Carla Purcell

Chief Executive Officer | Yarra Trams

  • Change agent
  • Diversity champion
  • Driving reform
Based in: VIC
Modes: Trams
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“When you are in a leadership role, you have a responsibility to prioritise the work that will make a genuine difference in the lives of those people who rely on you and stand up for what you believe in.”

Current Positions

  • Chief Executive Officer, Yarra Trams
  • Member, Women in Transport Steering Committee

Previous Positions

  • Chief Operations Officer, Yarra Trams
  • Director, Lines, Yarra Trams
  • Head of Sydney International Terminal, Qantas
  • Operations Manager, Sydney International Airport, Qantas
  • Industrial Relations Manager, Qantas
  • Employment & Industrial Relations Lawyer, Ashurst

Career snapshot 

Carla Purcell is the CEO of Melbourne’s iconic Yarra Trams network, proudly operated by Australia’s largest provider of multi-modal public transport, Keolis Downer. 

A Melbourne local, Carla was a passenger long before joining Yarra Trams as Chief Operations Officer in 2018, where she drove significant improvements in safety, customer service, and disruption management. 

A committed leader, Carla consistently delivers results and innovations and puts passenger experience at the heart of her work to ensure that the tram network continues to be a service that Melburnians can be proud of now and into the future.

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In her own words 

As CEO of Yarra Trams, I am responsible for the day-to-day operation of the world’s largest tram network which involves operating up to 500 trams and 5,500 services a day. I am also responsible for the end-to-end customer experience, timetable development and delivery, rostering and looking at the overall performance of our network and identifying areas where we can improve for the next day. I lead a team of over 1,850 employees in the Operations division, including more than 1,400 tram drivers. 

Earlier in my career, as a qualified lawyer, I had never considered a role in operations, but ever since I started working in this field, I haven’t looked back. Working in this role I feel like I am having a real impact on the lives of so many people, and that keeps me motivated every single day. This is from building a more diverse workforce that better reflects the city we serve, to improving the service we deliver to millions of Melburnians every single week. 

Eliminating barriers

To achieve a diverse workforce, you must firstly ensure people know about your industry, company, and job, feel confident that it’s something for them, and then actually put their names forward to be considered. 

Having people put their hands up to be considered for a job is easier said than done, and required some significant changes for us, and that’s why I’m proud to have been instrumental in the introduction of part time driver jobs. This has been a real differentiator for us. It has moved the dial. 

We knew that being able to offer part time employment would attract more women into the industry. However, this change to allow part-time driving roles required an Enterprise Agreement negotiation in 2019 and led to eight days of strikes by the unions. This was painful, but we fought incredibly hard for this, because it was a critical priority for the business, and we are starting to see the benefits in terms of our workforce. 

One of my favourite statistics is that 36% of Yarra Trams’ part time driver workforce is female compared with the overall driver workforce of female participation of 27%. We recently did a recruitment campaign for concurrent full time and part time roles. A total of 19% of full-time applicants were female, compared to 40% of part time applicants. 

Of course, I know that there’s still more for us to do as we continue building a diverse and inclusive workforce. This will include further investment in marketing and recruitment campaigns to attract applicants from every part of society, as well as significant investments in the infrastructure and safe facilities required to fully support every one of our employees. We’re still in the foothills and there’s a mountain yet to climb on diversity, but I’m committed to reaching the peak and leaving Yarra Trams better than when I found it.

Leading on the important 

When you are in a leadership position you have a responsibility to prioritise the work that will make a genuine difference in the lives of those people who rely on you and stand up for what you believe in.

Industrial action and enterprise agreement negotiations can be difficult. However, as an organisation we saw the importance of part time roles in creating a truly diverse workforce. It’s the same with the provision of safe driver facilities. We have been operating trams in Melbourne for such a long time, and while the issue is well known a solution but never been pushed until recently because women had historically been such a small part of the workforce.

There is always something urgent to do that can distract you, but you must do the important as well. The important things that will make long-term positive impacts on an organisation. 


My vision for the next five years is... 

…for the industry to be more inclusive than what it is today, and we see increased female representation across all levels including roles with profit and loss responsibility and key decision making.

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