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  • Bio: Dr Louisa Bell is Head of Environment and Energy for Eurostar.She has a BSc in Theoretical Physics (First Class) from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and a PhD in Condensed Matter Theoretical Physics from Imperial College, London.

Louisa Bell

Starting my career

It was always a question asked at school and never something I could decide on an answer for. I ranged from “work in a laboratory”, to psychiatrist. Our school careers service computerised questionnaire recommended sculptor. With my lack of artistic flair, that seemed unlikely.

So, I have weaved around doing things that appealed at the time and I’m now at an age where I sense that maybe I’ll never know what I want to be when I grow up. However, I do have a much clearer idea about the things I enjoy doing, the areas where I can add value and the things that make me tick.

I also have a good idea about the things it’s probably best that I steer clear of. My approach certainly couldn’t be called a career strategy but it has worked for me and by and large I have thoroughly enjoyed all my jobs which is something that I would consider a success.

My current role combines a number of my interests and passions. I lead the Environment & Energy team in Eurostar developing and managing the ongoing improvement of Eurostar in these areas, under the banner of our Tread Lightly initiative.

It is a role that involves working with all areas of the business to improve our environmental performance.

As a company we are hugely committed to being leaders on these issues in the travel and transport sector and it is an area where the opportunity to make a real difference is huge. We have around 1,500 employees in total, so the commitment to have four full-time positions dedicated to environmental improvement, and 40 champions from across the business is significant.

What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?

My first plan was to become an academic. I loved the problem solving of my undergraduate degree in Theoretical Physics and working out how things worked. On graduation it was therefore a natural step to begin a PhD in the subject. Within the research group, I was the first female student they had had in some years. I think it was more of a shock to them than it was to me, although it taught me some valuable lessons about getting to know different cultures! Something that would stand me in good stead later on.

Fairly early on, I realised that I didn’t have the passion required to make physics research my life. However, the rest of the research group had a sweepstake on how long I would last and that was the thing that spurred me on to the end.

The glamorous life of travel

Still unsure about what I wanted to do I looked at various graduate programmes and the British Airways programme seemed to allow people to try out a number of different roles across a variety of areas. It seemed the perfect way to help make up my mind – as well as adding a bit of glamour.
My “buddy” in the first few weeks gave me one of the few pieces of advice on career that has stuck in my mind. He said, “Always go for the role that you think will be most difficult for you to do”. And to a large degree I have followed that.

My first role was as airports manager in Norway where I had a baptism of fire managing a team and dealing with customers. Going for an airport role was my chance to prove that stereotype wrong and show a different side to my skills.

Whilst in airports I thought sales people were largely about schmoozing and lunching. Therefore, when my next job move came up, I followed the advice I had been given and moved into a role as an account manager. What I actually found was a job that taught me a huge amount about negotiation, commercial realities and business relationships. I also learnt a lot about the value of these less process driven aspects of business that actually make things happen.

Both of my roles had been fairly short term in focus and filled with adrenaline. The thought of something longer term and slower in pace did not appeal, so that was exactly what I went for. I moved into the British Airways alliances department where I worked on a variety of deals and relationships with other airlines. Many aspects of them required the agreement of many people across the organisation.

Time to move on

By this stage I was very comfortable having spent almost seven years at British Airways, and I had a good network of contacts across the organisation to help me get things done.

I risked becoming too comfortable so I decided it was time to venture out beyond the airline I had so enjoyed working for.

An interview with Eurostar came up and I mainly went for interview practice. The more people I spoke to in the organisation the more I enjoyed it – everyone was so friendly. The thing that really inspired me was that I was told that they definitely wanted me in the organisation they just weren’t sure which role they thought would suit me best. This focus on ability rather than specific experience suited my liking for variety.

Feet back on the ground

My first role was in Business sales managing the team who looked after all our relationships with Travel Management Companies and other partnerships. It was a return to team management and to sales.

I was fairly quickly promoted to Head of Business Sales and after three years in Business Sales I was looking for a new challenge. That challenge came in the form of managing the commercial planning associated with Eurostar’s upcoming move from London Waterloo to London St Pancras.

It was back to looking at the longer term and taking an overview across all our markets and aspects of how we worked commercially. It was also the chance to be involved in a huge and exciting project that has surpassed all expectations in terms of its success.

As my role was naturally beginning to tail off, I was struggling to think where my next move would be. There was nothing obvious within Eurostar so I started to think about my options outside, then a new role was announced – Head of Environment & Energy. It combined so many positives: continuing to work in a great company, a growing and fast-changing area and finally having a chance to make use of some of my science! I don’t think I have ever done so much interview preparation.

Who knows what my next move (hopefully onwards and upwards) will be?

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