It has been over 30 years since the Motor Transport Awards began back in 1986 and throughout these three decades, we have marked the achievements of individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the road transport industry.
This recognition has taken many forms. During the late 1980s and early 1990s it took the shape of the Special Award, before disappearing for a while in the late 1990s. It returned again in the mid-2000s, firstly as the Lifetime Achievement Award, then as the Local Hero Award, before beginning a now uninterrupted run as the Service to Industry Award which was presented for the 15th time at the 2020 Awards.
Motor Transport has always sought to recognise the achievements of those that have made a significant contribution to the road transport industry, which is why we hold the annual induction to the Hall of Fame in association with Brigade Electronics at the Motor Transport Awards.
We do this to recognise the efforts and achievements of individuals in ensuring the UK logistics, supply chain and commercial vehicle industry maintains its class-leading standards and traditions.
All winners of the Service to Industry Award (see list below) are automatically inducted into the Hall of Fame as the individuals who have created a lasting legacy by upholding the highest standards and traditions in the industry.
John Harvey CBE, chairman, Keswick Enterprises and former chairman, Tibbett & Britten
John Harvey CBE has worked in the logistics industry for 60 years – someone who knows him well called him “Old Father Time”!
Robbie Burns, the chief executive of Exel Logistics when it was created in 1986, said of Harvey: “Most of our lives were in competition as leaders of Exel and Tibbett & Britten (last century!) and we later worked together as colleagues. An incredible guy.”
Nikki King MBE, who led a management buyout of Isuzu Truck UK in 2004, said of Harvey: “John was my mentor for 20 years and I couldn't have done the MBO without him.”
A Cambridge graduate, Harvey joined Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 1957 and 11 years later led its investment in one of the pioneers of contract distribution, Tibbett & Britten, which was founded in 1958 by John Tibbett and Frank Britten.
After 18 years of diversification and growth, in 1984 Harvey led the management buy-out of Tibbett & Britten and masterminded its global development across 34 countries, winning a Queen's Award for Export Achievement along the way.
In 1986 the company was listed on the London Stock Exchange, when it was described as “fast-moving” and “one of the world’s leading logistics companies offering warehousing, distribution, and logistical support services, including “pre-retailing” services”.
Market leader in the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa, Tibbett & Britten was also strong in the US, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Far East, focusing on the FMCG sector as well as its speciality as a clothing distributor. Its fleet of more than 8,500 vehicles ran mainly in the livery of its clients which included Asda, C&A, Marks & Spencer, Black & Decker, Colgate-Palmolive, Next, Nestlé and Sainsbury’s.
By 2003 the company was turning over £1.6bn and employed nearly 40,000 people and in 2004 it was sold to Exel for £328m, a year before Exel was itself acquired by Deutsche Post to create what is now DHL Supply Chain.
In 2004 Harvey co-founded The Keswick Enterprises Group with Geoff Gillo and became chairman of this UK-based international private equity investor.
In 2011 Harvey revived the Tibbett brand in Romania after Keswick acquired Romanian firm Delamode Logistics and its joint venture with DHL, DHL Delamode, in December 2010. Both were rebranded as Tibbett Logistics and Tibbett Retail Services a year later.
While Harvey remains closely associated with Tibbett & Britten he has wide ranging interests. He was chairman of international freight forwarder Unique Logistics from 1992 to 2005 and from 2000 to 2005 was an advisor to the environment department.
He has been a non-executive director of Dawsongroup, New Covent Garden Market and the Institute of Grocery Distribution, a vice president of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport and chairman of the Cranfield Centre for Logistics & Transport.
Harvey has been a long-standing supporter international transport development charity Transaid, for which he remains an ambassador. He chaired Transaid for over 10 years and is now described as a “great ambassador for the industry”.
Peter Acton, chairman, Logistics Leaders Network and former editor, Motor Transport
Two years later he launched the Motor Transport Awards, which ran every year – even in 2005 when the London bombings on 7 July meant the awards had to be postponed til later in the year - until 2020 when Covid-19 forced their move online.
Acton’s passion and enthusiasm for championing transport and logistics causes for over 40 years remains undimmed.
Initially, he used his MSc in traffic engineering and transport planning to be part of the team designing the M25 motorway in north and west London. He then embarked on an interdisciplinary higher degrees scheme PhD in marketing innovative transport solutions with Dunlop.
Abandoning the academic life, turned to journalism, writing about “what he knew about” first as editor of Transport, the journal of the Chartered Institute of Transport and Surveyor, the local authority publication, before moving to Motor Transport, where he also created the Top 100 operator listing survey and re-vamped the Motor Transport cost tables, which became the industry standard for haulage operating costs.
