Kelly Warburton is UK Rail Managing Director Commercial at Unipart Rail, and one of our judges for this year’s everywoman in Transport and Logistics Awards. Below she shares her career journey and the insight that enabled her to succeed.
I was never someone who absolutely knew what role I would eventually have. All I knew was that I was always open to anything. I remember thinking that I wanted a job where it’s completely different every day, with lots of opportunities to grow and develop and travel and that was in itself challenging. So in that sense I am doing exactly what I wanted.
I did the usual school, college, university path, studying international business and languages at Sheffield Hallam University. Then I did an MBA with the Open University because when I went into the world of work, I found myself wondering how I could help myself to progress. The MBA structure was great for me. It took me four years to finish and, because I did it while I was working, I was able to apply the knowledge every day. I’d highly recommend it.
I started as a junior commercial manager; a role that involved a lot of contract management, bid writing and customer account management. I enjoy understanding what issues people have and working to put in the best solution. I quickly and naturally found a good niche for myself.
My role grew over time both in scope and responsibility. I’ve been given some really great opportunities at Unipart Rail to be involved in many different areas of the business. And I’ve never once said “no”. You learn by doing; so the more experiences you have the more you learn.
The worst thing I think you can do is to let someone down. I always put everything I can into my job and I do expect that back; to not deliver and to let your team down is something I consider poor form.
You can’t always win every piece of work out there. Sometimes putting in a bid and not winning can be demoralising, especially if you’ve put your heart and soul into it. But you have to remember that sometimes things simply aren’t the right fit. It’s ok not to achieve everything you set out to do. What’s important is to learn and to put that learning into practice the next time.
Mentors are important; just having the ear of someone who’s not directly responsible for you, someone who can just listen, is really important. Sometimes they might just ask if you’ve thought about something a different way or be someone to bounce ideas off. It’s good to talk and consider things from different angles. Mentors, for me, help with their experience and are great when they pass on secrets they’ve learnt along the way.
When I started, a lot of the senior positions in this industry were filled by men. Generally speaking, the only senior roles then were women in HR. However, I have seen a real change and there are many more women in senior positions. Today I sit on a board with many female peers from all areas of the business and this is wonderful to see.
Rail IS for women. There are a variety of roles with a solid base on which to build a great career. As an industry, we are becoming more and more aware of how we present our sector to the wider world and this includes developing a stronger presence on social media and working hard to attract the right people from all disciplines. We actively do a lot of work with schools, talking to students about the different roles available.
I work full time but I am also a Mum. I’m not sure work-life balance is the right phrase – for me it’s more about work-life integration; and use of technology. Being clear about your working pattern and not being afraid to ask for what you need is important. I have a great support network and my company is very open to flexible working. I work full time but each Friday I work from home. This allows me to take and collect my little girl to and from school one day a week, which is so important for me. I make this work through use of technology, which can actually make meetings become much more efficient.
I always use holiday entitlement. I didn’t always, and quickly realised that was just a bad idea. It’s so important to plan and actually do things outside of work. Why not enjoy the things that work helps you to achieve?
I want to be known as someone who has delivered and always delivers. Success for me is knowing that I have done what I set out to achieve. And never saying no to new challenges.