The past 18 months has seen a perfect storm hit Eurostar. Terror attacks in key destinations Paris and Brussels coupled with the ongoing migrant crisis undermined passenger numbers and confidence, before Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June further unsettled the business.
Throw in increasing competition from budget airlines and the challenges of adapting to a new fleet of trains, and director of people Gerard Jacques has faced a baptism of fire in his first year in the job, despite more than 15 years in senior HR roles.
So how has he found it? “A number of things have made it a challenging environment for us in the year since I’ve joined and I hope many of them haven’t been my fault,” he laughs.
“We’ve been running as a business since 1994 when the tunnel opened, and we really haven’t seen some of the key challenges we’re having before. We would consider it a perfect storm of issues.”
The problems could not have come at a worse time for the rail operator. In 2015, the British government sold its 40% share in parent company Eurostar International Limited to private investors, with the other 60% owned by the national state railways of France and Belgium. The sale has seen a renewed focus on profitability, with investment in a new higher-capacity fleet of e320 trains also expected to increase turnover. The days of governmental bailouts are long gone.
“My role in the past year has been to make sure the organisation is in a fit state to deliver for the future and has the right people in place to get us through these challenges with the resilience, ideas, tool and techniques. It’s not a challenge I was expecting, but it’s one I’m relishing and believe we’re capable of dealing with,” insists Jacques.