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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

£35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Guru Careers: Associate Director

£50 - 80k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Associate Director for the Markets ...

Guru Careers: Associate Director / Director of Sound Practices

£60 - 100k: Guru Careers: Our client is looking for an Associate Director of S...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks