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Women at First making a difference

Women at First

#womenatfirst

We explore the inspirational stories of women as they discuss their careers at First

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Women at First

Jenny Saunders
Libby Scourse
Evie Carroll
Stacy Thundercliffe
Tina Hayden Williams
Louise Cheeseman
Amanda Burns
Samyutha Bala
Audrey Simpson
Carol Sim
Catherine Davies
Dee Harrison
Dervla McKay
Jo Ronson
Mel Fearn
Rose Hardy-Barrett
Sutopa Paul
Mel Rees

Jenny Saunders

Head of Stations, South Western Railway (SWR)

“You certainly don’t need to be an engineer to work in rail as there is so much variety – you can be anything you want to be.”

As Head of Stations, Jenny is responsible for the delivery of safety, performance and customer experience at 188 stations. She began her career at retailer Gap before SWR in 2008. Jenny’s strong customer service ethos brought her success as Area Manager in several locations before being promoted to her current role in early 2014. During this time she had two children and believes that a good maternity policy, coupled with a supportive team and line manager, has made the transition to full time working mother much easier.

Libby Scourse

Divisional Financial Controller, Greyhound

“It was great to have the opportunity to move with my family and further my career in the US with Greyhound. I’m proud to be part of really first-rate teams at FirstGroup.”

Libby is currently on international assignment to our Greyhound business based in Dallas, where she is the Financial Controller. Following training at Ernst & Young LLP, where she qualified as a Chartered Accountant, Libby worked for several companies before joining First Bus in 2013. She managed the financial operations for the Wales and South of England Region before promotion to Divisional Director of Financial Operations. In 2017, she seized the opportunity to broaden her experience in one of our North American businesses.

Evie Carroll

Graduate Trainee, First Bus

“It’s a fantastic graduate scheme with the chance to see all aspects of the business first hand. People here are very friendly and supportive. I love the variety, it will help me decide which type of management role I want to take on after the two-year programme.”

Following a degree in International Business at Edinburgh University, Evie was looking for a ‘hands on’ graduate scheme which would give her the opportunity to apply what she’d learned. The transport sector appealed because of the change and modernisation that’s ongoing, and she felt that First Bus offered a broad graduate scheme with lots of opportunities.

Stacy Thundercliffe

Fleet Technical Manager, TransPennine Express

“Although there is still a gender imbalance within engineering, I have always found FirstGroup really welcoming and helpful and have never experienced any prejudice because I’m female. It’s a really exciting place to be and has given me a great and rewarding career so far.”

Stacy joined TransPennine Express as a Graduate Engineer in 2005. After 18 months in placements across the business, she became a Project Engineer and then a Fleet Engineer, whilst gaining Chartered Engineer status. To expand her experience, she spent five years at another rail company, before returning to FirstGroup in 2016 to the leadership role of Fleet Technical Manager.

Tina Hayden Williams

Mechanic, First Bus

“I like everything about my job. It’s interesting and challenging – something different every day. I’ve never had a boring day!”

Tina joined First Bus as an apprentice in the Bristol depot in 2013. During her training, she received the Apprentice Inspection Award in the Institute of Road and Transport Engineers Skills Challenge in 2016. Having qualified as a mechanic, she continued her development by completing an additional year to gain an electrical qualification to add to her skills. She has also become a skilled vehicle inspector, as well as a vehicle technician.

Louise Cheeseman

Managing Director, Hull Trains

“I’ve been encouraged by some great male bosses and mentors and have taken the opportunities that I was offered. The rail industry has given me such an amazing career. I don’t want women similar to myself to miss out on such a great opportunity!”

Louise is Managing Director for Hull Trains. She started in the rail industry in 2001 as a guard with Northern Rail. Being quickly promoted through safety and operations roles, she became the General Manager for Docklands Light Railway, which included responsibility for managing operations for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Louise then travelled to Sydney to assist in the preparation of the Sydney Light Rail bid. A further two years was spent with Metrolink in Manchester before joining FirstGroup as Service Delivery Director. Louise was appointed as Managing Director for Hull Trains in 2018.

Amanda Burns

Head of Marketing & Sales, Great Western Railway (GWR)

“ It gives me a real buzz to know we’re leading the way for consumers and the industry. I always challenge myself and my team to ask ‘how can we improve and do things better?’. GWR and FirstGroup really embody this philosophy.”

