David Parkin on a business leader with a story to tell

WHEN she was a schoolgirl Carla Stockton-Jones wanted to become a nun.

“Other people had posters of Nik Kershaw and Nick Kamen on their bedroom wall and I had pictures of God, Mary and the saints!,” she remembers with a smile.

But life sometimes doesn’t quite work out how you think it will.

Aged 16 and still at school she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.

Her life changed and this high achieving student who grew up in the smart suburb of Chapel Allerton in Leeds and had been tipped for academic success became a single mum who left school and got a part-time job in a dental surgery.

Why am I telling you this story?

Because I think it is one that is worth telling.

And Carla, who is now the UK managing director of transport giant Stagecoach, is far too self-effacing to think you might be interested in it.

She was the first woman to head a major private sector public transport operation in the UK.

Reporting directly to Stagecoach chief executive, Martin Griffiths, Carla has responsibility for over 8,000 vehicles and 24,000 staff.

When she joined Stagecoach in February last year it was just weeks before the country was locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic

She took responsibility for Stagecoach’s business transformation plans and coronavirus recovery strategy including engagement with the Department for Transport over the sector’s transition out of the pandemic.

“Partnership is more important than ever if we are to give our communities the green transport connections they need. I’m absolutely committed to working closely with national government, the mayors in our biggest city regions, and our local authority partners and other stakeholders to make that happen,” says Carla.

As well as focusing on recovery, she has also looked to unlock new opportunities for Stagecoach and believes that it can make a positive environmental impact.

“Ultimately Stagecoach can make a difference. An electric bus can take 81 tonnes of carbon out.

“And we have a fleet of 8,000 vehicles, it can really make a difference.”

And Carla’s background in sales and customer service gives her further focus.

“People who use a bus have to use a bus, there has not been a great deal of focus on customer service.

“I want it to be a good experience and to get people who don’t have to use buses to do that.”

While she says that the birth of her son Sean, now aged in his early 30s, “was the best thing that ever happened to me”, Carla admits that her successful career since, which has included high level roles with Starbucks and Sky, has been driven by a primary focus.

“I have only got to impress one person and that is my Dad. He had ambition for me, I was a really high achiever at school.”

Aged three Carla used to read her father the Financial Times after he came home from work,

“I read Lord of the Rings at eight and learned to play trumpet at 11 and achieved grade eight by 13.

“That is what my Dad would tell you. He would tell you his ambition for me was about academic achievement.”

Her parents didn’t know she was pregnant until the day she gave birth.

“I will never forget his face as long as I live,” Carla remembers, and says that the two have only really got close again in the last few years.

Her father and mother, an Irish-born Catholic former nurse and social worker, provided support but were keen for their daughter to stand on her own two feet.

Carla applied for a mortgage aged 18 and bought a house in the gritty suburb of Harehills in Leeds.

“I had to listen to the guy next door beat his wife every night,” she says.

Things changed in her working life when a Denplan rep visited the dental surgery one day.

“I convinced the dentist to allow me to sign up patients. I got the bug, I realised I could actually sell.”

She saw the growth of mobile phone services and joined call centre operator Ventura, part of retail group Next, in Leeds.

From sales she moved onto the complaints and debt recovery departments, happy to take on roles others avoided, something that has been a key part of her career since.

“I went to work and came home, never went to a club or went out for a drink for six years until I went to London.

“I was shocked at what people my age spent on a night out and new clothes! I thought I could spend it on a nursery,” she remembers.

Aged 25 she decided to move to London.

“I knew that mobile was going to give me a massive opportunity and I knew I wanted to be in sales.

“I was naive, I walked into security [at Cellnet in Slough] and I said I was looking for a job and wanted to work there.

“I asked if I could leave my CV. The security guard went to get somebody.

“I said I could do everything and I will work for free.”

They were impressed and introduced her to an agency that was providing support to O2 (the new name of Cellnet).

“I was a bit of a novelty, they didn’t have many Northerners working for them and they used to get me to say things in the canteen like ‘I am having a bath’.

“Very quickly I went from being part of that team to managing that team.”

When the agency was bought by BT she was given a car and doubled her salary by taking over  running the team doing telesales and door-to-door sales to SMEs which were existing BT customers.

She moved to an agency in London which worked with Mirror Group Newspapers and established a pattern of moving on every 18 months to a new agency in field marketing working with clients including Microsoft, Intel and Cisco and introducing Red Bull and Sonos into the UK market.

By this stage Carla had met her partner Ryan and the couple had a son, Cody.

“I was replaced while I was on maternity leave as group ops director.

“When I came back there was a guy sitting at my desk. We had a one-to-one and he was talking to me like he was my boss.

“So I resigned, I left pretty disillusioned.

“An old client from Microsoft came to me and said they were setting up a new mobile phone firm and I set up a field merchandising team for Inq Mobile.”

