Eddie Stobart shocked Britain's lorry spotters yesterday when he revealed he had sold his eponymous haulage company to an international property development and civil engineering business.
The 48-year-old Cumbrian motto "keep on trucking" is to retire from what has become a national institution to spend more time with his partner and three-year-old daughter.
Mr Stobart built up the business to become Britain's biggest privately owned road haulier. His father gave him the company, an offshoot of his agricultural contracting business, in 1970. It now has 1,000 trucks, depots throughout Britain and even a fan club.
Eddie Stobart Promotions, part of the Carlisle-based group, has developed a line of Stobart paraphernalia, including toy lorries and T-shirts. The Sunday Times rich list puts the wealth of the Stobart brothers brother William part-owns the business at £60m.
"The secret is never to have an empty truck," says Mr Stobart. "If you take lemonade down somewhere, bring water back up. The trucks must be 100 per cent loaded all the time."
The company, which has been strongly identified with Cumbria, announced this summer that its administrative centre was moving from Carlisle to Merseyside. Its links with the region were further weakened when Mr Stobart put his home near Carlisle up for sale last month for £2.2m, saying he needed to be closer to business interests in the south and closer to a major airport. "My private life has been in Cumbria but I'm forced to spend more and more time away," he said. "I want to have my main home down south and a weekend home in Cumbria. At the moment it's the other way around."
Mr Stobart was an outspoken critic of the Government during the fuel protests in 2000, threatening to register half his fleet abroad to take advantage of lower taxes.
Andrew Tinkler, managing director of WA Developments (International), the new owner, said last night: "As far as we are concerned it will be business as usual for Eddie Stobart." The company name and red and green livery will be retained.