HS2 appoints new chief executive – on lower pay than his predecessor

Mark Thurston to leave engineering consultancy giant CH2M for new £650k a-year role

By Jim Dunton

27 Jan 2017

The Department for Transport-owned company responsible for delivering the High Speed 2 rail network has named Mark Thurston as its new chief executive.

Thurston replaces Simon Kirby, who was the UK’s highest-paid public-sector employee until he quit HS2 Ltd last year to become chief operating officer at Rolls-Royce.

While Kirby’s annual remuneration package was banded at £750,000 to £754,999, HS2 said Thurston’s would be worth up to £653,500. It said the figure broke down to a salary of £535,000; a bonus of up to 10%, contingent on meeting a series of stipulated objectives; and a pension contribution of £65,000.

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Set against the most-recently published set of public sector high earners data, which came out last month, Thurston’s remuneration package would make him the nation’s second-highest paid departmental employee.

The data, which related to salaries as of September 30 last year, shows Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne’s salary band as £680,000 to £684,999 – less at the time than Kirby’s, but now higher than Thurston’s.

HS2 said Thurston had been hired following a “five month global search” led by executive-recruitment firm Heidrick and Struggles that saw 20 candidates shortlisted.

It said Thurston would work from HS2’s main base in Birmingham and start in the spring, once he had “transitioned his leadership responsibilities” at CH2M, where he is currently regional managing director for Europe.

HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins said Thurston, who started his career with Transport for London, knew the UK rail industry from the bottom up and had worked at the “highest level” globally. 

“His grasp of how to manage the transition from page to reality makes him not only the right person to take over at HS2 as we are on the verge of royal assent, but also to see it through the years leading up to the first train being commissioned,” he said.

“The board believes Mark has the knowledge, experience and leadership qualities to deliver the project within the budget we have been given and to do so in a way that recognises our responsibility both to parliament and the communities in which we will be operating.”

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