Susan Cooklin

Chief Information Officer, Network Rail

Susan Cooklin

I'd like to start by saying what a great idea this has been by the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT for a number of us to share our blogs with you. 

As you will have seen from my biography, I am the Group Chief Information Officer at Network Rail where I am responsible for all the IT services for the Railway Infrastructure provider and also for shared services which includes our accounts payable, payroll and a National Records Group in York. 

If someone had said to me 25 years ago that I would be running a department of a thousand people supplying software and services to a number of customers and millions of passengers, that I would be sitting on the Boards of a building society and a university, that I would have the opportunity to travel globally, I would probably have laughed at them. 

At the age of 17 the only thing that I knew, was that I wanted to be financially independent. I enjoyed reading, maths, I was an introvert and I didn't like standing up in front of crowds of people and talking about myself. An enjoyable afternoon for me would be sitting curled up for a few hours, reading a Jane Austen novel. However I had a love of mathematics (strange) and I was given an amazing opportunity in the six form of my grammar school to study computing science and economics along with mathematics. That was back in 1978!!

I have spent 20 to 25 years in financial services where I was fortunate enough to learn a number of disciplines and have superb mentors (both men and women) and I was given a number of chances where I was dropped in at the deep end. I've run large programmes, big departments and strategic projects. I've always been interested in technology and I hugely enjoy my current role.

If there are young people reading this blog my biggest piece of advice is: be brave. It is a regret that during my career I didn't push myself into uncomfortable zones earlier, because that is where I have developed and learnt the most. It is only in the last five years that I have felt confident in talking to large rooms of people!!!

I fundamentally believe that if we don’t nurture and encourage the current 16-24 age group, in terms of career opportunities (particularly for women) in science, IT and engineering, then the resultant impact for the country will be dire.

As I reflect back over the last 12 months, I consider myself to have been fortunate to be able to take some of my interests and sponsor a national competition to encourage young women into IT. The "coulditbu" campaign which ran in the last school academic year resulted in 72 finalists being invited to the Network Rail Headquarters in Milton Keynes for talks, career advice and a range of activities all designed to promote IT as a career for young women. Two weeks ago I had the honour of taking the winner of the competition and the five runners-up (together with their mothers) out for lunch to celebrate their success. 

I shall of course be running the competition again in 2014/2015.

About Susan

Susan is a Senior Executive with extensive experience of leading large and complex change across business and IT teams in global companies. Susan is currently Group Chief Information Officer and Director of Shared Services at Network Rail, with Non-Executive Director positions on the Board of Leeds Metropolitan University and Leeds Building Society. In 2012 she was the only European Finalist for a CIO Innovation Leadership Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In November 2012 Susan was awarded the UKIT Industry Award for CIO of the Year by BCS and Computing Magazine. In July 2013 was listed by BCS and Computer Weekly Magazine as the 9th most influential woman in UK IT.

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