Belfast Telegraph

FirstGroup gets in gear with new chairman

David Martin was chief executive of Arriva for 10 years.

Transport giant FirstGroup has appointed the former boss of rival Arriva as its new chairman (PA)
Transport giant FirstGroup has appointed the former boss of rival Arriva as its new chairman (PA)

By Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor

Transport giant FirstGroup has appointed the former boss of rival Arriva as its new chairman as the group looks to move on from its spat with activist investor Coast Capital.

David Martin starts with immediate effect and replaces Wolfhart Hauser, who resigned in June after Coast Capital called for him, the chief executive and four other bosses, to be voted off the board.

Senior independent director David Robbie had since been serving as interim chairman.

Aberdeen-based FirstGroup – which runs Great Western Railway, South Western Railway (SWR) and
TransPennine Express – saw off Coast’s attempt, with shareholders overwhelmingly voting against its plans to install six of their own replacement executives.

But Mr Hauser resigned at the group’s annual shareholder meeting in July, saying it was “now time for me to move on”.

Mr Martin was chief executive of transport rival Arriva for 10 years and has a career in the transport industry dating back to 1986.

He said: “I am pleased to be joining FirstGroup at a key point in its development.

“Undoubtedly there are challenges which we must overcome, but I am confident in the opportunity that exists to unlock the considerable value within the group.”

He is currently senior independent director at waste management group Biffa, where he also served as interim chairman for six months.

Mr Robbie said: “Having followed a rigorous and formal process, and considered the views of our shareholders, we have secured an extremely experienced, high-calibre and independent candidate with an extensive track record in surface transportation.”

He added Mr Martin has “significant experience in business turnaround and performance improvement”.

FirstGroup has suffered a tough year so far, recently also seeing a significant shareholder vote against pay plans for top bosses at its annual general meeting.

Almost a quarter of votes cast by shareholders were against approving the directors’ remuneration report, with 23.68% in opposition.

FirstGroup is in the midst of a revamp, saying earlier this year it would put its US Greyhound bus business up for sale and look at potentially selling its UK bus division too.

The announcement came after intense pressure from Coast, which had been pressing for a break-up of the group.

Coast, which holds a 9.8% stake in FirstGroup, had argued that the transport firm’s share price was being held back by less profitable businesses, which was offsetting the stronger First Student unit.

But on Wednesday, FirstGroup delivered some cheer for investors when it announced that, along with Italian firm Trenitalia, it was set to take over the running of the West Coast mainline train route, connecting London Euston to Glasgow Central, from December.