At Rock we are truly lucky to be immersed within a community of experts. Each individual has their own talent, opinion and knowledge. We decided that instead of writing what we thought of the world and the industries we all work in, why don’t we ask them?
This has part of our series of Q&A style articles that we hope will inspire you, educate you, and or empower you.
Angela caught up with Fran Collins, CEO of the Red Funnel Group, to talk a little about what her days consist of, how she got to where she is and how it all works in the marine industry.
Rock: What is your current position and what does your day to day look like?
Fran: I’m the CEO at Red Funnel Group, so my day-to-day role is very varied! I’m responsible for ensuring the strategic direction of the company, and making sure it delivers on the expectations of our shareholders, customers and employees. My role means there are a lot of meetings! Some of these are with other local businesses or organisations, particularly as Red Funnel has a strong sense of social responsibility and we like to be very active in the communities in which we work. Other days, I try to get out in our business and visit staff across the network – we have multiple ships, offices and operations on the Isle of Wight and in Southampton and I never seem to have enough time to get around them all! I also spend quite a bit of time working with our shareholders, and of course with my Leadership Team, who are the Directors responsible for the day-to-day operation.
Rock: Has it taken you a long time to get to the position you are in today?
Fran: Within the industry, I guess it’s been quite a quick journey for me to this role, but I’ve been lucky in that opportunities came up when I was in a position to take them, and I’ve had some great advice from people who had already made similar journeys in their careers.
I joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 16 and went away to sea as an Officer Cadet. After I qualified with a dual licence (so I could sail as a navigational officer or an engineer) I spent the next 11 years sailing in various ranks all around the world and was promoted to Captain in 2006. In 2008, I was offered a 6-month secondment as Operations Manager, and that 6 months turned into 10 years and 4 roles! There were lots of opportunities in shore management, and I realised that I had aspirations to progress upwards, so I made a conscious decision to ensure that my CV had certain attributes needed for a CEO role. This meant taking some roles that I wouldn’t have initially considered; for me, with an operational background, I had to make sure that my commercial understanding and financial skills were really up to scratch. I also took advantage of any and every piece of training and development I was offered, and in 2014 I became Executive Director – Operations at Condor Ferries. Then in January 2018, I was invited to apply for the CEO role at Red Funnel Group, and the rest is history!
Rock: What have been the positives along your journey and what have been the roadblocks?
Fran: The positives have been many, but a couple of things really stand out; one has been the support of others, in all aspects. I’ve been really lucky that, throughout my career, individuals have taken the time to guide me and encourage me to take the opportunities that came up, even if they felt like a risk at the time. Another huge positive is the fun I’ve had, and am still having! I think I’m quite lucky in that there haven’t been overt road blocks – sure, there’s been the odd negative person, but they’re in the minority and learning to deal with that is another skill set that helps me in the roles I do now!
Rock: Has it changed since you started out in the marine industry?
Fran: The Merchant Marine industry is one in which change happens slowly, and this is both good and bad. Something that has changed enormously, though, is the connectivity available to the crews on the ships – when I first went to sea there was no internet and the only way to contact home was by satellite phone at £7/minute. Now ships are much better connected, and this is a great improvement on quality of life. In terms of the gender balance however, women make up c.4% of the global seafaring workforce, and that hasn’t really changed in 20 years. Notwithstanding that, it’s a great industry and I would wholly recommend it to anyone considering something a bit different, especially as the qualification route has changed, and graduates also get a degree in addition to the industry-specific qualifications. There is plenty of travel, lots of experience to gain and a set of transferable life skills that I don’t believe you can get from many other industries.
Rock: What key skills and experience have you used primarily along the way?
Fran: The biggest skill that I’ve used has been the inclination to ‘have a go’. This helped me assess opportunities that came up and take the ones that looked helpful or fun (pretty much all of them were both, as it turned out!). Another, and one which I think is really important, is understanding the value of teamwork – you don’t have to actively like your colleagues (it helps though!) but you do have to find a way to work together for the greater good, and understanding their challenges and opportunities builds a really solid foundation to build on. Being able to admit, then learn from your mistakes and move on is also essential.
Rock: What is the plan from here?
Fran: Well, I’ve been in this role for 6 months now, and I’m loving it! It’s my first CEO role, so I’m learning plenty and enjoying the opportunity to use my previous experiences. The normal term for a CEO in this sort of company is 2-5 years, so I’ve got a bit of time to decide what comes next!
Rock: What would be your main solid bit of advice to someone starting out?
Fran: Be brave and have a go – others will offer you plenty of advice, but it will nearly always be based on their situation and not yours. You have the power to make your own assessments and decisions, and you have the power to make whatever you do a success. It’s not always easy but it will be fun!