Amanda is Head of Marketing & Sales at GWR, a role she has held since 2016. She has experience from the airline sector in British Midland and BAA Airports, as well as with BUPA and most recently Tourism Ireland, where she set up a presence in new and developing markets in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

Samyutha Bala

Customer Experience Manager, Great Western Railway (GWR)

“I only planned to stay for six months but the railway pulls you in. I have received great support through GWR’s mentoring programme, as well as training and encouragement. I really love my job and I’ve decided that I want to stay in the rail industry.”

Samyutha joined GWR in 2013 after studying for a Masters in Dentistry. Her first job at GWR was as a Despatcher in Operations. She was encouraged by her manager to apply for a role as Customer Ambassador. After two years doing this, she covered as a Duty Manager for several months before becoming a Customer Experience Manager in the marketing team, where she aims to improve all aspects of how customers interact with GWR.

Audrey Simpson

Bus Driver, First Bus

“ I always wanted to be a Bus Driver. After having kids, I saw an advert on the back of a bus and decided to go for it. Working on the Airport bus, I’m often the first person tourists speak to when they arrive in Glasgow. I love my job.”

Audrey works on the flagship Glasgow Airport service based out of our Caledonia Depot. Before joining First Bus in 2008, mother-of-three Audrey previously worked in the school kitchens, then later as a Catering Supervisor at a local hospital but was always interested in changing career paths to become a Bus Driver.

Carol Sim

Operations Manager, First Bus

“I really enjoyed driving and couldn’t believe I had this responsibility at age 18! As a driver, I was delighted to be nominated by a member of the public for an internal award called Superstar. I find my current role interesting with a variety of challenges to keep me busy, and I have people to turn to for support if I need it. First Bus has provided me with the opportunity to develop and progress in ways I didn’t think possible when I joined.”

Carol joined First Bus in Yeovil training as a driver when she turned 18. She was encouraged by her colleagues to apply for a Controller vacancy. From there she progressed to a Staff Manager position and is now an Operations Manager in Dorset. She is responsible for ensuring buses and drivers are delivering the best possible service for our customers. Operating buses is an integral part of the local community and balancing this with sustainability is a fundamental part of the job. Carol is also responsible for ensuring legal compliance for our operations.

Catherine Davies

Program Manager, First Group

“My role involves introducing changes and improvements for customers or employees – and there’s lots of change going on in the transport sector. I focus on ensuring that things are in place on time. I have to know a reasonable amount about IT, but I’ve found that I don’t need to be an expert. Programme management is as much about the people as the technology.”

Catherine joined in 2014 and has worked on several programmes since then, most recently a large scale Salesforce implementation. She also leads a consumer experience expertise group involving the North American and UK businesses which leverages best practice solutions within our Divisions and across our common vendors. Catherine’s career started in recruitment, but she wanted a change and found she enjoyed managing projects. Her strong organisational and collaboration skills have come to the fore, as she has taken on larger projects.

Dee Harrison

Head of Safety and Environment, First Bus

“Safety is a passion, not just a job for me. My priority is to ensure our customers have a safe journey and our people stay safe whilst at work. My role is specialised but varied. I have to influence every aspect of our operations and it can be challenging at times, but there is great satisfaction when I can see the difference I’ve made.”

Dee is Head of Safety and Environment for First Bus. She joined the company in 1984, working as a catering assistant before training to become a bus driver. She progressed through supervisory and management roles to the position of Area Operations Manager. Dee also studied for Chartered Membership of the Institute of Transport and Logistics. In 2004, she wanted a fresh challenge and moved into health and safety. She has continued her studies and qualified as a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety. She is also a Practitioner of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment

Dervla McKay

Managing Director, Aircoach, Ireland

“I’m really enjoying my new role in Aircoach. I like the variety of general management and the responsibility to make decisions that have a real impact on the success of the business. I love working with people and aim to constantly improve our customer offering, so I take the opportunity when I can to use our services to interact with customers and our drivers.”

Dervla was appointed as Managing Director of Aircoach in April 2018. Dervla joined FirstGroup as a graduate trainee in 2005. Her training included activities from cleaning buses to revenue protection to local authority meetings. Most of her career has been spent in operational roles where she has led teams of drivers, been responsible for depots and managed business restructures. Being Project Manager for a business improvement project in 2011/2012 gave her a broader exposure to the business and to senior leaders, before returning to operations as Head of Operations in Hants, Dorset and Berkshire.

