A meeting in London last week saw Northern Rail boss Alex Hynes offer advice to young rail professionals about how to get their careers on the right track




Just days after it was confirmed that he will continue in his role as managing director of the new Northern Rail franchise – despite the transfer of ownership from Abellio/Serco to Arriva – Alex Hynes addressed a joint meeting of the Railway Study Association and Young Rail Professionals in London last week. Hynes, who is in his late thirties, is one of the industry’s rising stars. He has achieved a meteoric assent and has headed Northern Rail, the country’s second biggest train operating company, since August 2013. So the younger managers listened attentively as he offered 10 tips on how to get on in the rail industry…

1. Play hard

Inevitably, as you become more senior, extra responsibilities inside and outside of work mean that your diary gets fuller, said Hynes, so he would encourage anyone in their twenties to work hard – but to play hard too.

2. Never work for a bad manager

If you work for a bad manager, you’ll turn into one, Hynes warned. “In my view, outstanding leaders, outstanding managers are your best source of learning,” he said. “They will throw you in at the deep end, they will trust you, they will stretch you, they will develop you, they will grow you – and they will, more importantly, promote you. I’ve had the privilege of working for some fantastic people who’ve placed levels of trust in me that they should never have had, but by god did it get me to learn quick. That ability to learn quick is an important skill as we rise through the ranks and pursue our careers.”

3. Don’t get comfortable

“When you’re in a job and you stop learning, leave it,” Hynes urged. “If it feels comfortable, you’re in the wrong job.”

If you’re in your twenties Hynes advises that you shouldn’t be in the same role for any more than about two years. If you’re in your thirties, he says that you probably shouldn’t be in that role for any more than about five years. The longest he has ever stayed in a role is four years (as commercial director at London Midland).

4. Have a plan

“If you’re interested in developing your career in this industry you need a plan,” said Hynes. “We wouldn’t try and run a railway without a plan so why would you try and manage your career without a plan? You’ve got to be pro-active and why would you leave something so important, your career in this great industry, to chance?”

Before developing your plan, Hynes advises that young professionals work out what makes them tick and write it down. Then, at every stage of their career, such as the crossroads he recently faced in his own, they should assess their options against these criteria to ensure that they stay on the right track.

5. Get a senior sponsor

“Find a director or a chief executive that likes you, understands you and knows your talents, because hiring decisions get made in very complicated ways, often not through formal processes, so having someone who is prepared to act for you when you’re not in the room is very important,” Hynes advised.

His own sponsor was Keith Ludeman, who was chief executive of the Go-Ahead Group between 2006 and 2011. He’s now on the board of rolling stock leasing company Eversholt Rail Group. “I worked really, really hard for that man and I made him look good and he rewarded me with the biggest career move of my life to date at the age of 30,” said Hynes. “He made me the commercial director of London Midland after having worked on the bid. I’d never worked in a train operating company before. I went from having no staff to 800 staff overnight. The next two years was a bit of a blur, but I am forever in his debt because I would not have been in that job if it wasn’t for him.”

6. Highlight your achievements

“You’ve got to do a great job, but make sure that people know you’re doing a good job as well,” Hynes advised. “Do not hide your light under a bushel.”

“You can’t bullshit either because you get found out ultimately. If you’re rubbish but you say you’re great you’ll get found out. Deliver great things, but make sure people internally and externally know what you’re delivering. I think particularly in this industry we’re a bit shy in coming forward in terms of communicating and celebrating success.

7. Network well and often

“Networking is a key part of any young person’s career – it’s very, very important,” said Hynes. “I have a phrase within Northern which is ‘talk is work’. Take time out to meet people, to visit people, to attend seminars and conferences. Don’t feel guilty that the day job isn’t being done back at the ranch. This is all part of learning, finding new people, better ways of doing things – talk is work.”

8. Embrace responsibility

Something that annoys Hynes about some young people is when he asks them to do a job and they immediately put their hand out and say ‘what are you going to pay me?’

“If someone asks you to take on more responsibility or do a new job don’t ask ‘how much?’, just say ‘yeah, I’ll do it’ because the rewards will come later, trust me,” he said.

9. Be nice to people

“This is a very, very small industry and one day you might end up working for a person who you’ve been horrible to,” Hynes warned. “So don’t be horrible to people. Be nice to people.”

Hynes is conscious that people forget what you have said to them, but they remember how you made them feel. “Sometimes when I was in my twenties and I was probably a bit aggressive I probably said and did things which made people not feel good about themselves and that was bad, and I think I’ve matured in that respect,” he said. “We’ve all worked for a horrible boss and we know how it feels.”

10. Learn to delegate

Learning to delegate is the most important skill you’ve got to have,” said Hynes. “Develop what I call a slippy desk because not only is this good for you, because you get home on time, you also develop you successor and you also find out whether the team of people you’ve got working for you are any good or not,” he advised. “If you ask for a piece of work to be done and it comes back and it’s not right, don’t correct it yourself, send it back – because you’re developing that other person and you’re delegating and that’s empowering.

“People love the sense of responsibility. Who wants to work for a micro-managing boss who won’t let you make decisions, won’t let you make mistakes? No-one thrives in that environment, and if we’re going to be big and bold in this industry, which we have to be in order to meet the challenges, we’ve got to be prepared to fail, which means you’ve got to give people a bit of latitude to operate.


Alex Hynes CV


Managing Director, Northern Rail
August 2013 – Present
Leading the team at Northern Rail, a Serco and Abellio joint venture, and Britain’s biggest train operating company.

Managing Director – Rail Development, The Go-Ahead Group plc
January 2012 – July 2013
Responsible for the development of Go-Ahead’s rail business – corporate planning, business development and franchise bidding.

Commercial Director, London Midland
November 2007 – December 2011
Responsible for all commercial activities, including revenue, marketing, customer relations, external communications, stations, revenue protection, contract management, stakeholder relations and facilities.

Strategic Planning Manager – Rail, The Go-Ahead Group plc
May 2005 – November 2007
A member of Go-Ahead’s bid team and commercial workstream lead. Worked on winning bids for Southeastern and London Midland.

Manager, Policy Unit, Office of Rail Regulation
2004 – 2005

Senior Economist, Office of Rail Regulation
2002 – 2004

Senior Consultant, Halcrow Group Ltd
2000 – 2002

Consultant, Halcrow Group Ltd
1998 – 2000


The University of Leeds, BA (Hons), Economics
1995 – 1998

Altrincham Grammar School for Boys
1988 – 1995


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