This edition features LOST Group’s ‘Ones to Watch 2024’. It was exhausting to put this list together – but the end result is inspiring

Hooray! A good news story! For all the doom and gloom in the industry, it was a real antidote to the January blues to be part of the judging panel for the ‘Ones to Watch 2024’ feature, which was organised by LOST Group, the dynamic, disruptive technology company that I co-founded as an antithesis to traditional recruitment. It’s been a lot of sweat and hard work putting this together with my colleagues, considering the various nominations, submitting my own thoughts, and obviously receiving counsel from others on the judging panel. There was plenty of debate too and maybe a bit of controversy thrown in to liven it up even further. As my business partner John McArthur likes to say: “If two people in a business agree on everything you probably have one person too many!”

We initially thought we’d go for a list of 50, then it crept up to 55 because we simply couldn’t prune five off the list – they were so good. What balanced the stress though was devouring the draft that our editor sent through and being reminded again just how this industry, despite its current travails and almost constant state of flux and adversity, is bulging with talent.

We could have, of course, written a book with name after name and our 55 barely scratches the surface of the wealth of high performing stars across public transport. Let me take this confession a step further, I had sleepless nights in a state of angst about names who missed out but were also worthy of recognition. This was supposed to be a fun exercise, but it felt as stressful as many other tasks in my three-decade long career!

So, what did I learn during the process? Well for starters, I was a bit surprised how instinctively folk thought that the ‘Ones to Watch’ was all about youngsters – “isn’t it about graduates?” emailed one person at a TOC last week on hearing we were including one of her colleagues. Maybe we misled in using the phrase ‘Rising Stars’ on a few occasions in our promotion of the feature – but, for me, there’s no rule that says you must only be “rising” or a “star” at the beginning of your career. You can be these at various points during your time in employment. If I plotted a graph with a dispassionate view of my career trajectory, it would be more rollercoaster than Crystal Palace’s form chart over the past few decades.

The longer the ‘Ones to Watch’ adventure went on, the grumpier I became about this whole misconception that only young folk can be worthy of recognition. Even some of those nominated instinctively remarked they thought they were too old or too senior to make the cut! That’s not just because I’m well into my sixth decade of life now, but it’s genuinely borne of looking around and seeing the vital contribution that years of experience brings among colleagues in the industry.

Many of those on the list are on the cusp of making the biggest impact in transport on a leadership, strategic and policy-making scale because they have garnered credibility, gravitas and a wide-ranging exposure and outlook over many years. They are also more measured, in many cases far more rational and empathetic through dealing with situations and challenges in different environments over time, and their perspective tends to be more composed and sanguine because they can see what has failed and succeeded in the past. They also see how quickly careers can pass in a flash and this gives them both impetus not to waste a minute and to make the biggest impact quickly as they can see the finishing line themselves.

This industry, despite its current travails, is bulging with talent

For those at the beginning of their career, it is a ‘marathon not a sprint’ and if I’d have realised this then, I’d have put early failures and frustrations into perspective, not made knee-jerk decisions, realising that if I’d played my cards right at various points, then my long-term aspirations would be satisfied. In reflecting on the misconception that only the young can be rising, it reminded me also that training and development within organisations tends to instinctively focus on those at the earlier stages of their career. There seems to be a view that investing in them will give the greatest return, even though youngsters tend to be more adventurous and inclined to seek new pastures within other organisations.

If I was surprised by the number of times folk just assumed age was a barrier, this whole process was enlightening as well as reassuring in other ways too. On a positive, it reminded me of the breadth of skills and opportunities that public transport provides. One of the most stressful challenges was trying to pinpoint folk into a particular category as we had so many individuals with a multitude of skills, they could have been matched into several.

Another reassuring aspect was the gender balance. I first undertook a feature of this kind five years ago and then more recently in 2022 – whilst there was a reasonably good balance previously, I’ll be honest, the pool of females was far smaller. It really feels that huge strides have been made and this is a credit not only to the various groups such as Women in Rail and the fledgling Women in Bus & Coach organisation but to the industry as a whole.


What was informative, though, is that we still have a long way to go in terms of ethnicity. Some time ago, I lamented the lack of a balanced ethnic mix in positions of seniority across transport and I feel that we’re still struggling in this area. This is, at some point soon, worthy of another article. It’s a complex, multi-faceted and deeply sensitive subject that can’t be skipped along in a few paragraphs here, but it’s a legacy inherited for many decades that hasn’t yet unwound itself. It needs proper focus and prioritisation.

