"Introducing our innovations in North America is a such an achievement for me. A new country, new culture and a new frontier for Strukton."
Founded in 1921, Strukton Rail provides cross-border solutions in the field of rail infrastructure, railway vehicles and mobility systems. The Netherlands based company provides rolling stock and electical systems all across Europe. Their operations also include: Smart Maintenance Services, Monitoring systems (POSS), Rolling stock systems, Signalling systems, Energy systems, High-output equipment and training & certification. They operate on an international basis and have long-term developments in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and Australia. This week Emily O'Dowd caught up with Ellen Linnenkamp the Managing Director of North America to tell us more about how she entered the industry and some exciting new projects which have taken her to the other side of the Atlantic.
EOD: How did you get into the rail industry and what drew you to the role?
KL: That’s an a-typical story. I started my career working for a large theatre agent in The Netherlands. After almost two years, I wanted to change jobs. A recruiter matched my profile with a position at a technical company. The name of the company? Strukton Rail. ( @Strukton_Int ) I gave the interview a shot and right away appreciated the culture: no nonsense, hands on and straightforward.
I started as HR assistant and over the years fell not only in love with the company, but also the industry and how both relate. Since beginning, new challenges kept on coming and I got closer and closer to the heart of our company - the technology and production departments. Every few years I got the chance to switch jobs, pick up skills, knowledge and further develop my capabilities till, after having been responsible for one of our Business Units, I got the chance to set up Strukton Rail North America. Introducing our innovations in North America is a such an achievement for me. A new country, new culture and a new frontier for Strukton. It makes me proud being part of the development and improvement of the rail industry.
EOD: What do you like most about your job?
KL: I learn every day. The innovative character of Strukton Rail manifests itself in several aspects of my job. First of all we, as a company offer something unique. It is great to be able to help customers improve the safety and reliability of their network. For example, we can predict switch failures two weeks in advance. Secondly, we keep on working on innovations to be able to support our clients not only now, but also in the future. That challenges me as well. I need to stay up to date on so many levels and that really keeps me motivated.
Thirdly, getting a foothold in a new market is quite an important thing. Another country means another culture, different ways of working and building a whole new network. I think it is a fantastic opportunity, both for our company as well as my own personal development to build new relationships, learn new ways of working and share our knowledge to enhance the industry’s safety, reliability and efficiency.
EOD: What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
KL: To build a successful company from scratch is a challenge that consists of three elements:
1. It is a new market where nobody knows Strukton. Since business is mostly about trust and references, it will take time before people begin to know us and understand and appreciate our work. However, progress has been steady and we are doing well after just seven months.
2. The fact that Strukton Rail’s focus in the US is on railroad maintenance is an extra hurdle. Maintenance is regarded differently there than in The Netherlands. The phrase - ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, contradicts with our aim to sell failure predictions. Sometimes this can be a bridge too far.
3. Limited budgets. There is a structural money problem, especially with the passenger transits and commuter rails which results in enormous maintenance back logs. To explain that our smart maintenance products, services and solutions eventually will save money and lower life cycle costs can be difficult.
EOD: What will be some of the biggest differences between public transport now and in 10 years’ time?
KL: I believe that as a result of urbanisation, more people will get out of their cars and switch to public transport.
Additionally, I think that more and more trains will become driverless, implying that the requirements with regard to safety and quality of the rail network will only further increase. Higher frequency is also something we will see, which asks for improved safety and reliability of trains, track and maintenance. Due to environmental and accessibility issues, trains will see increased popularity over planes for intermediate distance journeys.
EOD: What’s your favourite rail journey?
KL: Last year I was so lucky to be able to accompany my husband on a press trip. We made a ten day tour with Amtrak travelling from Chicago to Los Angeles, to Seattle and back to Chicago on the Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight and Empire Builder. It’s hard to choose one of the routes because all of them had their own characteristics. The plains, mountains, desert, Pacific, Pudget Sound, Rocky’s - America really is ‘the beautiful’. Also, traveling by train is very relaxing. I was able to meet people, share stories and lives, work a little, read a book, look out of the window and slowly reach a state of Zen.
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