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7 March 2018 | By Mark Horsley Community

From apprentice to CEO

Mark Horsley started his career as an apprentice cable jointer. Today he’s the Chief Executive of Northern Gas Networks (NGN). He tells us why an apprenticeship gives you invaluable experiences that you can take with you to the very top

I didn’t always know I wanted to work in the energy and utilities sector. I left grammar school at 16 with two GCSEs, or O-Levels as they were called back then, and all I knew was that I wanted to work outside, in some sort of physical role. I’ve never been enamoured with the idea of sitting behind a desk all day.

A chance to be hands-on

I applied for lots of different jobs and it was almost by accident that I fell into an apprenticeship with the North Eastern Electricity Board. Someone had turned the job down, so they offered it to me.

At the end of my four-year apprenticeship as craft apprentice cable jointer I was appointed to the role of electrical craftsman and then an enhanced craftsman, which meant retraining into a multi-discipline position. By this time, I’d gained a strong technical grounding and had learnt a great deal about different processes and how things work.

My first supervisory role was working as a foreman. My next opportunity was as a technical staff trainee – a really varied role which covered all aspects of the business and provided a great chance to learn. From here, I became a construction engineer. Eventually I was promoted and became the youngest senior engineer in the business with overall responsibility for 150 people.

Working my way up

When the sector became privatised I was given the opportunity to draw on the breadth of my experience and work on a business reengineering project to redesign the core business processes, with the aim of achieving dramatic improvements in quality of service and productivity. I was invited to present my ideas to the Chairman and then I was asked to come back in to put together a detailed business plan. This marked a crucial point in my career, where I moved away from day to day operations and into a more leadership focused role.

By 2003, 28 years after I’d started my career as an apprentice, I was made CEO of CE Electric in the UK (which is now Northern Powergrid). In 2006 I took up the position of Strategy and Central Programmes Director at Scottish Power and in 2010 became a Partner with EC Harris, an international built asset consultancy. Then, in 2011, I was offered the role of CEO for the North of England’s gas distributor, Northern Gas Networks.

Making the job easier

Nowadays as CEO my days look very different, but the focus is still on the operation of the business - offering an exceptional, value for money service to every customer.

Since we started operating in 2005, we’ve been named the most cost efficient of the UK’s eight gas distribution networks by our regulator, Ofgem, time and time again and have been recognised for our award-winning customer service, but we can never rest on our laurels. We’re always looking at how we can do things better. 

Moving up from an apprenticeship role to a CEO position takes tenacity, but it makes the job easier once you get there because you’re carrying vast experience with you. Starting at the bottom means you learn every aspect of a business. It really changes you as an individual. Not only do you carry that knowledge with you from step to step, but you’ll also get to meet a lot of amazing people on your journey.

The time is now

I’m now encouraging one of my daughters to get an apprenticeship because I think it’s a great way to get a head start in the field that you want to work in. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, the on-the-job training will give you transferable skills that you’ll find invaluable throughout your career.

Today, there’s a wide range of opportunities including practical as well as office-based roles. For example, last year, as well as taking on several talented operational apprentices, we also recruited office-based apprenticeships – from business management to communications. 

There’s so much investment going into the apprenticeship program, it’s a great way for young people to get into an organisation, show what they can do and progress from there. I wanted to be a general foreman by the time I was 40 – actually by that point I was managing director.

To find out more about Northern Gas Networks visit northerngasnetworks.co.uk  

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