Archive for September, 2010

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Higgins to be new Network Rail CEO

Wednesday, September 29 2010

Haythornthwaite poaches ODA’s ‘silver bullet’.

David Higgins. Photo Network Rail.

(Click image to download a high-res image from the Network Rail website.)

EnglishRail has been known to have been a tad cynical about Network Rail’s senior management in the past, so it makes a nice change to be able to assign some brownie points. David Higgins, currently CEO of the Olympic Delivery Authority, will become CEO of Network Rail as from 1 February 2011. His predecessor, Iain Coucher, is leaving Network Rail on 1 October and Peter Henderson, Director Asset Management, will take on the role of acting chief executive until Higgins can pick up the reins in the new year.

There can hardly be a greater contrast than between the outgoing and the incoming CEO. Familiar as a ‘safe pair of hands’ to his DTI colleagues, Croucher, once a guided missile designer, was part of the team of civil servants and advisers that created Network Rail as a ‘not-for-profit company’ to take over the running of Britain’s railway infrastructure from Railtrack in 2002. Croucher was appointed Network Rail’s first Managing Director and then became CEO in 2007. In 2004, Network Rail had taken over some of the performance monitoring and strategy creation functions previously carried out by the Strategic Rail Authority. Theoretically free from direct government oversight, and responsible for defining its own performance measures, Network Rail attracted increasing criticism from the railway unions, the Office of Rail Regulation, politicians and its own members. There were accusations that Croucher ran the company like his own private fiefdom and that performance bonuses paid to NR’s top management were overinflated and not linked to objective performance.

David Higgins was born in Brisbane, Australia. He obtained a B.Sc. in civil engineering at the University of Sydney; and a diploma from the Securities Institute of Australia. After graduation, he worked in the United Kingdom and Africa, before returning to Australia in 1983, and joining the Lend Lease Corporation in 1985. In 1995, he was appointed their MD and CEO, at a time when the corporation’s developments included the 2000 Summer Olympics Olympic Park in Sydney, and the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent. In 2003, he became CEO of English Partnerships, the UK government national regeneration agency. With a reputation for delivering projects on time and on budget he was head-hunted to the post of Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority in 2005, and took up his appointment in 2006. Here he worked under ODA Chairman, former Network Rail CEO, John Armitt where he reinforced his reputation and proved to be a loyal and effective second-in-command.

John Armitt was generous in his farewell tribute. David has done an inspirational job at the ODA over the last five years. We have been tasked with delivering the biggest construction project in Europe on a highly contaminated site to the ultimate fixed deadline. David set up the ODA from scratch and leaves it with the project on time, within budget and on the verge of completing the first major venues on the Olympic Park. He has done all this at the same time as helping achieve a first class safety record and driving forward innovation in terms of sustainable construction. This is an exciting opportunity for David and I am sure he will do a brilliant job leading Network Rail over the years to come.

Rick Haythornthwaite, Network Rail’s chairman, gave David Higgins a warm welcome. We recruited David to the board earlier this year because of his track record in leading large organisations, delivering demanding projects and managing a complex range of commercial interests and wider stakeholder sensitivities. With Iain Coucher deciding it is the right time to leave Network Rail, David emerged as the outstanding candidate to lead Network Rail into a challenging new era following an extensive search process. There are significant challenges and opportunities ahead for both Network Rail and the industry such as the comprehensive spending review, the McNulty value for money review and the planning of HS2. Public, passengers, politicians and the industry are demanding a better, safer railway delivered at a lower cost where success will depend on pervasive collaboration. David is well-placed to lead both Network Rail and the industry forward to meet these challenges.

Commenting on his own appointment, David Higgins said, It has been a privilege to lead the ODA over the last five years and I am leaving with the Olympic Park on time, within budget and with the finish line in sight. Looking forward, Network Rail is one of the most important companies in the UK – an efficient railway underpins a modern economy – and therefore a challenge I could not turn down. Network Rail and the rail industry have transformed the train service in Britain in the last eight years – trains run on time and the railway is safer than ever. My priority is to bring Network Rail and the industry closer so that together we can continue to improve service, efficiency and safety and add much needed capacity to a railway network that is nearly full.

We wish David and Rick a long and successful partnership.