport, it would be Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of First Great Western (FGW). Having first been acquainted with him when he was Managing Director of my local railway (London-Southend) where he boosted its punctuality to the top of the league tables, I’ve observed how he has steered FGW through many challenges and innovations, whilst still keeping a human touch there.
If you had to pick, which mode of transport would you use for the rest of your life?
Rail. It reaches a lot of places, often travelling through spectacular scenery; it can be very comfortable, extending to sleeping cars on some routes; it’s operationally interesting; it moves fast enough for most purposes; and potentially in some cases (for example, hydro-electric powered traction) it is perfectly sustainable!