By now a clear pattern was emerging in Carla’s career.

“I absolutely believe that the results I deliver will provide the next opportunity.”

Soon after she received another phone call from a friend about Starbucks going into grocery multiples.

“I set up a retail team working with Starbucks in London.

“Then this job came up at Sky, a nine month fixed maternity leave cover as head of channel development in February 2012.

“I thought it was about TV channels! But it was about how they sell – door-to-door, events and experience, pop-up retail.

“By May they asked me if I would go permanent and manage the plan I had produced.

“It was my first six-figure salary job outside of commission.”

She admits that Sky provided the perfect platform for her to use her skills and she thrived.

“I am able to bring together the front line that deliver and the back office. I could do stuff that people don’t want to do.

“People don’t want to make people redundant, I could do it because I had empathy, I could walk in the shoes of the people.

“If someone came back with an alternative proposal to redundancy, I would genuinely consider it.”

When she became director of Home Service at Sky, Carla, who lives in Leeds, led a team of more than 3,000 engineers and technical staff responsible for installing satellite dishes and broadband services.

She was happy to take on big challenges including increasing diversity and inclusion within the team.

“We went from two per cent of female engineers to 14% and were on track to deliver the 2020 promise of 20%,” she says

“Diversity was not just the colour of your skin, we recruited deaf engineers. It was the right thing to do.”

A mental health network was created within the team and Carla quickly earned a reputation for communicating clearly with her team and supporting them, leading to a huge improvement in performance and results.

“They told me we would never get the engineers selling, we did that.

“I said I don’t want you to sell, just make sure they [Sky customers] get the very best experience from us and the product that they can.

“Don’t call it sales, it is service. If you see a huge rack of DVDs in a home you can speak to them about Sky Movies.”

It opened other opportunities including with Ring video doorbells.

“We did a deal for sale or return and there was a team of 3,000 that could sell it.”

After almost eight years at Sky, she was keen to broaden her skills and become less operational.

And that is when the opportunity to join Stagecoach arrived.

“I learned a lot at Sky, but what Martin [Griffiths, CEO] gave me at Stagecoach was breadth.

“I was going to be given more of that financial accountability.

Reflecting with a wry smile about her early ambitions to become a nun, Carla is quick to underline she retains her strong Catholic faith and believes it has provided strength and support in her life and her career.

“I should have been in a council house on benefits. I always had that belief that there was somebody, somewhere that has got my back.

“When times were tough at Sky I went to church every day and I made better decisions.”

I first met Carla when I joined the Maggie’s Yorkshire cancer charity board several years ago and she has become a friend and I have also worked for her organising and hosting events for both Sky and Stagecoach.

I’ve not written this interview with her because it benefits me in business but, with my journalist hat on, it is because she has a truly fascinating and very inspiring story to tell that is well worth hearing.

I hope you agree.


A NOTE arrived from technology entrepreneur Richard Doyle in response to last week’s blog.

“Whilst ‘mood hooverer’ is an extremely graphic description I was surprised that a wordsmith like you missed the opportunity to introduce the word enervate into your piece.

“Whilst not as graphic as ‘mood hooverer’ it does mean the same thing, I have known a few people who enervate those around them – or is that you are hoping that by mentioning a trade name someone might send you a new vacuum for Christmas?”

I don’t know why Richard would think of me as so mercenary.

But if it was one of those nice Dyson vacuum cleaners then…


HAVE you heard the latest news about Welcome to Yorkshire?

You can file it in the ‘You couldn’t make it up’ category.

The struggling tourism agency which has suffered a series of financial and reputational crises, is now almost completely funded by local authorities and run by a board of directors the majority of which are from the public sector.

Now the region’s council leaders and metro mayors have commissioned a review into whether it should be moved into public sector control.

Who is going to conduct this review?

The former chief executive of Wakefield and Calderdale councils, Merran McRae.

Who is the chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire?

None other than Peter Box, the former leader of Wakefield Council.

What is this review going to cost?

A “small budget” has been allocated of £25,000.

Given Ms McRae is going to report back in February she will pick up around 10 grand a month for her work.

The review also buys the busted flush Peter Box a few more months picking up his 30 grand a year salary as Welcome to Yorkshire chairman.

You don’t need to call on the skills of a psychic like Clinton Baptiste to work out what conclusion the review will come to.

Say what you like about former Welcome to Yorkshire chief executives Sir Gary Verity and James Mason, but they both worked hard to promote the region and had an outward focus to what they did.

Welcome to Yorkshire was successful because it was fast-moving, entrepreneurial and creative – a description you could never apply to a public sector organisation.

Somebody once described Peter Box, when he was a council leader, as “the Kim Jong-un of Wakefield”.

I think that is very unfair.

I don’t think the North Korean leader would be that shameless.

Have a great weekend.

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