From delivering a strategy to get meals on wheels to elderly people in London to managing more than 10,000 people working on Europe’s largest infrastructure project, Valerie Todd has a track record of success.
For the past seven years, Valerie has worked solidly to make sure Crossrail – a £15bn 73-mile rail network under construction across London – has the right people to drive the project forward.
Since joining Crossrail in 2009, Valerie has helped shape the scheme into an organisation capable of increasing central London’s rail capacity by 10% – the largest increase since World War Two.
And as Director of Talent and Resources, she is responsible for making sure the company’s workforce, which is spread across 40 construction sites, is diligent, motivated and safe – and she thrives off it.
“I love being in charge,” says Valerie. “I like thinking strategically about what it is we are trying to achieve and getting people to work together and reach the end goal.
“One of the most important things any leader can do is recognise when your organisation or team has been successful and find ways to celebrate – it engenders a culture where celebration of success is routine and this inspires people to do more.”
Valerie, who was born and raised in Normanton, Derby, was given her first taste of the transport industry while working for Tower Hamlets, London, in the 1990s managing a fleet of buses for children with special needs and transport which delivered meals on wheels to elderly people.
I loved the logistics side of it – working out the routes and planning the services. I loved being in charge of areas that made a difference to people’s lives and where impact was immediately felt.
Fast-forward 25 years and Valerie is now working on the final third of the Crossrail project – due to see its first services start through central London in late 2018 – and is working to make sure when staff complete the project, they leave empowered, skilled and ready to take on their next career with confidence.
But how does she ensure she nurtures and unlocks the potential of each staff member of the colossal workforce?
“Old fashioned as it may seem, I refer to the Investors in People framework, which reflects the best practices in high performance working,” explains Valerie.
“I use this to see whether I am motivating my staff to deliver their best. Making sure staff are engaged is important – a motivated workforce means a happy and productive workforce.
I also believe in clear leadership. You have to believe in what you say and communicate it throughout your organisation. Living the values, and making sure everyone is on board with them, is vital.
Valerie, who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Derby in 2013 and made Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s 2014 Birthday Honours List, is also extremely passionate about education.
She graduated from Leicester Polytechnic with a BA in Public Administration and later obtained an MBA from the Open University.
And so determined to inspire future talent in the rail industry, Valerie has helped develop Crossrail’s Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy and an apprenticeship scheme, which has now recruited more than 600 people, training them in a variety of professions from construction to accountancy.
“As part of Crossrail’s legacy, we want to inspire the next generation of people to work in the transport sector,” says Valerie.
As well as her passion for education, Valerie has another fire in her belly – women in the workplace.
In the UK, women are under-represented in the transport sector, typically comprising 10-14% of the workforce.
So when Valerie joined the industry back in 2003, she made it her mission to do something about it.
In 2005, she founded the Women’s Transportation Seminar London, a branch of the US organisation set up to maximise the potential of women working in the industry and support their professional development.
When I began in the sector, one of my first questions was ‘why are there so few women in transport?
“We know, through research, that diverse organisations make better decisions and are more rounded. Diversity enhances reputation, retention rates and makes people feel more motivated and this is why I’m so passionate about it.”
Despite her busy schedule and having lived in London since 1986, Valerie still has time to return to Derby – the place she “feels she has never left”.
So it comes as no surprise that when Derby hit the headlines in 2014 after city-based firm Bombardier won a £1bn contract to provide trains for the London Crossrail project, Valerie was elated.
“Although I was not directly involved, I was extremely pleased and relieved. Having been born and raised in Derby, I knew how important it would be to the city.
Whenever I come to Derby, I notice just how much it has been regenerated. It has gone from strength to strength and now feels like a major city.
“The challenge now is to make sure businesses, local government and the community work together to attract new industries to the area so that when people think about where to invest they think Derby – a city with so much potential.”