Train operator First TransPennine Express is based in the north west of England, carrying more than 26 million passengers a year to 60 destinations. The franchise, co-managed by FirstGroup (55%) and France-based Keolis (45%) since 2004, was put up for tender by the UK government in February 2015 with both organisations submitting separate bids alongside Stagecoach. (FirstGroup has since been announced as the winner, with the line operator rebranded asTransPennine Express.)
The person charged with managing this transition, from a people perspective, is HR director Sue Whaley, who joined the organisation four years ago to lead its 1,200 employees and 300 contractors. She admits the situation is disorientating for employees and the eight-strong executive board, on which she sits.
“It’s like mum and dad are divorcing and are fighting for custody of the children. As an executive team, we don’t know what’s in the bids, but we’ve still had to build a wall around what is going on in the bid teams so we’re not compromised,” says Whaley.
“Most organisations go through change quickly,” she adds. “In rail, you know it’s happening, but it can be months before you know the answer. You have the creeping dread of that change coming.”
This can be unsettling for the executive management team, with new owners inevitably interested in bringing in their own leaders and ideas.