Moir Lockhead: A public transport boss who is driving a green agenda

A day in the life: Fresh from spending £1.9bn on two American icons, Moir Lockhead, chief executive of FirstGroup, tells Susie Mesure of his company's environmental aims


6.30am

Moir Lockhead, the Aberdeen-based boss of FirstGroup, wakes up in London. Not, as you might imagine, wedged into a berth on one of the bus-to-train giant's Caledonian Sleeper services but instead in the rather more salubrious surroundings of his London club. The RAC club on Pall Mall to be precise, which is at least in keeping with the transport theme.

Somewhat shamefully for the man who built Britain's biggest train operator from a management buyout 20 years ago, he in fact flew down to the capital the previous night.

7.30am

But within the hour Mr Lockhead is making amends and is on a train out of Paddington bound for Swindon. Seated next to him is John Armitt, head of Network Rail and the man responsible for ensuring the nation's tracks are up to scratch.

The pair are heading west for a meeting at First Great Western's Swindon base, which is the hub for all the train routes to the West Country and South Wales, that promises to transform the network. They breakfast on "tasty" bacon sandwiches, enjoy "great" service, and pull in 56 minutes later, "spot on" timing wise. Clearly someone had a tip- off that the fat controllers were on board.

8.30am

It has been a big and expensive week for First but it isn't time to put the chequebook away just yet. Last Friday it spent £1.9bn on buying Laidlaw, owner of the American Greyhound inter-city coach fleet and operator of some 40,000 yellow school buses. The transforming deal means the British company will ferry more American schoolkids around than any other company, provided the hostile Teamsters union and the competition authorities don't kick up too much of a fuss.

For now, though, Mr Lockhead's attention is focused on this side of the Atlantic. The topic for the morning meeting is a £1bn investment package for Great Western: £800m from Network Rail and £200m from First. Cue lots of promises to revolutionise train travel west of London and much patting of backs. The word "transform" is bandied liberally around. "We are going to transform the railway and that's going to happen over the next 12 to 18 months," pledges the 62-year-old. The money will be spent on upgrading the trains and the track. "Punctuality will improve, performance will dramatically improve, they will be fantastic to use."

Passengers have heard it all before, of course, but not since Great Western's reach was massively expanded last year to include also the former Thameslink and Great Northern franchises. Mr Lockhead, who worked his way into the driving seat at First after starting out aged 16 as an apprentice mechanic, is most excited about all the new rolling stock.

"They will be cleaner, greener and quieter. In terms of our carbon footprint they will be a significant improvement because they will use 15 per cent less fuel," Mr Lockhead says.

Network Rail's part of the deal will see it invest in new equipment to enable it to keep a better eye on how the track is bearing up. The number of temporary speed restrictions is falling and Mr Lockhead wants to "get the number of delayed minutes down by 20 per cent over the next 12 months".

1.00pm

They've wrapped in time up to catch the 12.59 back to town. The journey gives Mr Lockhead the time to muse on his US deal. He is off to the States the next day: first to Cincinnati, to set next year's budget for First's existing US business and then Chicago, to meet the Laidlaw crew for the first time since announcing the takeover.

Despite getting dragged through the mud during the past 12 months by the Teamsters for various alleged anti-union activities at its US FirstStudent arm, Mr Lockhead isn't worried about any opposition to the deal.

As for any political storm about a British company controlling two such quintessentially American icons, why he'll just gently remind the powers that be that the Yanks "just bought Liverpool football club and bought Manchester United two years ago. It's a two-way thing". He hopes the acquisition will mean he can bring more yellow school buses to the UK, although the decision ultimately rests with the Government and the local authorities. "The kids think they're cool. My grandson [one of eight grandchildren] goes to school on one [in Aberdeen]. He thinks it's fantastic."

2.02pm

Again Mr Lockhead's train arrives on time. He heads to First's London base, which recently spilled across the road from Paddington station.

He is being shown the architects' plans for a new corporate headquarters in Aberdeen. Shiny expensive new buildings and big transforming deals can often spell trouble for a company. But the odds favour the down-to-earth Mr Lockhead's chances of pulling it all off.

First's origins lie in his decision to pre-empt the deregulation of the then publicly owned bus operator that he ran in the late 1980s by leading a £4.5m buyout of Grampian Regional Transport. It later merged with the Bristol-based Badgerline to create FirstBus, which became FirstGroup after Mr Lockhead spotted the opportunity to move into trains. And then there is his family farm, started from scratch eight years ago. Back then the Lockheads barely knew one end of a Highland bull from another - now they are picking up awards for the quality of their cattle's semen. (His wife and daughter manage the farm but he likes to help out at weekends.)

First is also building a new bus depot in Aberdeen. The aim is to make the construction environmentally friendly. "Getting people out of cars and on to public transport is a key part of our move to reduce carbon emissions. We are also managing our energy use and waste disposal better as we build our climate-change strategy. We want to lead as much as we can and help to achieve what we all want to see - the reduction of carbon emissions and to stop damaging the environment."

7.00pm

The keen family man - despite being Durham born and bred, all his offspring now live within 20 miles of his Aberdeen farm - heads back to the RAC club in readiness for his flight to the US the next day.

He grabs the chance for an early night before what will be a bruising couple of days. He has to cram everything in so as to get back for his youngest grandson's 6th birthday and the accompanying family bash.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sales?Do you have a keen interes...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Adviser - OTE £30,000

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high