The woman at the helm of Aberdeen harbour’s £350 million-plus expansion project is stepping down to take up a new job.
Aberdeen Harbour Board (AHB) said yesterday its chief executive, Michelle Handforth, was leaving it for a new role with Network Rail.
The rail network operator has appointed her managing director for its Wales and western England region.
AHB insisted it was business as usual at the north-east port, including its expansion project, and a recruitment process for a replacement was already well under way.
Ms Handforth’s successor is expected to be announced soon, although she will stay on for a spell to allow for a smooth handover.
Calling it quits on her three-year spell as AHB’s CEO, Ms Handforth said: “During my time with the harbour board I have enjoyed working with the best people in the ports industry and business community.
“I cannot thank them and my team at the harbour enough for their support.
“I know the business will go on to achieve even greater success, playing a vital role in the drive to deliver the north-east and Scotland’s energy transition and net-zero ambitions.”
She added: “I am not going anywhere straight away and will be here until the summer to ensure a seamless handover to the candidate who is fortunate enough to be appointed.”
AHB chairman Alistair Mackenzie said: “Michelle is a talented professional who will be missed.
“We have appreciated her contributions over the last three years and wish her the best of luck with her next career move.
“Michelle will be with us for a while yet and we look forward to welcoming her successor in the coming months.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for the harbour as we work to realise the full green port potential of our £350m expansion, so for now, it’s all hands on deck.”
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said: “I’m pleased we could bring Michelle back into the rail industry.
“It’s been a difficult year and she’ll bring a fresh perspective to help us navigate through these challenging times.”
Ms Handforth’s career has seen her hold leadership roles in the aviation, rail, maritime, financial services and oil and gas industries.
The 58-year-old has been in the hot seat at the harbour – which was established as a business in 1136 by King David I of Scotland – since February 2018.
Her previous job was in the aviation sector as managing director of Aberdeen-based helicopter operator Babcock Mission Critical Services Offshore.
Earlier in her career she was general manager for Sydney Ferries in Australia during spells of overseas work in Europe, India, the US and Australasia.
As well as her day job, she is vice-chairwoman of the north-east committee of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, a board member of economic development partnership Opportunity North East and council member of the British Ports Association.
AHB’s expansion is due for phased completion in 2021-22 and expected to add nearly £1 billion to the Scottish economy.
Last June, bosses at the seaport – the UK’s oldest existing business – suffered a major blow to the project when the main contractor, Dragados UK, withdrew, leaving nearly one-third of the work undone.