Neil Collins

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East Coast rail franchise crashes: Bowker unhurt

July 1, 2009

Richard Bowker is a man who appears entirely untroubled by self-doubt. Even as he was scrambling clear of the financial train-wreck that is today’s National Express, he smoothly explained that he’s been in talks for weeks lining up his next destination, running trains for the United Arab Emirates.

His CV looks like a parody of the dynamic young executive, never in the same place for long enough for the results of his decisions to become apparent.  He was not even 30 when he became head of London Underground’s Private Finance Initiative unit, and we can see since what a fiasco that’s since become.

A couple of years in the Branson empire, somewhere which seemed eminently suited to his talent to talk a good game, and he was headhunted, age 39, to be chairman and chief executive of the all-new Strategic Rail Authority quango. Its main function was to award rail franchises, but when Alistair Darling, then Transport Secretary, announced its mercy killing after the demise of Railtrack, Bowker was quickly on to his next venture.

Demonstrating his obvious polymath qualities, he became chief executive of Partnership for Schools, another quango, described on its website as being “responsible for delivering the government’s scondary school renewal programme”.

In September 2006 he was off again, to National Express. While at the SRA, he had seen the collapse of GNER as a result of bidding too much to run the East Coast franchise, but it seems he had fallen in love with the train set, because the 1.9 billion pounds National Express paid for the same franchise within months of his arrival threatened to bring the company down.

From nearly nine pounds a share when Bowker joined in September 2006, the share price has collapsed to 280 pence today. The shareholders in National Express will be relieved to see him go. The rulers of the UAE should brace themselves.


Spot on! The man is a case study in self delusion. The remarkable thing is how he has fooled businesses and governments alike for quite so convincingly and for so long.

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  • About Neil

    "City Editor, The Daily Telegraph 1986-2005 City Editor, The Sunday Times, 1984-1986 City Editor, Evening Standard, 1979-1984 Director Templeton Emerging Markets Investment Trust plc, Finsbury Growth and Income Trust plc Passion: fly fishing (and wife Julia and seven-year-old twins)"
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