Under Acton’s editorship, Motor Transport won the Brewery Transport Advisory Committee’s journal of the year title.
In 1988, Acton launched Distribution Business, the first magazine dedicated to emerging contract logistics sector in the UK.
At the same time he developed a very successful logistics and transport PR and marketing business working for major clients including TDG, Parceline, United Transport, Russell Davies, Paragon Software Systems and DTS Logistics. He also set up the Logistics Consultants Forum, the Logistics Directors Forum with the CIT and HR Directors Forum and managed the Youth Transport Challenge with the CILT UK.
In 1999, Acton was appointed secretary of the Transport Association, a position he held for nine years championing the cause of the family-owned, medium-sized haulier. He was also a trustee of Transaid for six years and has since been an ambassador for the organisation.
Acton was elected to the Court of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, the City of London livery company for the transport industry in 2015 having been a liveryman and freeman of the City of London for 25 years.
He has also been a member of the council of the CIT for three years and was on the marketing committee of CILT UK for 10 years as well as being a judge in its transport journalist of the year competition. Recently, Acton has been elected to the Board of the Humanitarian Logistics Association.
In 2010 Acton launched the Logistics Leaders Network to provide a platform for emerging logistics leaders to share best practice, meet like-minded professionals and be exposed to the latest innovations.
The Logistics Leaders Network is currently celebrating its 10th birthday running: a series of focus group practical workshops, an annual lunch, the Logistics Leadership Awards and dinner, attended by over 500 logistics professionals, and an annual publication Logistics Leaders seen by 5000 logistics professionals showcasing how logistics makes a difference.
The CILT UK recognised Acton’s contribution to transport and logistics presenting him with his 40 year Fellow certificate and badge in May 2020, a badge he wears with pride.
Tony Pain, business consultant and former marketing director, DAF Trucks
One of the best known figures in the UK transport industry, former DAF Trucks marketing director Tony Pain retired on 4 October 2013 at the age of 63, 45 years to the day since he started work at Leyland. Since then on his LinkedIn page he described himself as a “semi-retired marketing consultant” and he is often to be spotted meeting old friends at road transport industry events.
Pain got into the job because he always wanted to design trucks, but says he stayed because of the people.
“Anybody can be close to the people in their own company but it goes beyond that to the dealers and ultimately the customers,” he says. “I can’t think of many industries where we would regard customers as friends. It isn’t that big an industry and by and large they are a nice bunch of people.”
If you accept that today no one builds a really bad truck, he says the key differentiator has to be after sales service – an area where Dafaid has come to be recognised as the gold standard.
“A lot of it is down to trust and relationships,” he says. “What makes people come back and buy another one is because you delivered on what said you were going to do. It is all about the dealer network and the service side – everyone accepts that trucks break down and it is what you do when it happens that matters.”
Like many in the haulage industry, Tony Pain originally had a strong connection with farming.
Brought up on the family farm, he was more interested in things with four wheels than four legs. “At that time in the 1960s there were really only two companies that did both tractors and trucks – one was Ford and the other was Leyland,” he says. “Leyland was in its heyday and the year I joined – 1968 – was the year it had merged with what was BMC, so it was this huge empire exporting all over the world.”
Pain started off on a conventional apprenticeship but quickly got onto a university mechanical engineering degree course. “I got my degree and haven’t done a day’s engineering since,” he says. “So in that sense I am a failed engineer. But I did engineering because ever since I was a kid I wanted to design trucks.”
In 1987, DAF took over Leyland Trucks, and Pain had the difficult job of merging the two product ranges in the UK before spending several years travelling the world on the export side of the business.
In 1992 Pain returned to HQ in Thame to become marketing director of what by then was DAF Trucks, which at the time was vying for market leadership with Iveco Ford, a battle it would win for the following 17 years.
On his retirement in 2013 Pain had no plans to completely leave the industry he loves, saying: “If anyone would pay me to beat up the government and tell them how efficient trucks are I would love to do that. I also wouldn’t mind getting more involved in my local village community or some charity work. After being in business with so many people for so long, just to drop into nothing isn’t for me.”
The Downton brothers
CM Downton became part of UK logistics group EV Cargo in November 2018, ending 60 years of family ownership. The Gloucestershire-based 3PL was run for the past 30 years by brothers Andy (MD, centre), Richard (finance, left) and John (operations) Downton, who together made Downton one of the UK’s most successful logistics businesses.
Duncan Eyre, who succeeded Andy as MD, says: “The Downton business has a deep history in the UK distribution sector and is successful because of the way it has been managed and the ethos that runs throughout the company. There’s vast experience and a great deal of loyalty and respect across the workforce and customers.
