How Virgin helped me change careers

Richard Branson often calls the Virgin Group one big family and that’s certainly true for the members of staff who have worked across numerous Virgin companies. We caught up with James Cameron-McIntosh to hear more about the story of his career at Virgin…

“I started off working for Virgin Trains on the West Coast mainline in 2001 as a customer service assistant,” he says. “I was working on board the trains and looking after customers in First Class and running the on-board shop.”

Then, when the train company introduced the Pendolinos and were looking for chefs to prepare food for First Class customers, James found himself with a promotion. “I was actually a qualified chef – before I worked for Virgin I’d studied at chef school for two years. They approached me when they were introducing the Pendolinos and I secured a chef's job and my journey with Virgin has spiralled from there.”

James says that he’d opted to work for Virgin Trains after training as a chef because he really respected the Virgin brand and wanted to combine his passions for travel and food. But after six years at Virgin Trains, he decided it was time for a change of scenery.

“I’d gained a bit of life experience working on the trains and travelling to London and meeting different people,” he says. “I’d been speaking to a lot of the Virgin Atlantic crew who used to travel to Heathrow on the trains and I thought I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of the world. I was from Carlisle – that was where I grew up and where I was based with Virgin Trains but I thought I needed a bit more life experience so I thought maybe I’d go down to London, see the big city and go and work for Virgin Atlantic and travel the world.”

He explains: “I’d got itchy feet in my early 20s because I’d been with Virgin Trains since I was 18 but I wanted to do something a little bit different, something unusual, which Virgin is renowned for.”

A friend recommended he apply to join Virgin Atlantic as cabin crew and – despite the fact that he’d never been on a long-haul flight – he did. “I trundled down to London, to Virgin Atlantic’s head offices in Crawley, along with many people from other airlines and here’s me a chef from Virgin Trains. But I got the job.”

Initially, James admits, he was nervous about taking the role when he was offered it. “I was like, no I can’t do it. I’ve got to go to London, I’ve got to do six weeks training, I’m coming out of my comfort zone, I’m moving away from Carlisle and going down to the big smoke. It would mean leaving my family and friends and everything I knew.”

But, support from his manager at Virgin Trains encouraged James to give it a go. They even offered to keep his job at Virgin Trains open if he decided that he didn’t enjoy the role at Virgin Atlantic. “The managers at Virgin Trains were very supportive,” he adds. “They were always pushing us to go for new opportunities. I felt like Virgin Trains really prepared me for the next step.”

And the new opportunities haven’t stopped since James joined Virgin Atlantic. In 2013, he took part in the exchange programme with Virgin Australia and spent 14 months based in New Zealand. “I came back and I just felt more confident and a bit calmer in my job too,” he says. “It’s really helped me to develop my career at Virgin Atlantic.”

James certainly doesn’t rule out changing career again someday. “I’d love to experience some other Virgin companies! Virgin Galactic sounds amazing – I’m always keeping a close eye on what they’re up to,” he says. But, he also admits that he’d love to go back to his roots and work as a chef again one day – especially if there was an opportunity to cook on Necker Island. So he makes sure to look on the Virgin Limited Edition website, just in case.

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