PROFILE: Paul Emberley, Metronet - Emberley the calm at centre of tube storm

Metronet's PR chief is relishing the cut and thrust of his latest challenge

It's heartening to know the PR chief at the firm that is upgrading two thirds of London's creaking tube system is a regular user of the dreaded Northern Line.

'I get the Northern Line from Balham every day,' says Metronet director of communications Paul Emberley.

Metronet is to spend £17bn during its 30-year contact on new trains, track, signalling and the refurbishment of stations. The firm hit the headlines two weeks ago after a Piccadilly Line train derailed near Hammersmith, although it has since been cleared of blame.

A barometer of Emberley's intensive media work is the close contact he keeps with Evening Standard transport correspondent Dick Murray, to whom he has spoken nine times in the 24 hours before our interview. 'When I first spoke to him, I said I'd be transparent,' says Emberley. 'If there was something I could not talk about, I'd make it clear from the outset.'

But Emberley's disarming smile and easy nature belie a consummate corporate communications executive who is always on call. He is updated every two minutes by mobile phone on matters as mundane as a pager system being back in use on the Victoria Line or as important as the Hammersmith incident.

'I took five days holiday in California that week,' he says. 'In LA I had a message about the Hammersmith derailment. Within minutes I had a call from The Times asking me about it.'

Emberley says that in crises such as these, 'information, information, information' is vital. 'Our colleagues in the media want us to present facts honestly,' he argues.

His former boss at Trafalgar House, Stephen Bagnold, says he cannot think of a better person to run Metronet's communications. 'He is calm under fire and knows the political and media pressures,' says Bagnold. 'He is a very straight bloke who sees things through.'

He will have to be. The first tangible signs of improvement will be new trains, but they are not expected to arrive until the end of 2009.

Emberley says he works closely with the comms bosses of Metronet's shareholders: Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, Atkins, Seeboard and Thames Water. He also has to communicate with Metronet's disparate stakeholders, including London Underground, the general public, the London boroughs and politicians.

'I have never known a business with so many stakeholders,' he says. 'It gets complicated, but my job is to make it work. We need to ensure we are "on message" with all these audiences.' His remit includes briefing Lexington Communications on public affairs and Brunswick for strategic advice.

A graphics graduate, Emberley's first big break in marketing came with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, where he was mentored by the designer who devised the Lion stamp used in the Egg Marketing Board campaign of the 1960s, 'Go to Work on an Egg'.

In 1984 he joined engineering conglomerate Trafalgar House. He stayed for 18 years, masterminding the communications around high-profile privately funded transport infrastructure schemes, including the Birmingham Northern Relief Road and the bids to build and run the Channel Tunnel high-speed rail link.

Following the firm's takeover by Kvaerner in 1996, Emberley took on the group's day-to-day comms and public affairs remit, including more customer-focused work on brands such as Cunard Line and The Ritz. Does he miss that glamour? 'Absolutely not,' he says sharply, before outlining why he took the Metronet job.

'I like new challenges,' he says. 'I relish dragging an investment-starved business and turning it into something state-of-the-art.'

Emberley's CV shows his experience of change. He oversaw four company redirections at Trafalgar under four chairmen and three chief executives.

'Dealing with and managing change is part of my psyche,' he says.

Emberley says he enjoys the mix of internal, public affairs and news.

'I enjoy the cut-and-thrust, the immediacy of news.'

Another pressing target for the 52-year-old is to get to the gym more regularly. His other pleasures include cooking for friends and playing the classical organ.

Another former Trafalgar colleague, Tim Halford, says Emberley is good as a sounding board for ideas. 'He never over-reacts to situations, but will take five steps back before deciding on the right course,' he says.

With more potential crises lurking in the tunnels, Emberley will need to retain this composure.

HIGHLIGHTS

1984: Marketing and public affairs executive, Trafalgar House

1988: Group corporate affairs manager, Trafalgar House

1996: Vice-president, group communications, Kvaerner

2003: Director of communications, Metronet

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