STAGECOACH co-founder Sir Brian Souter is to step down as chief executive next May after more than 30 years at the helm.
Sir Brian, 58, will remain on the board as chairman, replacing Sir George Mathewson who is retiring. This move comes in spite of the UK Corporate Governance code, which frowns upon chief execs becoming chairmen. The board said it has appointed Garry Watts as deputy chairman in a bid to ensure independence.
“The board believes that retaining the talent and knowledge of Sir Brian in the role of chairman will be to the benefit of the company and all of its shareholders,” the firm said.
Long-standing finance chief Martin Griffiths will become chief executive when Sir Brian steps down, while company secretary Ross Paterson will join the board as finance director.
Stagecoach also revealed yesterday that its regional bus operations grew like-for-like revenues by 4.1 per cent in the 22 weeks to 22 July. This compares to just 0.6 per cent growth at Virgin Rail Group.
PROFILE: SIR BRIAN SOUTER
Sir Brian Souter, who started his career as a bus conductor in Perth, is known as a “transport man through and through” in the industry.
“There’s only one Brian Souter. He’s a man who if you stand close enough, he smells of petrol,” said one analyst yesterday.
After buying two second-hand buses in 1980, Souter and his sister Ann built up Stagecoach from a regional operator to a national and then international transport group, snapping up bus and rail routes across Britain as the networks were deregulated in the 1980s and 90s.
His acquisitive streak sometimes got the firm into hot water, for example during the ill-fated purchase of Asian toll road operator Road King. However, experts in the sector admire Sir Brian’s willingness to radically restructure or sell out altogether once it becomes clear a deal hasn’t worked.
Despite his no-nonsense business style Souter is also known for his generosity, from bankrolling free health check-ups for employees to spending millions on the Souter Charitable Trust, founded to further christian and humanitarian projects.
But his charitable nature caused controversy in 2000, when he paid for a lobbying effort in support of Section 28, the controversial law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality by public authorities.
Souter is sure to remain a prominent force at Stagecoach, both through his chairmanship and his family’s 25 per cent holding in the firm. by Marion Dakers
And his return to the top job cannot be ruled out – he has already left the firm once before, in 1998, only to return in 2002 to rescue the firm from a costly acquisition.