Jo Ronson

On-Board Service Manager, TransPennine Express (TPE)

“Being a conductor is one of the best jobs in the world! But I like managing teams and so couldn’t resist the temptation when my manager pointed out the On Board Services Manager vacancy. I work hard and am on call if my team need help with a problem. In First Group, there are lots of opportunities – it’s up to you to decide whether to go for them.”

Jo joined First York bus operation in 2009 as a bus driver. Having previously been a car driving instructor, she soon moved to teaching bus driving skills to new and existing drivers. Her next role was into management as a Staff Manager in a depot. In 2014, she moved to TPE as a train conductor and is currently an On Board Staff Manager for York and Scarborough.

Mel Fearn

On Board Services Manager, Great Western Railway (GWR)

“A Customer Host is a great place to join the rail business. You get to meet customers every day and there are lots of development opportunities open to you. It was a bit of a culture shock when I joined – there was so much to learn. But my restaurant management experience was great preparation for my current role.”

Mel is an On-Board Service Manager for GWR based in Plymouth. Following 9 years in the restaurant sector, she joined in 2015 as a Customer Host. After a year, she was very proud to join the flagship Pullman team. Her next role as ‘step up’ Service Leader prepared her for her current leadership role, where she manages 90 train crew staff. This role includes ensuring consistent high customer service standards and recruiting and developing staff.

Rose Hardy-Barrett

Graduate Trainee (Finance)

“It’s great being supported to do my management accountancy qualification, whilst getting exposure to how the business works. I’ve just spent 10 months in Group Finance in Aberdeen and am now working in the Bus division. My next placement will be in South Western Railway, so I can learn about rail too.”

Rose is in her second year of the finance graduate programme and is currently doing a placement in First Bus in Bristol. Following a Business Finance degree, she joined First Group, as it offered the chance to do practical placements across the business. This means she can learn about the transport industry, whilst doing her accountancy qualification. She has found that the graduate trainees have created a close bond, even though most are following career paths in operations and engineering. She enjoys the working environment - her colleagues are always willing to help and answer her questions.

Sutopa Paul

Engineering Contracts Manager

“At First Group, you are given a lot of responsibility early. My first role after finishing the graduate scheme was in a depot engineering team, where I managed the logistics for accepting 45 new trains from the manufacturer – making sure they were safe and fit for purpose. Three years after that, I became an Engineering Contracts Manager. I manage £multi-million contracts to do with new train procurement, technical services and parts supply. The rail industry offers great opportunities to develop and progress your career.”

Sutopa is Engineering Contracts Manager at Great Western Railway. After a degree in Aerospace Engineering she joined First Group’s graduate scheme, where she had a variety of placements including external organisations such as Bombardier – seeing how trains are made. The graduate training included exposure to finance, commercial activities and the control centre, as well as learning to drive a train! Sutopa has been supported by her official mentor and other engineering colleagues while working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer.

Mel Rees

Customer Service Director

“Tackling customer experience in the bus industry is always going to be a challenge as there are so many factors to consider, both within and outside of our control. But, there is a real determination in First Bus to drive change that will engage our colleagues and improve the offer to our customers and communities and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

Mel is Director of Customer Experience for First Bus. Her career has been primarily in the financial services sector, working in marketing and brand management roles. Mel is passionate about delivering the right customer experience and firmly believes that delivering the right employee experience is key to that. She joined FirstGroup in 2016 to develop and lead the delivery of a customer experience strategy for First Bus.

We’re looking for more women to join our team and enjoy a rewarding career in the fast-moving world of transport. With over 100,000 employees, there’s more to our careers than just driving - we’ve a variety of roles in our rail, bus, tram, coach and office teams. So many people think jobs in the front of a cab or under an engine are just for men – our women prove otherwise; they are at the top of their game in a variety of roles, leading teams and working every day to provide the best experience for our customers. Here, you can make a real difference every day, helping local communities and millions of people to visit loved ones, go to school, travel to work and get to where they want to go.

On this page, you can read some of the inspiring stories of #womenatfirst at different stages of their career in the UK and US. You can find more about their careers, what they do and what they love about their role. You can read about Audrey, one of our bus drivers who provides a friendly service to our customers and Jenny who leads the way behind the scenes managing 188 rail stations. We offer all kinds of career journeys from engineering and finance to marketing and customer service – look forward to you getting on board!