Bob Thomas

Bob Thomas, former CityLink MD, logistics pioneer and entrepreneur has died at the age of 83.

Thomas began his career at United Carriers, which he joined as a 16-year-old school leaver.

A year later in 1956, he joined Lep Transport, a firm of international freight forwarders, where he worked in their Scandinavian, Far East and North American export division.

His career progressed rapidly, and in 1965, at the age of 26, he led a management buy-out and assumed the role of MD of Vulcan Freight Holdings, which was granted the exclusive right by H.M. Customs and Excise to operate the bonded warehouse at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Over the next four years, Vulcan Freight became one of the most successful London-based freight forwarders and Customs House brokers, specialising in the computer, fine art, film and television industries.

In late 1970, following a take-over of Vulcan by Alltransport Group, Thomas resigned and as a result of a non-competition clause in his contract, was unable to continue as an international freight forwarder for three years.

Thomas wasted no time in finding a new challenge. His former colleague David Kennard recalled: “In 1971 I got to know him when he purchased City Link, a delivery company founded in 1969 where I was employed.

“The company had accumulated losses approaching £20,000 on an annual turnover of approximately £100,000.

“He purchased 75% of the company for the sum of £75, designed new operational and accounting systems and turned City Link into the first UK express parcels carrier.

“It soon became known as The Courier’s Courier. Clients included the Post Office, FedEx, UPS, Airborne, DHL, TNT, British Airways and British Rail.

Kennard added: “He introduced innovations such as same-day deliveries throughout the UK; specific and timed deliveries; and same-day deliveries from the UK to New York via Concorde; all covered by City Link’s unique ‘Double Your Money Back Guarantee.’”

Within the UK business community, Thomas was best known for having introduced franchising to the UK express parcels industry in 1971; nine years before the concept was established in the USA.

Bob retired as chairman and MD in 1991, by which time sales had grown from £100,000 with one depot and five employees to £32m per year with a network of 36 UK depots and 600 plus employees.

In 2011, operating the same hub and spoke distribution system devised during his tenure, City Link enjoyed sales of £306.9m and became the second largest privately owned parcel company in the UK with over 5,000 employees.

In retirement Bob was an active member of the Variety Club – the largest children’s charity in the world - and served on the Sunshine Coach Committee.

During his time on the committee Bob sponsored many specially adapted coaches to help sick, disabled and disadvantaged children.

He also continued in his passion of breeding and racing thoroughbred racehorses.

In 2001 Bob and his wife Pam moved to the United States, selling their UK home, racehorses and a brood mare and becoming full-time residents of Heritage Springs in 2002.

Kennard said: “Bob was an avid family man. Supportive, quiet and sometimes shy. He was an avid epicure and always generously invited others to join him. Never mincing his words, he seldom lost his temper – alluding to his famous motto ‘Don’t get mad, get even.’

“He rarely used a calculator and his grasp of and speed with mental arithmetic amazed those who worked with him.”

Thomas leaves two sons and two granddaughters.

Bob Thomas: 5th January 1939 – 27th July 2022