FirstGroup names O’Toole as new boss

 
Marion Dakers
TRANSPORT operator FirstGroup has chosen former London Underground (LU) boss Tim O’Toole to replace it chief executive Moir Lockhead when he retires at the end of March 2011, the firm said yesterday.

O’Toole, who is currently deputy chief executive, will take the reins on 1 November.

FirstGroup, which manages the Great Western rail franchise and the Greyhound coach business in America, hired O’Toole last year with a view to him eventually replacing Lockhead.

O’Toole confirmed in a conference call yesterday that the firm’s headquarters will remain in Aberdeen, and said he was upbeat in the face of looming public spending cuts.

“There are huge challenges we are facing here but this company has such breadth and such residual strength that if anyone can take advantage of this to grow further, it’s FirstGroup,” he said.

O’Toole managed LU for six years until February 2009, garnering widespread praise for his cool handling of the 7 July bombings and the collapse of rail maintenance firm Metronet in 2007.

Lockhead has been in charge of FirstGroup since leading an employee and management buyout of Grampian Regional Transport in 1989.

He talked with chairman Martin Gilbert about taking over his role, but decided instead to retire outright.

“For someone who had been chief executive to become chairman, it would be much too hard for the new chief executive. It’s time for a change,” said Gilbert.

Shares in FirstGroup closed down 0.5 per cent at 349.5p yesterday, valuing the firm at £1.7bn.

TIM O’TOOLE AND MOIR LOCKHEAD

FIRSTGROUP

Tim O’Toole, 55, was born in Pittsburgh and started his career as a lawyer. He went on to work in the American rail business, and is still a non-executive director at freight company CSX Corporation.

He made his name as managing director at London Underground, where he worked for six years from 2003. O’Toole, an American citizen, was given an honorary CBE in 2005 for his handling of the network in the wake of the 7 July transport bombings. He also garnered praise for managing Tube maintenance operations after Metronet Rail collapsed in 2007.

He was appointed as a non-executive director at FirstGroup in May 2009, and became chief operating officer and deputy chief executive in June 2010.

Sir Moir Lockhead, 65, was born in Sedgefield in County Durham, and first worked as a mechanical engineer.

He became a general manager at Grampian Transport in 1985 when the bus industry was privatised, and went on to champion an employee-led buy-out in 1989. He steered the new firm, which started with 500 employees £15m in revenue, into one of the largest UK transport operators, with revenue of over £6bn and more than 130,000 employees.

Grampian merged with several bus firms to form FirstGroup in 1995. Lockhead was the inaugural chief executive at the expanded company, and has been based in Aberdeen in the same role ever since.

He has won a stack of awards for his work at FirstGroup, including an OBE for services to the bus industry in 2006 and a knighthood for services to transport in the 2008 birthday honours.