“Get the basics right” – CEO Q&A with Dervla McKay, Managing Director, Go-Ahead Ireland

By Business & Finance
31 January 2024
Managing Director of Go-Ahead Ireland, Dervla McKay, standing confidently with arms crossed in front of a Go-Ahead green bus with open doors
Pictured: Dervla McKay, Managing Director, Go-Ahead Ireland

Dervla McKay is the Managing Director of Go-Ahead Ireland which runs over 10% of all bus services on behalf of the NTA across Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare. Formerly the head of Aircoach, McKay joined GAI in 2023.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priorities and goals are to ensure that we build on our success to date as a company and continue to deliver the best possible service to the communities that we serve while ensuring that the people responsible for that delivery day in and day out, feel engaged and valued in their work.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

As one of the largest public transport operators in Ireland, the size, scale and complexity of the business can present challenges, particularly when it comes to communication. The majority of my team are drivers and spend very little time at the depots, so ensuring that they along with all other departments, are working towards the same goals and are fully aligned is a constant work in progress. I am fortunate to have a very experienced and integrated team across the business, so we make it work.

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?

Firstly, get the basics right, such as remuneration and facilities for example. Following that, really great communication with your team in terms of keeping them informed and making them feel valued.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Decarbonisation is a major challenge for the industry. Moving our fleet and business to a net-zero position remains challenging in terms of the planning, technology and fleet range. Traffic congestion remains a significant challenge in our ability to run a punctual and reliable service. It’s been great to see the approval for two of the first bus priority corridors as part of the BusConnects programme as that infrastructure will be hugely helpful in improving reliability of the bus routes in these areas.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Public transport use is growing at a rapid rate, especially among young people who are being encouraged to use public transport by government policy on lower fares but they are also very conscious about the environment and make huge efforts to change their habits and make more informed decisions. 2023 saw more passengers on public transport in Ireland than before the pandemic, which means the industry has bounced back and gone even further. Our services are an illustrative example, with figures from the National Transport Authority showing that we carried close to 17 million passengers in 2023 across our Dublin routes. This was a year-on-year increase of 33% and the highest increase in the number of bus passenger journeys across all Dublin service providers.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I’d love to see more infrastructure and policy focused on improving the reliability of public transport networks, specifically through priority traffic lights, bus priority lanes, and other measures to give public transport more access on our roads.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

In terms of bus driver recruitment, we train up in these roles, so that we fill the gaps through the training that we offer. As with many other businesses and sectors, the recruitment market for other roles within the business can be challenging.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the cost of living crisis?

Like any business, we’ve faced pressure from inflation, and we work hard to ensure efficiencies across our entire operation. There are always financial considerations aligned to the external economy and environment however as a public service provider there is a consistency to our business model that ensures we are not as exposed as other sectors or businesses.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

For me, success in your job is first and foremost if you’re happy. If you’re not happy in the work that you’re doing, it doesn’t matter how well the business is performing or how well you’re thought of, if in the background, you’re miserable – that’s not success. Making things better drives me to succeed. I’ve always been a fixer and a problem solver, and where things aren’t working quite as they should be, I’ve always been motivated to sort those things out.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

To not take things personally. Not everything you do will be a success and not everyone will like you but knowing the value you can add and channelling your energy into that rather than dwelling, will serve you well.

What advice would you give to others starting out in business? 

Be curious and never stop learning – and don’t be afraid to go outside of your lane. If you can use your skills to help someone else, that contributes to the business on a whole, don’t be afraid to do that.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

I’ve only been at Go-Ahead Ireland since October 2023 but launching Phase 5B of BusConnects was definitely a highlight in terms of seeing the public transport network grow and the hard work the team put into that. There is much more to come!

Where do you want your organisation to be this time next year?

In 2025, I’d like Go-Ahead Ireland to have continued to increase its passenger numbers, developing our team and be more visible in terms of our brand, and thus recognition for the great work or our people and services provided.

What is the best book you’ve ever read (non-business) and why?

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne – I found it very moving.

What is your favourite hobby and why?

I love walking along the beach with my family. The combination of exercise, fresh air, and family time is my favourite way to spend time.

What is your mantra for life?

Don’t sweat the small stuff!


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