Challenging Conventional Wisdom …

These words are music to my ears, and when Phil Hufton, Chief Operating Officer at London Underground stood up to speak at the Rail Exec Club lunch recently, this was the theme of his talk.

Phil joined LUL in 2008 and as COO has responsibility for 17,000 staff, a £1.5bn annual budget and over 4 million customer journeys each day; he describes himself as an ‘All Rounder’ in terms of his business skills and rail experience, and a Derby County fan … so presumably that also makes him an optimist?

The London Underground has of course been around for many years, and in terms of culture and ‘the way things are done’, there are legacies from 151 years of tried and tested practices. Phil has embarked upon what he refers to as the ‘biggest change programme’ ever to be carried out on the Underground, acknowledging that sustainable success will be based on challenging ‘conventional wisdom’, and changing the ‘Underground mindset’.

This has of course meant building stronger relationships and a culture of more open communication with the Unions … and by the sound of it, Phil now has a season ticket for ACAS as a result!

Possibly the most prominent change of recent months relates to the proposed closure of Ticket Offices on the network, and understandably this has been met with some opposition. Coming very much from the Private Sector as I do, and therefore focusing my thoughts very much on commercial outcomes, it seems to make sense … less than 3% of Underground passengers buy their tickets from the Ticket Offices, and some of these outlets sell less than 10 tickets per hour. The objective now is to bring the frontline staff ‘out from behind the glass’ to work with passengers as true Travel Ambassadors, offering a more personalised and prominent customer experience to the travelling public. 50,000 training days have been allocated to ensure that these members of staff are given the necessary tools and skills to make them confident and comfortable in their new roles.

Click & Collect has been launched – with commuters now able to order their groceries from the major supermarkets online, and collect at their regular station on their way home from work … an example of the London Underground team focusing on innovative approaches to improve the customer experience.

Contactless Payment was imminent at the time Phil spoke to the Rail Exec Club lunch, and has now gone live – which provides another example of innovation from London Underground, making journeys on the Tube more straightforward for passengers … as long as we remember to ‘AVOID CARD CLASH’!

And a huge sigh of relief … £1.2bn is being invested with the supply chain, which includes new air cooled trains! Standing up close and personal with your fellow passengers on the Tube is a little awkward at the best of times … the heat of the carriages doesn’t help the situation, and I for one will be delighted when the temperature drops!

I really enjoyed hearing Phil speak with passion about what has been achieved to date, and what is planned for the future. And following the announcement that with effect from Spring 2015, he will take on the role of Managing Director, Network Operations at Network Rail in place of Robin Gisby, I am looking forward to seeing how he ‘challenges conventional wisdom’ there too …