O'Toole follows Moir Lockhead at FirstGroup

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The Independent Online

Sir Moir Lockhead is stepping down after 21 years as the chief executive of the transport giant FirstGroup, to be replaced by the former London Underground boss Tim O'Toole.

Mr O'Toole will take over on 1 November, allowing for a four-month handover period before Sir Moir retires on 31 March next year.

Martin Gilbert, the chairman of FirstGroup, said: "Moir has made an outstanding contribution to the company and to the transport industry in a long and successful career."

Sir Moir was the architect of a £5.5m management buyout of Grampian Regional Transport in 1989, and over the next two decades transformed the £15m-turnover Scottish company into FirstGroup, a global rail and bus giant with an annual turnover of £6bn and 130,000 employees.

Mr O'Toole was widely tipped as Sir Moir's successor, following his appointment as a non-executive director of FirstGroup in May 2009 and as the company's chief operating officer and deputy chief executive in June this year.

Mr Gilbert said the 55-year old American's mix of experience was the key to his appointment as chief executive of FirstGroup, which runs buses in 40 different UK towns and cities, operates both passenger and freight trains including the First Great Western and First Capital Connect rail franchises, and has an equally large US presence, including the national Greyhound network and the Yellow Bus school bus business.

"The crucial element was Tim O'Toole's experience in the transport business both in the US and the UK," Mr Gilbert said. "We've been very fortunate in finding someone with that necessary international experience."

Mr O'Toole is already well known in the British transport industry, after six years as the managing director of London Underground. He won widespread respect for his handling of the collapse of Metronet, the largest of the Tube's public-private partnership contractors. And he was awarded a CBE for London Underground's response to the 7/7 terrorist bombings in 2005.

Mr O'Toole takes over FirstGroup at a time of turmoil in the transport industry, with the public sector spending review, to be published next month, expected to take a slice out of government subsidies for both bus and rail networks. But Mr O'Toole said yesterday that although the situation is challenging, the group's strong US business will help it to weather cuts in the UK.

He also said it would be a challenge to follow Sir Moir, and described FirstGroup as "one of the great success stories of modern industrial history".

Sir Moir will not be retaining any role in the company he founded when he steps down from the chief executive role next year. "I might be the chairman of my farm, cleaning tractors and doing the sorts of things I currently do at the weekends," he joked yesterday, dismissing suggestions he might take over as FirstGroup chairman. "It was always my intention to retire at 65," he said. " I have worked for more than 50 years now so it is the right time for me, and we've found the right person so it is also the right time for the business."

There were many significant milestones in the course of turning Grampian Regional Transport into the behemoth that is FirstGroup, including its listing on the Stock Exchange, the key merger with Badgerline Group in 1995, and the company's move into the Hong Kong and US markets. But the most important of all was the original MBO, Sir Moir said.

"They were all very important milestones in themselves, but it all started because we were able to do the buyout here in Aberdeen," Sir Moir said. "I'm proud of the success we've achieved from small beginnings. The pace of change has been extraordinary."