“I’m here to build on that unrivalled heritage to ensure we are best-prepared to take full advantage of growth opportunities and continue to deliver the best possible service to customers. Over time, and with the help of the Downton brothers in their non-executive roles, we will use complementary experience and the latest technology and reporting to strengthen the company’s offering further and continue that success.”
CM Downton was formed in 1955 when farmer Conrad Michael Downton invested in a tipper and began moving small loads around the county to supplement the modest income from the farm. He got involved in major projects in the south-west – such as building the M5 and the construction of the approach roads to the Severn Bridge – and by the end of the 1960s, Downton had built up a fleet of tipper vehicles.
In the early 1970s, Downton bought its first articulated lorry and soon had more than a dozen HGV vehicles. Downton diversified beyond construction and began its long association with the drinks sector, working for Bass Brewers and the Flowers Brewery.
In 1985, Conrad Downton died at the age of 52 and his three sons and daughter Kate took over the business. Under their stewardship, Downton continued to expand and diversify focusing on the drinks and publishing industries, where it has established itself as one of the leading players.
In 2012, Downton was named Motor Transport Haulier of the Year, an accolade that was, in part, a reflection of its incredibly strong business performance. In an industry characterised by brutally low margins, where hauliers are often confronted with the unpalatable choice of buying unprofitable business or protecting profit at the expense of turnover, Downton achieved the remarkable feat of boosting turnover and operating profit. Downton’s 7% return on sales while maintaining strong revenue growth was described as “spectacular” by one judge on the selection panel.
Andy Downton put the firm’s success down simply to “traditional family values and customer care” and the close involvement in running the business by the Downton family.
“A lot of people do not believe in family businesses, which saddens me immensely,” Downton says. “We have surrounded ourselves with clever people but they all have to understand the way we think. If one of us isn’t happy with a deal we will walk away, but when we do come together we are a solid force and we go for it.”
Although Downton has expanded dramatically over the past 60 years, the core principle of the business remains constant – Downton will always deliver, no matter what.
Graeme McFaull, chairman, Suttons Group
Graeme McFaull has been chairman of Suttons Group since 2016 but is probably best known for his five-year stint as CEO of Wincanton from 2005 to 2010 and for his role as chairman of Transaid for seven years between 2009 and 2016. Ever ready to serve the logistics and transport industry, he was also elected president of CILT in 2009.
Since 2011 he has been operating chairman of Delin Capital Asset Management (DCAM), a leading real estate company specialising in European logistics. McFaull stepped up to the top job at the UK’s largest listed logistics business Wincanton after two years as MD of its UK and Ireland business and was instrumental in securing the firm’s position as a major force in European logistics. A chartered management accountant, he joined Wincanton in 1994 as finance director of the retail division, after spells in finance with Geest, Cargill and Pepsico.
Paying tribute to McFaull’s time as chairman of Transaid, for which he has also undertaken several gruelling fund-raising cycle rides, the charity’s CEO Caroline Barber says: “This was a time of growth at Transaid and saw the expansion of road safety and access to health programmes in Nigeria, Zambia and Madagascar, helping the organisation to get to where it is today.”
On his appointment as chairman of the board at Suttons Group following the death of the former long-standing chairman Michael Sutton, group CEO John Sutton said: “The group’s board is unanimously agreed that Graeme is an ideal candidate to chair Suttons at this exciting stage in the company’s history. Graeme’s leadership abilities, coupled with his significant board experience and knowledge of our dynamic industry, will be invaluable to the ambitious, competitive, global group that Suttons has become.
“Graeme has significant experience in the management and chairmanship of logistics and supply chain businesses. He understands the competitiveness of our industry and also has a strong empathy with our culture and commitment to serving our customers.”
Michael Cundy, MD, Tankers, at Suttons, added: “Graeme brings outstanding leadership qualities and vast experience to our business. He provides robust challenges but always in the most supportive way and he has contributed significantly to the strategic development of our business over the past few years.”
Thomas van Mourik, chief executive, Culina Group
Culina chief executive Thomas van Mourik founded the business in 1994 on the back of volumes from Müller Dairy’s. In its first year it had a turnover of £7.5m, last year it achieved a turnover of almost £500m – built in no small part through an exhaustive acquisition strategy, adding diversity and specialisms to its core business. As a result, it is one of the top players in the ambient and chilled logistics markets in the UK. What does van Mourik put his success down to? Last year MT caught up with him at the company’s Markham Vale, Derbyshire DC, formerly owned by one of those recent acquisition targets – Great Bear Distribution – where he discussed his approach to business.
“I was invited to a conference [last year] where I had to speak about the key success factors of Culina Group,” he recalls. “So I got my marketing guys to buy a bottle of mayonnaise and take the label off, and put on it Culina Sauce. It was on the stand and everyone was looking at me thinking what the hell is he going to talk about. I said that I had a big learning curve with Cert Octavian [which Culina acquired in 2012] where I didn’t do it so well. That was because we did not pour the Culina Sauce all over those businesses.
“We kept the successful ones as they were: the management, the systems, the way of working. The only thing we did was give those companies support as and when required and when it suits them, HR, IT, finance. You name it. We change the logo and give it a bit more of a corporate feel. But that is as far as our involvement goes.
“It is well understood now that if you buy a business like Great Bear, people identify themselves with that. If you walk in there and start to call it Culina, you will annoy a lot of people who have poured their heart and soul into that business. Our business is all about people,” van Mourik insists.
It would also be fair to say that, Great Bear and Cert Octavian aside, Culina makes acquisitions of businesses that are not household names. How does van Mourik identify acquisition targets? “Thirty years’ knowledge. That’s it,” he says. “We know exactly where we want to play, which is Ireland, the UK, and across every temperature regime. The rest is all about how I can develop skill and find he right businesses that fit our group strategy.
“God knows what the future will bring; maybe we do something chilled or something frozen. Who knows? But I know all the players and I keep a very close eye on everybody’s performance. We never used a consultant to do any of our acquisitions. We do it with a very close team and nine times out of 10 you would not know we are doing it until we announce it. We keep a very close lid on it. If you don’t do that it will have a breaking effect or your next move and your next move,” he explains.
“Plates are always spinning and some come off. They can be going for years and all of a sudden you land it. It can go very quick or very slow. The fact we have had a few come off in recent years is because we are working very hard, and we will continue to do so.”
Anne Preston MBE, chairman, Prestons of Potto
Anne Preston MBE is chairman of the family haulage firm Prestons of Potto founded by her late husband Richard and his father Dick in 1957. The couple married in 1960 and worked side by side until Richard passed away in 2015, leaving Anne at the helm.
Preston, who turned 80 in 2017, was awarded her MBE for services to the transport industry in 1987, was named the 2010 Everywoman Director of the Year Award for Logistics and was the first female board member of the Road Haulage Association.
She joined the firm in 1965 soon after the birth of her two children, David and Jayne, and together with Richard built the business from one vehicle to a nationally recognised and highly respected haulage firm.
“I’ve worked in this industry for 51 years,” Anne told Commercial Motor in 2016. “I can’t think of another woman who can say that. I think it’s quite an achievement.”
Always a great team, Anne looked after the finances and customer relations while Richard was more hands-on in the running of the firm. Both came from farming and transport backgrounds – Anne’s father Alf Wade was a cattle haulier and the firm still trades as A Wade & Co of Northallerton. David Preston is MD of the firm which is now employing the fourth generation of the Preston family. Still based in Northallerton, north Yorkshire, it has a fleet of over 100 vehicles, four depots across the UK and a turnover of around £17m.
A pioneer of petrochemical transport in the 1960s, Prestons developed the plastic liners for containers that are still used today, and ICI was one of its longest-standing customers. The firm was quick to realise the value of the presentation of the fleet, making sure its distinctive red and yellow liveried vehicles were always immaculate. A member of the Pall-ex network, Prestons today runs a mixed fleet of curtainsiders, flatbeds and heavy haulage equipment as well as offering a range of supply chain solutions including 120,000ft2 of warehousing at its 30-acre site at Stockton on Tees.
The title Everywoman Director of the Award came in May 2010, the day before her golden wedding anniversary. She told a local newspaper: “I’m over the moon. There was some stiff competition in the awards but the most thrilling thing of all is that a small haulier on Teesside won out against some of the big national PLCs.
“It was extremely rare for women to go into this job. It’s difficult to juggle family because you can’t go home at three or four in the afternoon in this business.
“You have to be pretty tough and work harder as a woman but once people meet you, they don’t forget your name because there are so few women.”
Harold Montgomery, chairman, Ballyvesey Holdings
Harold Montgomery in chairman of Ballyvesey Holdings and has built an impressive empire of transport-related companies over the past 50 years, including Dukes Transport, Montgomery Transport, Commercial Vehicle Auctions, Montracon Trailers and DAF, Scania and Mercedes-Benz franchised dealerships.
Based in Newtonabbey, Co Antrim, Ballyvesey is a financially strong as well highly diversified group, making pre-tax profits of £6.9m on turnover of £621.4m in the year to September 2017.
It employs over 2,600 staff around the UK and is a significant contributor to the UK transport industry.
Montgomery has been involved in the industry since an early age and after five decades in charge of the business is still described as an inspirational leader and a great example to any transport professional. It is his tireless drive and enthusiasm that has taken Ballyvesey from strength to strength.
It all started when Montgomery Transport started trading with one tractor unit and trailer in October 1970, which evolved from Montgomery’s first ever venture into business, buying and driving an ‘S’ model Bedford tipper in the late 1960s.
During the course of the 1970s the business grew from the one truck operation to around 50 vehicles by the end of the decade, focusing on the Irish Sea cross channel services.
In August 1977, the second company, again started from scratch, was Montracon, in a rented factory unit in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland.
On professional advice, with the birth of a second company, Ballyvesey Holdings was formed as the parent company to these two entities with Harold Montgomery becoming chairman and executive MD.
Ballyvesey continues to be privately owned by the Montgomery family to this day.
The group has over 20 operating companies, most related to truck sales, transport and logistics, transport services and trailer manufacturing, achieved through new start-ups, organic growth and several acquisitions.
None of this could ever happen without Montgomery’s drive, ambition and vision in leadership coupled with the support and teamwork of loyal directors, staff and employees in all areas of the group activities.
He continues to be an active, hands on managing director of the group, despite passing the milestone age of 70 this year.
Leading by example, blessed with good health and an enduring passion for the business, Montgomery’s appetite remains to continue the development of the Ballyvesey Holdings organisation for this generation and the next.
John Ratcliff CBE, chairman, Ratcliff Group
John Ratcliff CBE is the former chairman of Ratcliff Group; former patron of the SOE (Society of Operations Engineers); Chairman and Vice President of the IRTE and a past Master of The Worshipful Company of Carmen – and can be credited, alongside his father, with designing the tail-lift.
Ratcliff’s father, Ted, used to own a workshop for reconditioning commercial vehicles and engines. Growing frustrated with waiting for a crane to become available to hoist an engine off the back of a truck he designed what is believed to be the first tail-lift, so the engine could be lowered off the trailer without the wait.
The idea proved so popular that Ratcliff and his father decided to build and sell more, and from its base in Welwyn Garden City Ratcliff stormed the market during the late 1950s and 1960s. Sadly, Ratcliff’s father died in 1970, meaning that he did not see the continuing expansion and success of the company under his son’s leadership.
Innovation would remain at the heart of Ratcliff Group after Ted’s death too:in 1971 it bought Buttonwood Mechanical Handling while in 1972 it brought to market a demountable tail-lift – that could be fitted or removed using its own power-pack - for the Post Office. In 1974 it signed a reciprocal manufacturing and marketing agreement with Los Angles-based firm Maxon Industries.
The 1980s saw it acquire Cycles Peugeot and Hydrolift of Sweden, and develop the Solo – a simple, lightweight, all-electric tail-lift for panel vans. In 1990 the Ratcliff Group bought branched out and acquired Wessex Lifts – which makes mobility equipment for the disabled. And in 2001 John Ratcliff was awarded a CBE in the New Year's Honours List for Services to the Road Transport Industry.
In June 2005 Ratcliff Group has sold Ratcliff Tail Lifts subsidiary to crane specialist Palfinger – turning the Austrian business into the British market leader for tail gates and access systems and creating a business with the widest rang of tail-lift models in the world. At the time Ratcliff Tail Lifts employed 200 staff at both Welwyn Garden City and its parts and service base in Garforth, Leeds. It had sales at the time of approximately £20m a year.
Ratcliff described the deal as a “nice transition for the core tail lift business” and remained chairman of the Ratcliff Group and its three main companies: Wessex; Stone Hardy (a commercial vehicle accessory service company) and Planet Flowline – which specialises in the design, supply and installation of machines for the food processing, drinks and packaging industries. He is still a director at the business.
Derrick Potter, chairman, Potter Space
The sale of Potter Logistics to WH Bowker in October 2016 saw the end of the Potter family involvement in road transport after more than 50 years. While this was the end an era as Potter Group - now Potter Space -relinquished its transport fleet and moved into property development, for chairman Derrick Potter the key fact was that the deal secured the future of the company’s 280 staff.
“I feel happy that in my tenure I've had colleagues around who've been able to achieve what we have and made this wonderful transition. We have a great future to look forward to,” he said.
While giving up control of the chemical, food and rail freight transport and warehousing firm he founded in 1965 and built into a highly profitable £26m a year business must have been a hard decision, Potter says the sale to Bowker was the best option for all concerned.
“Potter Logistics had grown very successfully, but it had grown in a number of areas, and actually had become quite a complex business,” he said. “There were a lot of tears shed by the family, about all our colleagues who are in the business. Bear in mind, they'd been with us a long, long time, and equally customers as well, a long time. We had decided we needed to find a like-minded company who saw the world like we did. Bowker came along and their vision was the same as ours.”
Naming Potter Logistics Motor Transport Haulier of the Year in 2015, the judges said it was a family business with a customer-centric ethos that had secured some very loyal, long-standing clients.
“We have a quite distinct structure,” said Potter. “We have the shareholders, we have the operating board, and then we have an advisory board in the middle that helps make the decisions for the long-term. Are we different? I blooming hope so.”
A leading light in the Transport Association, Potter has been a great believer in collaboration with other like-minded family hauliers.
“We used to bring 200,000 tonnes to our rail terminal at Ely,” he says. “We would use UK haulers to distribute them. We work with partners in other parts of the country. There are a lot of family businesses that are particularly good at knowing their own area, and their own customer base.”
Key to Potter’s success has been his caring attitude towards his staff, especially his drivers. Giving a special award to Potter in the 2015 UKWA awards, chairman Tony Mohan said: “When touring one of the company’s sites, I witnessed the fact that Derrick personally knew 100% of the staff. He understands that people are the most important part of a successful business. Over the 50 years, Derrick’s energy and enthusiasm has not waned at all.”
Potter is a farmer’s son, and he has always lived by some good advice his father gave him in the early days after he founded the firm with a single truck in 1965.
“He always used to say to me, ‘it's your responsibility to look after your employees’. He always believed in that. He would say, ’if you want something from somebody, give them something. You might give them your time, your expertise, might even give them some money. Then you have a right to ask for something back.’
“I always remember to say please, to say thank you, to say well done, and hopefully with a smile. They cost nothing, but they mean everything.”
William Stobart, executive chairman and former chief executive, Eddie Stobart Logistics
William Stobart (born 10 November 1961) is the fourth and last of Eddie and Nora Stobart’s children – and younger brother to John, Anne and Edward. Although he was the youngest by seven years in a family dynasty that has dominated UK haulage and logistics to this day, he shared a passion with his older brother Edward for all things trucks.
While his older brother Edward was fast-tracking his way up the management chain to become chief executive officer of his father’s business, William kept himself busy driving tractors, cement mixers and eventually a full-blown wagon driver – passing his test just a week after his 21st birthday. His first truck was a Scania 112 intercooler – and he would spend the next three years as a driver working for his brother before he started working on the traffic desk.
From Stobart the man starting gainful employment at the firm that bares his surname in 1977 Stobart the business went from strength the strength over the next three decades under the leadership of his brother. He’s carried out pretty much most roles at the business during this time and he developed an in-depth understanding of the business on every level during that time.
He left the business in 2001 to join WA Developments – a civil engineering and rail infrastructure business run by his old school friend and former brother-in-law Andrew Tinkler. But he wouldn’t be away from transport for long. In 2003 WA Developments bought Eddie Stobart Group – with Edward stepping down and William becoming managing director.
In 2007 Eddie Stobart Group was sold in a reverse takeover to the Westbury Property Fund, creating Stobart Group, and listing on the London Stock Exchange. Following the float, William became chief operating officer of Stobart Group. Over the next two years it would make three acquisitions: container haulier O'Connor Group; James Irlam & Sons and the chilled operation of Innovate Logistics out of administration.
In 2011 William (alongside David Irlam) stepped down from the board at Stobart Group to give him more time to focus on the core transport business – but that would pale in comparison to the sad events of that year – when his brother Edward died on the 31 March.
Despite the family tragedy the firm carried on from strength to strength: it entered a joint venture with fellow Cumbrian firm AW Jenkinson to form a 50:50 joint venture now known as Stobart Biomass. This joint venture has often been at the forefront of Stobart’s vehicle procurement strategy – leading on major orders with Scania (there have been five such deals since 2010 – most recently for 2,000 units in 2016). In 2012 Stobart acquired automotive logistics provider Autologic. However 2013 would prove to be a rather more turbulent year for the business, with the former Innovate chilled network closing and a boardroom struggle over the performance of the group.
In 2014 William made a return to the board at the newly formed Eddie Stobart Logistics. Stobart Group sold a 51% stake in the company to private equity firm Douglas Bay Capital – effectively taking the transport business into private hands with William as chief executive. A year after that deal, William stepped up to executive chairman, with former Tesco distribution director Alex Laffey taking chief executive responsibilities.
2014 was a pivotal year for William, with his son Edd setting up his own haulage firm – WS Tranportation – entirely separate to the Eddie Stobart Logistics business.
Stobart has never been afraid to lead with technology too: William has been a vocal advocate of the longer semi-trailer trial, and has also rolled-out roll-out of aerodynamic kits for its fleet developed in partnership with Wirth Research – the aerodynamics company founded by former Benetton Formula 1 chief designer Nick Wirth.
