Interim managing director of Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire, Tom Waterhouse, 36, is responsible for 810 staff and 289 buses at depots in Carlisle, Barrow, Workington, Kendal and Morecambe. He is based at the company’s regional HQ in Carlisle. Tom is also a non-executive director for Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

I’m an early riser, normally in the office by 7.30am. We have a daily call to check in with all the managers. That’s something we started during Covid and kept going. I’m not a big fan of being behind my desk. I visit all our depots once or twice a fortnight as it’s important to me to get out and meet staff in the depots. That’s followed by calls or meetings with stakeholders such as MPs, local authorities and groups such as Cumbria Tourism.

I grew up in Wensleydale in Yorkshire, the first person in my family to go to university. I studied accounting and finance at Huddersfield with the intention of becoming an accountant. Then I realised accountancy wasn’t for me. I didn’t want a nine-to-five desk-based role but I did want to work for a national employer that would give me opportunities for career progression. I was attracted to the Stagecoach graduate scheme because they give you responsibility quickly.

You have to move around the country but they have a good mentoring programme and a strong talent development programme. Despite its size, Stagecoach has a short chain of command. You have autonomy and can make decisions quickly. A lot of staff are promoted from within. They are happy for you to take a chance and try something. If it doesn’t work, there isn’t a blame culture. I became operations director for Cumbria and North Lancashire in 2018, aged 31, and stepped up to be interim managing director in June this year when the MD, Rob Jones, was seconded to Manchester. That’s a lot of responsibility at quite a young age.

Andy Campbell, my first mentor at Stagecoach, was a big influence. I ended up working for him and he gave me a lot of really good advice and opportunities to progress my career. The other big influence was my dad, John. He grew up on a council estate, qualified as an accountant and went on to become a managing director of a large sign-making business. I lost him when I was in my mid-20s. When I had a conversation with him about not wanting to be an accountant, he got me thinking not about what job I wanted to do but what I wanted to get out of a job. He cried when I graduated, the only time I remember him crying. But if I told him about exam results, he’d say, "Well done, but maybe you could have done a bit better." He kept me grounded.

I was proud of the way we managed the business through the Covid pandemic, maintaining the network, looking after our staff and protecting them at the same time as making sure we could provide a service for key workers. We had to put measures in place within quickly changing guidance. We were Shire Operator of the Year in the 2019 UK Bus Awards and runner-up for the overall Operator of the Year. That was a proud moment too.

The key to a successful bus network is running what you say you’re going to run when you say you’re going to run it. The biggest factor outside our control is congestion and its variability. It’s a problem in Carlisle, the larger towns and in the busier parts of the Lake District. You can build extra time into your timetables to compensate but you can’t do that when the congestion is unpredictable. Roadworks have a major impact too.

Recruitment has been a big challenge, skilled labour in particular. We have two major employers in Cumbria, Sellafield and BAE Systems, and they take large numbers of skilled labour out of the workforce. We’re getting there when it comes to drivers – we’ve done a lot around rotas, pay rates and terms and conditions – but for skilled engineering staff, in certain parts of the county, we struggle.

Cumbria County Council hasn’t supported any local bus services since 2014, which has an impact on the level of service we can provide, particularly in rural areas. But with the two new unitary authorities, Cumberland, and Westmorland and Furness, we’re already having far more positive conversations about developing the bus network. I’m really excited about what we can deliver working in partnership with them.

The government has introduced a temporary £2 fare cap on bus fares in England to encourage passengers back to buses after Covid. It’s an exciting initiative. We’ve seen adult fare-paying passengers increase by about 10 per cent and return to pre-pandemic levels. The biggest growth is on our inter-urban services, helped by the problems on the railways. We recently doubled the frequency of the Sunday service between Whitehaven and Carlisle.

Stagecoach has a strategy to be net zero across the UK by 2050. Where we can’t buy electric or hydrogen buses, which aren’t suited to longer journeys, we buy ultra-low emission vehicles. We invested £3m this year in new ultra-low emission double deckers for our 555 route between Lancaster and Keswick.

I live just outside Carlisle with my fiancé Laura. I became a first-time dad last September when our son Alfie was born. My main hobby outside work is riding my motorbike, having passed my test last year. I admit it, I’m a middle-aged man having a midlife crisis.