Interview with Darren Hockaday, HR director at London Overground Rail Operations

Darren Hockaday, HR director at London Overground Rail Operations, is busy preparing employees for their vital role in keeping transport running smoothly during the Olympics

London Overground Rail Operations and its HR director, Darren Hockaday, face a number of challenges to stay on track in 2012, including the pressures put on rail travel by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Hockaday says: “It is one of the biggest challenges in terms of running a lot more services and running them punctually.”

The company is responsible for running the London Overground network under a concession agreement with Transport for London. “We are on the Tube map as the orange line,” says Hockaday. “When I joined, it was to mobilise a start-up company to take over an old railway franchise.”

When Hockaday took up his role in September 2007, he had only a short time to prepare for Overground’s live date in November, and bringing in staff was a challenge.

London Overground Rail Operations now has more than 1,200 staff and its benefits package has grown, too.

Employees and their dependants receive a free Oyster card for travel in London and a 75% discount on national rail tickets. The firm is also one of a shrinking number of private employers to operate a final salary pension scheme. “We have a lot of active members and I think this is why we are in good shape,” says Hockaday. “We have roadshows at our depots that enable employees to learn more about the scheme.”

Back in 2009, Hockaday steered London Overground toward forming a pensions governance committee and implementing a pensions salary sacrifice arrangement. The firm puts 20% of its national insurance (NI) savings from salary sacrifice back into the pension scheme.

The firm also operates salary sacrifice arrangements on perks offered through its voluntary benefits plan, including bikes for work and childcare vouchers. But trade unions needed convincing salary sacrifice was suitable for staff. “The unions did not want to endorse salary sacrifice out of principle,” Hockaday says. “I worked with them to bring in some other things that would be wrapped up in a package.”

Working with trade unions has been one of the most challenging parts of his role, says Hockaday. “London has its own micro-climate of industrial relations, and it can be a very volatile, combustible climate.”

He will have to work at managing that relationship as the Olympics adds a new dimension to the responsibilities of London Overground and its employees. Hockaday adds: “We have been able to negotiate a deal with our trade unions on how we resource for the Olympics, with more flexibility around terms.”

Front-line staff will be paid 25% extra for hours worked during the games. Hockaday adds: “Because we serve Stratford and the Olympic Park, our readiness and our plans for that are really important.”

Despite getting into benefits by chance after previous roles in learning, development and performance management, he is enjoying the challenges. “In the short term, this business has seen a tremendous amount of change and I have been part of driving that change,” he says. “To now play our part for the Olympics in terms of the transport provision is a short-term goal that I would really like to see through.”

Curriculum vitae

2007-present HR director, London Overground Rail Operations (LOROL)
2006-2007 interim talent development manager, EMEA, Burger King Corporation
May-August 2006 interim capability, talent and leadership project manager, FirstGroup
2003-2006 head of learning and development, Tube Lines
1999-2003 HR manager, Airbus


Who are your role models?

My managing director, Steve Murphy. He has a very pragmatic and dynamic view of what the purpose of HR is and how it contributes to productivity and performance. Other role models include Gill Rider, president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD); David Fairhurst, chief people officer at McDonald’s Europe; Vance Kearney, vice-president HR, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Oracle; and Therese Procter, HR director at Tesco.

What is your favourite benefit?

The travel benefits, because of the ease at which I can plan a rail trip. I enjoy hill walking and exploring some of the more remote areas of the British Isles, so travelling by train is an enjoyable and relaxing way to get out and explore.

What are your hobbies?

Walking and camping in remote parts of the country, particularly on the west coast of Scotland. I have spent some time on the Inner and Outer Hebrides, such as the Isle of Skye and Lewis.

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