Eddie Stobart Logistics put in a strong financial performance under William and Laffey, disposing of the former Autologic business to BCA Automotive in 2015 and in the year ended 30 November 2016, revenue from continuing operations was £549m (2015: £468m) with adjusted EBIT of £41m (2015: 36m). In April it floated on the Alternative Investment Market in a blockbuster listing that valued the business in excess of £550m, and just before the IPO William stepped down as a director.
John Williams, group managing director, Maritime Transport
If Maritime Transport group MD John Williams secured his place in the Hall of Fame for his innovative approach of successfully combining container haulage with retail distribution, he cemented it with a pragmatic yet caring approach to drivers.
The rise and rise of Maritime started when Williams led the deal to acquire Maritime in 2001.
“I had this burning ambition to be my own boss, specifically to own a transport company, because that's really all I know. Apart from working here at the port for three years, and Securicor and DHL for five years, container transport is what I know.
“I wanted to get back to that, and so this opportunity came along to buy this transport company called Maritime Haulage, and I succeeded in buying it on September 4 2001.”
At the time it had 136 trucks and turned over £18million – “but I don't think it was making any money,” he recalled.
“It was in poor shape, and a week later we had the appalling attack in New York. We were out seeing customers and we were in a pub in Liverpool. I thought ‘I'm 43 years old and I've just mortgaged my house to provide the security to buy Maritime Haulage’. I don't think I slept that night.”
By 2009, Maritime had grown to a £70m annual turnover, without making any acquisitions – but that was about to change.
The credit crunch and subsequent collapse in container volumes brought two “spectacular opportunities,” said Williams. “DHL decided to withdraw from the container transport market. We were the only people with the capability - and the courage - to acquire it because the market was still rough.”
That was followed by the 2014 acquisition of Roadways, reinforcing Maritime’s position as the UK’s largest container haulier and completing its UK network of 23 depots.
“Container transport has always been seen as a really hard place to succeed, and a pure container transport company, operating on the old model, would become extinct pretty quick,” said Williams. “So in 2010, we decided to break into distribution with curtainsiders. We learned so much about utilisation, double-shifting, weekend working, Bank Holiday working and cross-utilising container trucks and distribution trucks and equipment. I think we were one of the few companies that have been able to pull this off on the scale that we're doing it.
“I hate to use the word ‘game-changer’; it's over-used, but it certainly was for us.”
According to Williams running a successful transport business doesn’t have to be complicated.
“We've concentrated on the simple things,” he said. “The essence of a transport company is the driver, the truck and the people that put the two things together. We focus specifically on that, so in terms of the drivers, we have what we believe is a strong driver culture here.
“We spend an awful lot of time with the drivers, getting to know them, listening to them.”
Williams has a policy of only using employed drivers and has over 1,400 on the books. Despite his reputation as a tough boss, Williams believes strongly in treating drivers fairly and providing the best possible facilities, rather than paying over the top wages, is the way to keep a loyal, committed workforce.
The driver rest and recreation areas at the Felixstowe head office would put many a five star hotel to shame, and Williams aims to upgrade other sites too.
“We've invested in great facilities and we're doing the same in Birmingham, Nursling and Leeds. We want safe, secure, spacious parking for our drivers so that they can get a proper rest and a proper shower,” said Williams. “We give them a smart uniform, and we give them death in service benefit. I think we look after our drivers as well as we can, and they genuinely believe that we look after them and care for them.”
Ray Grocott, chairman, Grocontinental
A larger than life character typical of his generation of entrepreneurial hauliers, Ray Grocott has served the industry for over 50 years.
Still chairman of Grocontinental, the highly successful distribution firm founded by his father, he has grown and transformed the business from a small regional haulier to a major international organisation.
Grocontinental – Motor Transport’s Haulier of the Year in 2011 – is today one of the country's leading storage and distribution companies with an annual turnover of £28 million.
As the son of the founder of Grocontinental, Ray has been part of the family business since 1950 and was the driving force being the development and continued expansion of the company. A true entrepreneur whose ambitions, innovative marketing and ability to take calculated risks in the early days of Grocontinental paid dividends.
Grocott plays an active role in business development for Grocontinental and maintains strong working links with the company’s continental customers.
He has remained true to the strong working-class values instilled in him by his pioneering mother, Nellie Grocott, who, when left widowed in her 30s, established the business in its early days. His feet have always been firmly planted on the ground.
In spite of his personal drive and ambition, he also has the humility to relate to people. He cares hugely for his staff and the community that his business operates within.
He is tenacious, generous, uncompromising, shrewd and instinctive. He won’t be defeated by bureaucracy and negativity. He is never afraid to speak his mind and will campaign tirelessly for what he thinks is right for his business and his industry.
Grocott has always been extremely proud and passionate about representing the road transport Industry. He is a past chairman of the International Road Haulage Association and is still active in both this organisation and the Transport Association. He is highly respected and is a true ambassador of the industry in both the UK and Europe.
Ray is a true philanthropist and is conscious of his responsibility to his local community. He is very generous and always looking to help people.
He gives generously to local charities and good causes and he is chairman of the local sports and recreation club where he has worked tirelessly to raise funds and leverage government funding.
In 1992 Grocott embarked on a charity mission to help Romanian orphans, co-driving one of the vehicles laden with bedding, clothing and food on the trip.
Michael Williams, former group chief executive, Dawsongroup
Mike Williams had been with the company for over 40 years before retiring due to health reasons in October 2016. Starting as sales development manager in the truck rental side of the business, his obvious talent and enthusiasm saw him rise to become managing director of Dawsonrentals: truck and trailer in 1979. Williams then worked tirelessly with customers, suppliers, service networks and his own team, to take that business to a position of dominance and reputation that was perhaps unusual for an independent, family-owned business in the rental and leasing sector.
As Dawsongroup grew to encompass other key asset groups, such as bus and coach, mechanical handling, vans, temperature control facilities, sweepers and finance, his personal drive and deep understanding of the rental and leasing business saw him elevated in 1993 to the position of group chief executive. Working closely with chairman, Peter Dawson, and his own carefully selected senior team of individual business managing directors, Williams has contributed to and overseen a period of consistent and impressive growth for the group. Noted for an acerbic wit alongside his drive and commitment to the business, Williams has been a formidable player in the industry throughout his working life. Demanding of those around him – both staff and suppliers – he has been a dominant figure on the rental and leasing landscape. That toughness however, has always been tempered by a reputation for fierce personal loyalty to his team, many of whom have now been with him for well over 20 years.
Asked a few months ago to sum up his success, he said: “Taking care of customers, being fair to suppliers and setting the pace for our team – fortunately they all know what’s needed and are very capable of delivering.”
Chris Hanson-Abbott OBE, founder, chairman and chief executive, Brigade
Chris Hanson-Abbott formed Brigade Electronics in 1976, after he was inspired by a strange beeping sound he heard emanating from the rear of a small truck on a street in Tokyo.
This was Hanson-Abbott’s Damascene conversion moment and he set about finding out who made the alarm. The answer was the Yamaguchi Electric Company who, impressed with his youthful energy and enthusiasm, granted him the UK and Europe agency for the alarm. Today the Japanese company remains a major supplier.
In the mid-1970s reversing safety had not been addressed outside of Japan, but it accounted for a quarter of all fatalities at work in the UK at the time. The Health & Safety at Work Act was passed into UK law in 1974: it was clearly the time to address the problem.
With support from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), Brigade launched its first reversing alarm at the 1976 Commercial Vehicle show in London. According to Brigade, the reaction was mixed and the show ended without a single sale. To add insult to injury the publicity culminated in the Department for Transport announcing that reversing alarms contravened the Construction & Use Regulations – and were thus illegal. Apparently the reversing alarm was the same as a horn, and not ‘continuous, uniform and strident’. Undeterred, Hanson-Abbott continued, lobbying the government over a period of five years and challenging potential customers’ preconceptions.
Thankfully the government finally saw sense and over the years the legislative environment has evolved enormously. Today, road safety is at the forefront of operators’ minds – be it protecting vulnerable road users and pedestrians or staff and customers – and Hanson-Abbott continues to make devices that saves lives throughout the world.
Turning that world on its head, reversing alarms now face lobbying pressure as the source of environmental noise pollution. Hanson-Abbott addressed this moving into the realm of white sound – an unobtrusive sound that is easier for the listener to identify the direction the noise – and therefore the vehicle – is coming from. With advances in white sound coming in the late 1990’s Hanson-Abbott has transformed the very market he created over the past 20 years, eradicating the traditional alarm sound for a safer technology.
Hanson-Abbott is a passionate speaker and advocate for road safety who has built a world-leader in vehicle-based safety equipment. Even though he is in his 80s he is still very much involved in the business activities of Brigade.
SERVICE TO INDUSTRY WINNERS
2006: John Parry
2007: David Batty
2008: Ken Irlam (Deceased)
2009: Robbie Burns
2010: Dick Denby
2011: Stewart Oades
2012: Nikki King CBE
2013: Peter Carroll
2014: Des Evans OBE
2015: Theo de Pencier
2016: Glyn Davies
2017: Ray Ashworth
2018: Paul Day
2019: Carole Walker
2020: Thomas van Mourik