For my third piece on inspirational people I have chosen the most inspiring person I ever worked with in my entire career. His name is Christopher Garnett, and he was the Chief Executive of the railway company GNER in the 1990s and early 2000s. He went on to be awarded an OBE for his work with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Many of us who worked with him feel that he should have had an award for his leadership during his successful years at GNER.
Christopher Garnett was the only real ‘servant leader’ I have ever come across. The famous quote ‘The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality, and the last is to say ‘thank you’ – in between, the leader becomes a servant’ could have been written to describe him. With Christopher at the helm, everyone knew what was expected. We were there to create the ultimate travel experience, and everything we did was about that, or we questioned why we were doing it. Simple but effective.
From Day One, he was visible. He seemed to know every one of the company’s nearly 3,000 employees personally. I certainly felt as if I had a ‘personal’ relationship with this smart, sophisticated, well-spoken yet down-to -earth man who had higher expectations of himself than he had of anyone else.
The story went around that soon after he took on the job of CEO, he had asked if there was an office available for him at King’s Cross. He lived in London, and head office was in York, so he wanted to spend one or two days a week in a London office.
‘We have been expecting this, Mr Garnett’ came the reply from a former Brtitish Rail manager, who was used to bowing down to the elite BR senior managers. ‘We have prepared an office for you’. This office was massive, with an ornate fireplace, special wallpaper and a large and imposing desk.
The story goes that Christopher (he didn’t like anyone calling him Mr Garnett or Chris) took one look at this office and said ‘You had better give this to someone much more important than me’.
He would collect rubbish on trains, never lost his smile and always had a kind word for every member of the tem that he came across. If things weren’t going well he would listen and try to change the way things were done. The customers came first, and the people who served the customers were a very close second.
Christopher Garnett asked me to apply for a job in training and development. I was successful, and that changed my life. He gave opportunities to many, supported and developed people, while not being afraid to have difficult conversations when they were necessary.
If I have ever been anything of a leader, in any area of my life, I learned the way to do it from Christopher Garnett, Jimmy Stevenson and John Davoren.