Keith Greenfield is a chartered engineer with a background in transport and telecoms. He joined Wightlink as CEO in June last year, having previously been managing director of Heathrow Express. He talks to Tom Stroud.
You’ve been in post for almost a year now. What have you found?
Our starting point is a safe and reliable service run by a very dedicated team. We will build on that with the kind of customer service experience that people expect these days. We have a good service and I want it to be a great service. I’m the first to admit that I would like Wightlink to have a more consistently good reputation and it’s important to listen to customer feedback to help build that.
I want the ferry service to the Isle of Wight to become part of the pleasure of visiting the Island. A key part of my vision for the business is that the “Isle of Wight experience” begins at our mainland terminals, where customers can buy Island products and read Isle of Wight newspapers, and feel like they’re already a part of the Island.
How can you engage with the Island’s business community?
Island businesses are an important part of our customer base, and they are increasingly our suppliers too. We are trying wherever possible to source products from the Island. One of our retail outlets on the St Clare ferry is almost exclusively Isle of Wight food and beverage products. There’s a new engagement around suppliers and we’re interested to hear from anyone in that way. The great thing is that the Island has so many wonderful products, whether it’s beer or ice cream.
Island businesses are our customers too and we’ve had productive meetings. Hauliers have demanding challenges these days regarding timed drops on the mainland and we’re an important part of their service. Farmers taking cattle to and from market have their own needs. I want to understand the specific needs of businesses so that we can meet them. Listening to what our customers are telling us is massively important. If things go wrong we need to communicate the reasons why. We need to get that as right as we can.
The role of a ferry company is much discussed and opinions are strongly held. Your position must involve quite a lot of politics.
I enjoy that challenge of my role. People need to feel that we are listening and that we are responding. I’ve run several transport businesses now and they are always a part of the community. They can’t run in isolation. It’s a fantastic job and I love every minute of it. The truth is we’re already the Island’s largest cross-Solent operator so growing the Isle of Wight as a business community and a tourist destination is right for the Island and for us as a commercial business. We are a privately owned business but we aren’t purely a private enterprise. We are very aware of our essential public service role. I’m also genuinely a salesman for the Island because it’s a fabulous place to run a business and to visit and to live.
These are interesting times for businesses, whether it’s Article 50 or the changing valuation of the pound. How do things look from your perspective?
I’m not concerned about a fall-off in business because of Brexit and if anything there might be an upside to it all. The Isle of Wight is 20% cheaper to foreign visitors than it was a year ago, and relatively more attractive to British holidaymakers. With new restrictions on air travel, people are more likely to stay in the UK for their holiday. I think the Isle of Wight is on more people’s agendas now. Our job is to make sure that they have an easy crossing to the Island.
It’s also a time of investment in the business…
Yes, it’s a very exciting time. Wightlink’s new owners bought the company two years ago. They halved the company’s debt and signed off on investments of £45 million in terminal improvements and a new flagship. I’m lucky to have arrived at a time when we’re delivering on that investment with new facilities, in place from July this year, with double-deck unloading for the St Clare with a new double height linkspan at Fishbourne. That will speed up our loading and unloading, ahead of bringing in our new flagship next year.
How do you want to develop Ryde Pier?
Wightlink has some fantastic assets in our ports and one of them is Ryde Pier. It’s 200 years old and was originally built as an attraction as much as a landing point. My vision is to restore its status as a leisure destination on the Island, for mainland visitors as well as Islanders. I’m keen to hear from potential developers with experience who would be prepared to invest, with us, in the future of the pier. We’re having these conversations at the moment with several developers and I’m open to ideas. It would be fantastic for Ryde Pier to become something that everyone can be proud of and will want to visit.