Unprecedented with Mark Thickbroom

Published 4th June 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak to Mark Thickbroom, Finance and Commercial Director of Network Rail Certification Body Ltd, who discussed how the pandemic has affected him, both personally and professionally.

A background into you and your business? 

I’m a finance professional with over 30 years of varied and challenging experiences across a range of sectors. I currently work as a subsidiary of Network Rail, now in its 10th year, which has established itself as the number 1 in Rail infrastructure conformity and assessment.

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

Leadership, to me, is all about integrity – leading by example and keeping your word/promise.

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations?

I have always been a fan of Richard Branson and I totally admire people like Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella who maintain a calm, yet unswerving, drive to achieve their goals.

What would you like your Leadership Legacy to be?

I would like to be remembered as a trusted and effective leader, and as someone who made a difference.

What are the “non-negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

I would say that being truthful is one of my non-negotiables. Fairness is also on my list and doing the best job that you can is always important.

What impact has Covid-19 had on you?

Personally – it has stopped me from doing all the things I love to do, like watching and playing sports, going on foreign holidays and meeting up with friends and family for good food and good wine.

Professionally - It’s meant that I had to work from home during the first lockdown, which took some getting used to. It meant that I had to adapt to managing remotely, through TEAMS/ ZOOM, and had to shape the business to be even more agile.

What impact has covid had on your business? 

Results-wise very little, we had a great year financially and adapted really well to working from home. The challenge before us now is how do we amend the processes, practices and ways of working to permanently remain a flexible and agile workforce.

Where were you and what were you doing when you first realised that Covid-19 was very serious?

I was working from home during the first lockdown when our planned holiday to the Canary Islands was cancelled due to the Virus. It was also when I had to homeschool my son that I realised it was very serious.

Are there any people within your support network who made a big positive impact on you as a Business Leader during those early weeks/months? 

My MD was very good at being supportive, pragmatic and calm.

What was your internal comms strategy at the start of lockdown? Has that changed in Lockdown 3.0?

We have a really good Comms manager and, as an Executive, I take messaging the troops very seriously. I think it’s important to not avoid difficult subjects and to be open and fair. This is something that has not changed throughout any of the lockdowns.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook

Nothing feels as dramatic as “unprecedented”, we evolved quickly into a WFH business but we were lucky in the sense that virtually all our work is desktop-based, so we could adapt quickly.

The word pivot was used unprecedently in May/June. What have you done to innovate or differentiate you or your business?

We’ve introduced a more integrated, progressive approach to engaging with the clients. This is intended to show that we can add value throughout the project cycle and strengthen relationships.

What were the 3 biggest (or best) decisions you made in 2020? 

  • To empower and trust our people to deliver and leaving them to self direct and ask for help when they needed it.

  • To plough on with investment decisions, trusting in ourselves to continue to run a profitable, healthy business

  • To pursue a very large opportunity in the Baltics, which we won, adding significantly to our corporate CV.

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

  • Sustaining our order book/pipeline against a very fluid backdrop for decision-makers.

  • Holding onto talent – the industry is in a parlous state, as passengers are reluctant to recommence commuting. This means that some people are looking at other industries.

  • Motivating staff to continue to outperform when we can’t offer salary increases or bonuses, and promotion opportunities are fewer than before.

How have you/your business evolved from a digital/tech perspective?

We implemented a new IT system for the delivery of our services and significantly upgraded how we work with clients. We’ve also continued to develop our social media presence.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

Working from home has been ok for me, mainly because I have a nice home and great family relationships, which has meant that my work/life balance has actually improved. BUT I have missed interacting with friends, wider family and colleagues, so the lifting of restrictions and a return to the things I love to do can’t come soon enough.

In the long term, I worry that the lack of sociability might have, as yet unknown, effects on people – depression, anxiety and an inability to connect for example.

Looking ahead to 2021 what are your predictions for the economy? For your sector?

I would say that it’s not great for either. Yes, there might be some pent up demand, but certain sectors (hospitality, leisure, etc) will take a long time to prosper. Manufacturing services are also likely to have to build extra costs in, in order to accommodate distancing and sanitising.

I also think that the rail industry will likely face a period of contraction and cost-cutting, for several years to come.

At the beginning of 2020, we were in a talent short market. What is at the top of your "people strategy" agenda for 2021?

Keeping people engaged and focused on doing a great job, not worrying unduly about the future and implementing a “we’ll take care of it” culture.

Retaining the top performers and communicating regularly about strategy and opportunities is also at the top of our agenda.

What are you doing to retain your superstar / Leaders of the future?

We are communicating with them regularly about strategy and opportunities. 

As a Leadership Team, how have you re-defined your vision and values? What have you done to make your culture remote-work friendly?

It (the pandemic) coincided with a re-write of our 3-year plan, which was timely, so we re-set our vision, mission, and strategy etc. – this included our people strategy.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today? 

Adopt a flexible attitude, don’t allow your thinking to be constrained, the pandemic has taught us that a “new normal” can be created. I would also suggest that you learn as much as you can because you never know when a particular skill might become “hot”.

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals.

Honestly, to appreciate what I have and what I’ve achieved, and in terms of personal life, never to take a foreign holiday for granted ever again!!

If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about Mark, then you can connect with him on LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can learn more about Network Rail Certification Body Ltd on their website or LinkedIn page

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