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General Manager of Guest Experience - Kayleigh Houghton

Name, Job Title, Years in Serco

Kayleigh Houghton, General Manager of Dubai Airports Guest Experience, 12 years.

Tell us a little bit about your role?

I’ve been at Serco for 12 years and I was recently hired into this new position which will officially start on 1st August 2021. I will be responsible for ensuring Serco achieves its contractual and internal obligations regarding safety, operational and commercial performance at Dubai Airport whilst delivering excellent stakeholder management and staff engagement.

Prior to this position, I was head of transition in the Middle East for 2 years where I led the transition from the sales-stage to the operational start-up stage. I look forward to taking on a more operational role and leading a frontline team in August.  


Describe your career progression, and what has supported you to progress to a senior leader position?

I joined Serco in 2009 as the programme administrator for our largest rail contract in the Middle East. I was gradually assigned more responsibility within the transport sector and worked on many high-profile projects over the years, which gave me insight into many different approaches, methodologies, and stakeholders that Serco works with.

After 10 years of increasing responsibility, I moved over to our Dubai Support Office in 2019 and took over responsibility of transitions across all of our sectors. This diverse portfolio has allowed me to engage with some outstanding people and has given me a broad view of leadership styles and skills that I have adapted and integrated into my own personal approach.

I have been lucky to have some excellent mentors and leaders during my time at Serco, with some who were key players in my progression. Samantha Rowles, my most recent manager, is one such example who personifies empowerment, trust, support and guidance which enables growth and development of all team members. Such leadership has enabled and accelerated my development by allowing me to take on new challenges whilst having an open and honest two-way communication – which I feel is so important.

At Serco, 42% of our Executive Management Team is made up of females – how do you feel the business has supported you?

Over the years, I’ve seen the number of women on the Executive Management Team and in other leadership roles increase. It inspires me to work hard and prove my worth to the business; knowing that there is no glass ceiling and when selecting the correct person, gender does not play a part.

I appreciate the effort that Serco puts into enhancing the career growth of women. I am already part of the gender diversity and equality panel, where we look to ensure measures are taken on this journey. I am pleased to see that as the gender gaps is made more visible more and more men are dedicating their efforts to ensure it is always a level playing field.

What barriers have you personally faced in your career when progressing into leadership positions, and what advice would you give to others to overcome these? How do you balance work-life responsibilities?

Over the years I have faced many preconceptions about my role, often being associated with stereotypical positions for women, which during the early years of my career I would find frustrating and disheartening. I have now learned to embrace this and thrive from turning those preconceptions on their head; there is nothing more rewarding than proving people wrong!

In terms of work-life balance, slowly I have come to realise there will never be the perfect solution to achieving this and we each must manage our own unique situation. It is something that changes daily. Some days work and home commitments can all be achieved in harmony, other days one of the two takes priority.

I do think it remains a society issue that woman disproportionally carry a greater burden in regard to childcare issues that has a long way to still go, however generally Serco does give me the flexibility to adapt to life as a working mum and provides understanding in this regard and this makes it all a million times easier

I believe that dedication, commitment and hard work overcome most challenges.

What makes a good leader?

I have found I thrive under leaders who trust in the ability of their team while empowering and supporting from a distance. However, great leaders also roll up their sleeves and get involved when challenges arise to show we are truly one team.

What has been the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my career was when I was when I mobilised the Dubai Field Hospital last year during the global pandemic which was unprecedent in living memory. I saw every single one of Serco’s values really come to life.

During this project I really felt like everything I'd worked for over the past decade, and every one of those personal sacrifices, were worth it as it all came together into making me the leader I have become.

Who inspires you and why?

Along with Samantha Rowles, who I mentioned above, I would have to say Serco Middle East’s Head of Operations Emma New. In the last 3 years of working closely with her, I have been constantly impressed with her calm and methodical way of working, the way she drives key decisions, leading from the front and demonstrating an excellent knowledge of all contracts she is involved with.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in Serco?

The sky is the limit for females in business. We must ensure we don’t restrict ourselves or hold ourselves back through a lack of confidence in our own ability. The skills and experiences that brought you the opportunity will be the same skills and experiences that will continue to develop and ensure you succeed.

In five years, we shouldn’t even be talking about women in leadership – it should be the norm.