Not since Gerald Ratner described one of his company's products as "crap" have the supposed comments of an executive caused such a storm. After all, if you call your customers "riff-raff", you can hardly expect them to come back for more.
That is how Keith Cochrane, the group chief executive of Stagecoach, allegedly described some of his bus passengers, according to today's edition of the distinguished business magazine Forbes Global. But so incensed is Stagecoach at the prospect of going the same way as Mr Ratner – his name was removed from the company's business – that it is considering suing the magazine, claiming Mr Cochrane never said the words at all.
Not only Mr Ratner will sympathise with Stagecoach's predicament. On Friday, Dianne Thompson, the chief executive of Camelot, the lottery operator, got herself in trouble with the obvious but unmentionable comment that players had virtually no chance of scooping the jackpot.
In the Forbes article, which is critical of Stagecoach's foreign deals, several of which have lost the company hundreds of millions of pounds, Mr Cochrane reportedly expresses surprise that "American bus clientele can be riff-raff".
But the company, founded by the Scots millionaire Brian Souter and his sister, Ann Gloag, denied that Mr Cochrane had said the words and confirmed it was looking into taking legal action. "The article... contains clear inaccuracies which we are disputing," a Stagecoach spokesman said. "We have already contacted the magazine and asked for it to be retracted and corrected. This piece is more damaging of Forbes' reputation for journalism than it is of Stagecoach."
Forbes criticises the acquisitions of Coach USA, Swebus, Sweden's biggest bus company, and a 35 per cent stake in Road King, which operates a toll route in Hong Kong.
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