The Eurostar connects Britain to Europe, but the beating heart of rail travel in Great Britain has always been the Midlands. For decades Crewe was synonymous with locomotive construction, and major rail companies to this day base their head offices in the Midlands.
Like the rail companies, Francis Jellings, head of IT at Virgin Trains, has found the Midlands to be an ideal hub for his career in IT management. Jellings has been with Virgin for three years, and throughout the conversation you are keenly aware that he enjoys the role. Based a stone's throw from Birmingham New Street rail station, Virgin Trains has a laid-back office, full of vibrant red walls and chatty staff, despite the grim unseasonal rain the climate is -delivering to the second city.
Virgin is Jellings' first move away from manufacturing. "I worked in manufacturing until about six or seven years ago, which was when I realized that manufacturing is dying and this is now a service industry nation," he says.
Jellings, a born and bred Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, was head-hunted by Richard Branson's rail company for the role of head of IT. "They were looking for someone to come in with a feet-on-the-ground approach to IT, and to improve service, rationalize costs and take a fresh look at what we were doing," he says.
"In the first year I pulled together a strategy for IT transformation and I am now remodelling that." He reports to the executive committee of the company, and directly to Andy Cross, business support director at Virgin Trains. Last Christmas the company reorganized its business structure and Jellings' IT team moved into the business support area of the company, a position Jellings is very happy with, as he feels it best describes the role of IT to an organization. "The executive committee always listen and they usually back what proposals we put forward," he says.
With New Street station just across the road, Jellings tries to visit as many different stations in the Virgin network as possible and visits the network's London Euston terminus on a weekly basis. This get-out-and-meet the users attitude is dear to Jellings' heart and, he says, fits in with the Virgin culture of "getting off your backside and talking to people". When he joined the company, his travels quickly taught him that workers in Virgin Trains stations far from the head office felt unloved by HQ. Jellings explains how all staff members at Virgin Trains undergo a training session as part of Vision Awareness, which explains the business strategy to employees at all levels. "People feel they know what the company is trying to achieve," he says.
Virgin may be Jellings' first role with a rail operator but prior to joining the Branson brigade he had spent 10 years with Alstom, the locomotive builder which supplies Virgin and many other British rail operators with rolling stock. He joined Alstom in 1996 and had a career that was heavily involved in outsourcing at the company. "I rationalized IT to one site and focused on service delivery," he says. "There were a lot of issues with IT at the time I joined. Networks had issues, servers were old and needed replacing and bringing to better standard. PCs had no standardization, so it was crying out for rationalization."
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