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THE SKY'S THE LIMIT: Collette Roche, acting managing director of Manchester Airport

Collette Roche talks to Jan Clarke about Manchester Airport Group, her involvement with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and being an inspiration to her daughters

I admit, I had a few ‘pre-flight’ nerves before my meeting with Collette Roche, the Acting Managing Director of the vast machine that is Manchester Airport Group. I’d somehow imagined stern, cool and sharp-suited.  However, on a recent Saturday morning, Collette welcomed me to her beautiful Cheshire home; there was not even a hint of reserve and the kettle was soon on. We joined her husband, Graham and their two girls, Megan and Isobelle, in the family kitchen, where talk centred around the girls’ social timetable for the day, as is the norm with teenage girls. Obviously, weekdays are extremely busy for Collette and weekends are a precious time. Collette says, “Life is hectic and for me it’s very important that we spend quality time as a family.” So, with calendars synched and plans made for their afternoon together, I took the opportunity to chat with Collette.  

From the outset, Collette lists her appointment with the Manchester Airport Group as her best job ever. The executive team has doubled the size of the business and established Manchester Airport as the true gateway of the north. It’s clear she’s proud to be a member of this successful team. Her position today is testament to an impressive career path which began when she graduated from Lancaster University in the late 1990s and started her working life as Employee Relations Manager for the Ford Motor Company, in Dagenham. Collette explains, “The role was a real baptism of fire as I was straight out of University. It was gritty and challenging. It was there that I quickly learnt that knowledge and skills are important, but that drive and building relationships are what make the difference.” 

And drive is something Collette has plenty of. After a few years spent working in the south and travelling up and down the country to see her then fiancé, Graham, they decided to set a date for their wedding. Collette was already climbing the career ladder with Ford but, boldly decided to take this opportunity to relocate back to the north. In August 1999, she moved back to the north west, got married, bought a house and embarked on a new position with Siemens. So, not someone who does things by halves.  For Collette, this move was born out of her desire to achieve her life goals of being able to have a family, as well as build a career. Speaking of family, Collette tells me, “I’m very fortunate that I have a close family and most importantly, an incredibly supportive husband, who has helped me achieve my goals.” 

Her job at Siemens saw her being responsible for bidding, winning and transitioning business from the public to the private sector as part of the Government’s Private Finance Initiative. Collette says, “It was this position that taught me so much about leadership, operations, client management and culture exchange.” All vital skills for her role today. While working at Siemens, Collette’s ambition to start a family was realised and in 2002, on the day she was due to finish work for maternity leave, she gave birth to their first daughter. Without taking her foot off the gas, Collette adapted to life as a new mother and tells me that, between cuddles and breast feeding, she attended interviews to secure her next career move. She was soon developing overseas business for United Utilities, along with developing her parenting skills at home. She is inspiring: where many women compartmentalise working life and motherhood, Collette sees it as one big picture and her two roles co-exist. Collette laughs, 

“For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s work or home, everything just goes on the ‘to do’ list.” This is some very impressive list-writing skills. 

After seven years at United Utilities and the birth of their second daughter, Collette made the move to Manchester Airport Group. The ambition of the Group is the perfect environment for Collette and, for her, there’s never a dull day.  Collette tells me, “Managing one of the busiest airports in the UK and ensuring the 26 million plus passengers who come through the door each year, arrive at their intended destinations safely, is definitely a challenge. The airport works in partnership with 70 airlines together with government bodies such as Border Force, GMP, and CTU.” She continues, “But, it really is the most amazing job. We provide over 22,000 jobs and the airport has a huge impact economically on the region. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of something so great.” With the airport continuing to expand, there’s no sign of her slowing down any time soon.

If this wasn’t enough, Collette is also committed to several other roles in addition to her day job, including being a Non-Executive director at JW Lees, a governor on the board of Manchester Metropolitan University and has more recently been appointed to the board for the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), chaired by George Osborne. Collette explains, “The NPP, is essentially about bringing together business, civic and educational leaders across the region to maximise the sum of our parts and grow economic prosperity.” This is something Collette is extremely passionate about. She says, “I was born and educated in the north and have worked in almost every city here.” She’s also particularly excited to have also been asked to become involved with the Airport Group’s ‘World of Work’, a work experience and community outreach programme. This is a great opportunity for her to be involved in a scheme which is on track to provide support for 50,000 children by 2020 and is currently striving to raise £500,000 in charitable donations.

Collette comes from a working-class background. Her family constantly encouraged her and, growing up, her parents always told her, ‘The sky’s the limit’. She is now a ‘powerhouse’ in her own right and her work has led to her being nominated in the top 100 inspiring females. Supporting and cheerleading her daughters and other women is important to her and something she tries to do constantly. She says, “Work hard, do your best and women can have a career and a family.”