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EDITIONS
Friday, 17 November, 2000, 14:40 GMT
The man passengers loved to hate
Gerald Corbett and Steven Marshall
Gerald Corbett shared the pressure with finance director Steven Marshall
When Gerald Corbett agreed to become Railtrack chief executive in 1997, overnight he became one of the UK's most high-profile businessmen.

Since privatisation, Railtrack has been the focus for passenger complaints about overcrowding, delays, expense and most serious of all, their fears about safety.

Three years into the job, even the combative and direct Corbett admitted the job was more difficult than he had expected.

Immediately after the Hatfield crash in which killed four people and injured 30, he offered his resignation to the Railtrack board. After a show of support by the rail industry and even the newspapers, the board rejected his offer and asked him to stay on to tackle the company's problems.

Since then, the media has been full of Mr Corbett's and Railtrack's apologies for the situation - some of them in paid advertisements addressing travellers.

But apologies and excuses can only go so far and the time now appears to have come for the one-time management consultant to step down.

In the firing line

He and the company he ran may have rightly attracted media and public criticism but some City analysts hold the view that he has made a better job of running Railtrack than was previously done.

Chris Jackson, deputy editor of Railway Gazette, said: "He has done a lot to turn Railtrack around in the last couple of years. If someone now comes into the job with little or no experience, it will take them at least as long again to learn the business properly.

"Mr Corbett was prepared to stand up for the railway industry while being realistic about where it was going."

Mr Corbett argued that privatisation of the industry left Railtrack in a tricky position.

"It's not possible to reconcile the needs of shareholders with our public-service obligations and that's because the incentives we were set up with do not encourage investment. They've done it the wrong way," he said.

"We want to be directly incentivised to deliver on our service obligations so that as punctuality improves, investment in safety improves and profits go up."

Responsibility

While many will consider he should have resigned earlier, his actions appear to show that he did take the social responsibility of his job seriously.

Last year, Mr Corbett waived his bonus "in light of the events of the year and his position in the industry".

"The work we have done has not been good enough...it has been truly dreadful and it's largely down to us and our contractors. We are trying to do a hell of a lot of work and the way we have been doing it has not been good enough. I'm very sorry about that," he said on the BBC's Today programme earlier this year.

Prior to joining Railtrack, he had been finance director at Grand Metropolitan.

He held senior positions at Dixons between 1982 and 1987 before becoming group finance director at Redlands, the building materials company.

Mr Corbett, 48, studied history at Cambridge and attended London and Harvard business schools, before joining Boston Consulting Group, the international management consulting firm, where he stayed until 1982.

He is married with four children.



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