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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
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

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on