Another observation was the modesty of individuals, which I found reassuring in the ‘me, me, me’ era in which we reside. There are names on our list who are very low-key and avoid blowing their own trumpet. Any headhunter worth their salt will be able to unlock and cultivate the unsung heroes and quite often mentor those who aren’t particularly keen on shining a light on themselves, to recognise and exploit their own talents. Without revealing too much detail, the new technology that we are developing at LOST will sift out the spin from candidates’ career history and objectively give parity for those who are circumspect when it comes to self-promotion, as well as the shouty-shouty few. It was also heartening to advise folk they’d made our list and see their disbelief. I was also surprised how few nominated themselves. Nothing wrong with that, but I was genuinely expecting an avalanche!

My experiences with LOST have reawakened my interest in helping companies find great people, even if it often seems more challenging than ever. I’ve been undertaking this task in various guises for nearly 13 years now and reflected recently on the changing landscape during this time. It certainly feels that candidates are more discerning and less inclined to seek new roles. The post-Covid environment with a greater emphasis on work versus life balance has led to less clamouring for roles and this reticence has, in my view, also created a more lethargic approach from candidates. Before moving into a more technology-based approach with individuals signing up to LOST and taking the time to evaluate their careers and preferences going forward (thus ensuring that they are genuinely serious about a future move), I was finding that candidates were slow to respond to emails or LinkedIn requests or even calls, or ponderous about sending their CVs, as well as sometimes inclined to change their minds about attending interviews. That lethargic approach can be reciprocated by recruiting companies.

It certainly feels that candidates are more discerning and less inclined to seek new roles

The problem is that social media with its almost constant availability of jobs coupled with large recruitment gaps across the sector mean that candidates have become lazy, thinking, mistakenly so, that there’s always something out there for them that they could walk into on-demand when they so wish. It has also fuelled a misleading sense of self-worth and entitlement in an industry that, as regular readers of this column will know, I think is beset with arrogance on occasions. Companies can be just as bad with behaviours, stringing candidates along without ever genuinely having the intention to fill the role externally.

One element that’s not changed in the time I’ve been involved in recruiting folk, has been this desire for a perfect career narrative among candidates, putting undue pressure on themselves and feeling self-doubt or embarrassment if they suffer setbacks or their employment goes in a different, unforeseen direction. Peer pressure doesn’t help and once again, in the social media age of posting happy clappy pictures, there’s a constant desire to paint a picture of incredible bliss and this extends to careers. I’ll never forget the admiration I had for the MD of a TOC I was once working for, who admitted to me that he felt he didn’t do a particularly good job in one senior role, and it was a period he wasn’t really pleased with in terms of his performance. It’s so rare to come across folk who will proffer that there have been times when a job hasn’t gone too well, where they’d made the wrong career decision and maybe even admit they got fired.

In dealing with candidates, it’s ever more apparent there is a sense of modern-day frustration that their career hasn’t panned out with a logical sequence or in a way that looks neat and picture perfect with an unblemished positive narrative. We’d all like to have a trajectory that shows an appealing progression with each job transitioning nicely into the next step on the ladder then winding its way towards an inevitable happy ending in which one can look back on with pride and satisfaction, but there’s no shame when there are twists and turns that need explaining. At LOST we flag to clients career gaps or mystifying left turns, but they’re normally easily explained. Even if they might not represent a finest hour, life’s never straightforward.

I’m also always at pains to stress that there’s no stigma to an enforced or ‘by mutual consent’ parting of ways with an employer, particularly at a senior level where it is part and parcel of the relationship journey with a company that pays your wages. I always say to candidates never to get too carried away, fawning at your employer and their brand because the honeymoon period never lasts and inevitably it will all end in tears. A new boss or ownership arriving, or a major strategic change in direction, can quickly turn a hero into a zero. One person’s positive view on the merits of an employee is another’s negative – sadly it’s subjective and I’m also a great believer in ‘right place, right time’ for many.

All this leads me back to our ‘Ones to Watch’ feature which, whilst ultimately subjective in nature, was based on a consensus of opinion from a diverse range of transport specialists trying to apply objective criteria. I’m sure there will be some who will celebrate those on the list, whilst others might have their own views on those selected, maybe with a hint of cynicism or dare I say even ‘envy’? It’s easy, of course, to snipe from the sidelines and it’s impossible to please everyone. So, I would implore you to bathe in the joy that we have a sector so rich and diverse in its talent-base, despite all the challenges and setbacks it faces. And if you think you could come up with a better list, then have a go, send it to me at or encourage those on it to register their details at

I’ll tell you what, it’s no easy task and more than a bit stressful, even if I feel very happy to see the 55 in all their glory elsewhere on these pages and feel that we’ve an eclectic, diverse mix of movers and shakers, at various stages of their careers all making a real difference to the industry that we love and certainly worthy of keeping an eye on during 2024 and beyond!

This story appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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