Spotlight on Carolyn Ferguson

Spotlight on Carolyn Ferguson, Chief People Officer and Company Secretary

The Women in Bus and Coach “Spotlight On” initiative shines a light on the incredible contributions of women in all roles across the bus, coach, and community transport sector. From professional drivers and engineers to human resources experts and CEO’s, ‘Spotlight On’ will highlight the diverse talents and achievements of women in this dynamic industry.

Today we focus on and find out about:

Carolyn Ferguson
Chief People Officer and Company Secretary
The Go-Ahead Group Ltd

How did you get to where you are today?

After growing up in Newcastle, I left school at 16 (much to my parent’s despair) and joined an energy company as a clerical trainee. I worked hard, took a part-time degree in my spare time, and was promoted several times.

When an opportunity arose at Go-Ahead in 2001, I jumped at it. This was my first foray into the world of the ‘Company Secretary’ and I loved it.  Within eighteen months I had passed my professional company secretarial exams and within 4 years I was appointed as Company Secretary of what was then a FTSE 250 PLC. This was a huge achievement as I was a woman, in a senior management position, and under 40 years of age.

My real passion however has always been about the people I work with. With my professional coaching qualification, I have been formally coaching colleagues for many years. It’s the common thread that has run through everything in my career to date, which is why I recently decided to also take on the role of Chief People Officer at Go-Ahead.

I believe I got to where I am today not only because I worked hard (that goes without saying) but because I was always interested… interested in the people I worked with, the business I worked in and the impact we had on our wider society.  I was also fortunate enough to be supported by some inspirational managers, peers and colleagues in a company that has always had a sustainable purpose and values I have been very aligned to.

Did you experience any challenges getting to where you are today?

My roles have always had such a wide remit, that there have been never ending opportunities to add value.  My challenges therefore have predominantly centred on ‘wanting to do everything’ and ‘not having enough bandwidth’.  It’s a good challenge to have, but one where you have to be particularly mindful of where you can add the most value and importantly, your ‘work life balance’.  This has always been, and continues to be, a challenge, but it is something I am acutely aware of and positively try to address.

If so, how did you overcome then?

I’m incredibly lucky to have a supportive husband and family. But you also have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  A positive mindset and a ‘can do’ attitude go a long way and experience is priceless. With each new challenge conquered comes increased resilience. What seemed insurmountable ten years ago, five years ago or even last year, I can just take in my stride now.

What do you like about the sector?

The public transport industry is all about the people.  Whether this be the people that work in our business, our customers or our stakeholders and communities.  Without the people, we couldn’t run buses or trains, we couldn’t help customers connect with their families and work, we couldn’t support communities or be part of a more sustainable future for our planet. I particularly like that we are now attracting a younger generation because of our sustainability credentials.

What does a typical day look like?

There is no typical day……… However, with my Chief People Officer hat on, I could be visiting one of our businesses to talk about employee engagement, recruitment, or succession planning. With my Company Secretary hat on, I could be supporting the Chair with a Board meeting or working with the auditors to ensure our statutory reporting is compliant.  My role on the Executive Leadership Team enables me to share my knowledge and insights to ensure that we implement the business strategy agreed by the Board in the most effective way, with compliance and the voice of our people, always in the room.

What advice would you give to women thinking about a career in the bus and coach sector?

If you want to work in a sector that has great purpose and a clear sustainability agenda, then the bus and coach sector has so many opportunities, particularly at this time when there is a universal aim of also increasing diversity and inclusivity.

What has been your bus or coach sector career highlight?

The single most important highlight of my career, which I am fortunate enough is an ongoing one, is the positive influence I can have on others.  This is not only through the executive roles I hold, but also through my coaching relationships where it has been so rewarding to help colleagues, peers and teams navigate their way through many challenges and opportunities. It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from these relationships too, and it has always been the golden thread throughout my career.

What three things could the Bus and Coach sector do to improvement the industry for Women?

The sector is working hard on many initiatives, but the top three for me would be more flexible, family friendly rosters, improving the ambience of our bus depots to ensure they’re environments where everybody can feel comfortable and visibility, and accessibility to, career opportunities.  As an added extra, we really need to celebrate the success of women more in our sector.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Hopefully doing more of what I’m doing now.  I love my job, I love the people I work with, but it will always be important to me that I can add real value in whatever I do.

Anything else you would like to share?

Always be interested. Regularly reflect on where you’ve been, to understand where you’re going and what you want to take with you and be prepared to develop personally, professionally, and culturally.

Thank you for sharing your story, Carolyn, you are truly an inspiration!

To find out more about who Carolyn works for and career opportunities visit: The Go-Ahead Group – Reconnecting people and communities

On 8 March 2024, Go-Ahead has set a target to recruit 1,500 women bus drivers, aiming for 50% gender equality by 2035. The ‘Go-Ahead Women’ initiative will see an investment of £8 million to create inclusive environments and training opportunities for our female colleagues. The new recruits will receive eight weeks of fully paid training estimated to be an investment of £7.5 million. Find out more:

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