Executive Director: Rail Freight Group
Maggie Simpson graduated in 1992 with a BEng in Mathematical Engineering. She has since gone on to be recognised as one of Women In Rail's twenty most inspirational women in the rail sector and works as the Executive Director of the Rail Freight Group. Here, she tells us about how her education helped her and describes the nature of her role.
I loved doing maths at school, but wanted to do a more practical degree, so the cross over between maths and engineering really appealed to me. I was also attracted by being able to take a sandwich year in industry.
The combination of my degree and the work experience from my sandwich year really helped with getting a job, and I was lucky to find a great position really quickly after graduating.
Loughborough is a fantastic place to study maths and engineering, both for the quality of the course and also because you will be amongst so many like-minded students. Of course, they are demanding topics to study, but they open up so many career options for you.
It was an amazing place to start out. It taught me a great deal about business, sales, report writing, presentation and managing people. We ran a number of training courses for different companies, and that helped me to understand a lot about different industrial sectors, in particular the railways.
I wanted something different, and had a lot of railway experience so it was an obvious move for me. Moving from private business to a Government run organisation was a big surprise, but showed me a totally different angle on the sector.
I’ve been associated with the railways for most of my career, but for the last decade or so I’ve been at Rail Freight Group, stepping up to Executive Director in 2013. We are a trade association and campaign group, so the role is quite far reaching; dealing with politicians, businesses, and others in the sector, making the case for rail freight.
Many of the challenges are common, but companies who use rail freight are very different to passengers. They are shipping lines, ports, quarries, supermarkets and many others, and what they need from the railway is not the same as you or I when we travel! I love the fact that I can see so many different parts of our economy, through their freight and logistics activities.
What advice would you give to someone looking to utilise their engineering degree in the rail sector?
There are so many different jobs in the railway sector. Don’t be put off by the traditional image of rail, today there is something for everyone. The sector is growing and vibrant, and in need of the best talent to support it, so do take the time to find out more.
As Executive Director what new skills have you developed and what additional challenges have you faced?
Coming from an engineering and maths background, I’ve always been comfortable with the policy environment, but I have had to learn much more about communications, PR, stakeholder management and political campaigning. Just because I understand some detail it doesn’t mean others do, so how do you persuade them of your case in terms that they can relate to? It’s been about widening my thinking and approaches.
Well every day is different. I’m often in meetings with other parts of the railway, making the case for freight. We have a lot of events as an organisation including conferences, dinners and even parties, so I spend a lot of time at these. Then we write papers, articles and respond to consultations, so there is a lot of written work too. Most important though is spending time with our member companies, understanding their businesses and how we can better support them.
Walk the talk! I’ve found that if you ask for a meeting, or to speak at an event, people are generally pleased to do so. The same with articles in magazines and such like. Then, it’s important to have a few very clear and consistent messages, rather than a long list, and to keep making those messages. When you hear other people starting to say the same you know you’ve made progress!
How did you feel when you found out that you had been recognised as one of the UK’s 20 most inspirational women in rail?
It’s a great honour! There are many brilliant women in the rail industry today, many of whom I know are doing great work in the rail freight sector, so it’s exciting to have been picked out. Most of all though, I hope that it inspires other women and men to look at the railway sector as a good place to work.
Seeing how much change there has been in rail freight over the last decade, and knowing that I’ve helped to make that possible.
It’s always most important to be enjoying yourself, and I always have, at Loughborough and in work!
You can keep up to date with the Rail Freight Group on Twitter: @RailFreightUK