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HomeCareersMeet our peopleMeet Gill Cowling - our longest serving employee

Meet Gill Cowling - our longest serving employee

Gill Cowling, VolkerRail’s longest-serving employee, is taking retirement at the end of June, after a long and successful career in finance, and 44 years with the business!

Gill interview image.jpg

Her efforts and commitment to VolkerRail haven’t gone unnoticed – as well as her role on the finance team, she also played a part in establishing the business’ IT foundations, helping set up the first computers. Everyone will be sad to see Gill leave.

To celebrate her long service, we spent time getting to know her career highlights and the fond memories she has from her impressive 44 years with VolkerRail

Tell me about your early career, and how did you end up at VolkerRail?

I started working for VolkerRail (back then it was called Grant Lyon Eagre) in 1978, working a national cash register (NCR) to process the accounts for payroll and purchase ledgers. Before this, I worked at the steelworks in Scunthorpe, doing computer programming. I came by the NCR role at VolkerRail by chance, whilst working in the steelworks, as my neighbour informed me of a vacancy. I decided to bite the bullet and apply, as I wanted a more varied role that would challenge me.

When I joined VolkerRail, I was one of the very few women in the industry, with the minority holding down admin-only roles. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, that I saw the first female quantity surveyor. Today, we have over dozen, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with many more, who have since gone on to further their career elsewhere.

Shortly after, the office saw more changes, as the first-ever computers were brought into the business. I was one of the only employees at the time to have computer experience, as I had a programming background, so I helped set up all the new computers and was on hand to help and train others to use them – essentially founding our first-ever IT department structure.

What has been a stand-out moment in your career?

Professionally, seeing the growth and expansion VolkerRail has gone through has been amazing, and how the business has still managed to keep a family feel.

Personally, a proud moment for me was when I had a Matisa tamper named after me, to celebrate my 40th work anniversary - it was a surreal moment. For the naming ceremony, I was sent to Switzerland, and after that, I had a few days in Geneva.

We popped champagne on the tamper to celebrate, and I was treated ever so well on the visit. It’s great knowing I have a piece of plant that moves up and down the railway named after me, and to see it up close was the icing on the cake!

What have you enjoyed the most about working at VolkerRail?

The people I work with have become lifelong friends; they’ve seen me through the best and worst times in my life.

I’ve also enjoyed the work challenges. I’ve always been up for a challenge, and each one has helped me grow and realise my love for numbers. Funnily enough, when I was at school I hated maths – it was my worst subject.

Today, I love making sure everything balances out to the penny, and always strive to make sure I find the solution if it doesn’t. This job has also helped me build up the experience I have today.

When I left school at 16, I had very few qualifications. In those days it was typical for women to follow the stereotypical pattern of leaving school, finding a job, getting married, and having children. I did do all of these, but I still stayed at work.

What are your plans once you take retirement?

I have a cruise booked in July, to take me around Norway and Iceland, after that, I plan on doing as much travelling as possible. Australia and the USA are on the top of my list. I’m also keen to see my daughter who lives in Cyprus, now I have more time on my hands.

Messages of good luck

Lorraine Wright, senior accounts payable administrator, has worked with Gill for 25 years, and has shared a special message of thanks.

Lorraine said: “I can honestly say I have loved every minute of working with Gill. From day one, she was so welcoming, reassuring, and caring, and has been a fantastic manager, mentor - and most of all - a great friend.

“Gill’s work ethic stood out immediately. No matter how busy her day was, she always made time and supported me through the years, and always with a smile. Working with Gill has been an absolute joy. We’ve had lots of laughs and tears, and have even sung a tune or two together.

“I can’t believe the day has come that she is leaving us and won’t be by my side anymore, but I wish her a very long healthy and happy retirement, as she truly deserves it. Gill, you are simply the best and I’m going to miss you so much.”

Andrew Wilkins, VolkerRail’s finance director, also had words of thanks and good luck, saying: “It seems fitting that I’m saying these words just after the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, as many of us regard Gill as VolkerRail royalty! In addition, just like Her Majesty, Gill has displayed tireless devotion to her duties and tremendous loyalty. She always does things in a smiling, friendly manner, and has shown enormous staying power – not quite 70 years, but an extraordinary length of time, nevertheless.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with Gill for 12 of her 44 years with our business, and have always had the utmost respect for what she does and how she does it – and I have witnessed first-hand that tireless devotion.

“Throughout those 12 years, I very quickly came to regard Gill as a friend, as well as a colleague. I have seen Gill throwing herself into the extreme activities on our finance team days and all of the humour she displays.

“I know that Gill will fill every day of her retirement as she has filled every day of her working life, and on behalf of everyone at VolkerRail, I’d like to wish Gill a long and happy retirement.”

We want to take this opportunity to thank Gill for her hard work over the last four decades, and for helping to inspire her team and the wider business to achieve success.