“We are nothing without customers”

“We use a radio-controlled clock, and have to be there. God help your career if you are late. If we don’t behave like that, why will a train? You have to lead from the top and set the standards.”

Spencer says he can see improvements, which has led to him (and the business) thinking about how it gets to the next level.

How will DB get there? He explains that the quality of planning and the quality of the plan are key. “My expectation is to get a quality plan that is deliverable.”

His aim is for DB to focus on “things that happen day to day”, adding: “I want to work with customers and how we best suit them. I only want locomotives to be at depot for exams or repairs. That focus is the key.

“It is encouraging to be innovative. It is encouraging to try things. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, but we will encourage people to have a go. Some of the best things we do have come from ideas from people on the ground.”

There has been investment in a wheelshop at Marcroft’s Stoke facility.

“We listened to the team there. They came up with ideas. One had reduced the turnaround time for wagons, and it reduces the dwell time the vehicle is out of use.

“We want to be asset-intensive. A workshop is best when it is empty. We have an automated report system that shows how long the locomotives have been stood. You don’t want locomotives stood around. I want continuous improvement. It is about never being satisfied.”

The company’s staff is buying into this, he says. “You can never do what everyone wants, but I think you can adapt.”

Spencer speaks a lot about his staff. That’s because he is proud of them.

“I was really proud of John Gallagher, a safety rep. He won an award recently - a Lifetime Achievement Award. We need to recognise the work that they do. John had done more than 40 years on the railway. We need to recognise that more.

“I am proud of the focus they have on customers. It is more collaborative.

“There are two things customers want - they want quality and to like the people they work with. When we do a presentation we focus on this. I don’t do the presentations; I get the people who will work on the job to do the presentations. We need to show the organisations that we care - and we do, passionately. They have to go that extra mile.”

Going forward, Spencer says: “The big challenge is the change in the markets. We need to get in there now. Get the right investment.

“We do rolling five-year plans, and there are parts of DB culture that we can learn around. Also, you will move around the business, and that benefits everyone.”

He leans back in his chair: “I think back to 1986 when I was working with drivers who had been on the railway before the Second World War.

“Harry Sidgrove was one. He’d gone through nationalisation… war… dieselisation. He said we’d had the best of the railway. I used to think he was right. But you know what? He wasn’t.” 

  • This feature was published in RAIL 768 on February 18 2015

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