Trouble At Mill At Firstgroup…

As someone who was there at almost the beginning of the First Group journey back in 1987, when it most certainly was not the huge beast that it was to become. It is genuine sadness that I look at just what is going on today. The bitter internal civil war that rages between majority shareholders, is quite vicious and destructive to a Company that I am not only a shareholder, but more importantly a person who invested 20 years of my life in developing its future.

My journey with First can be split into two distinct parts, part one was in my natural environment as a Bus Manager, my natural happy hunting ground. Having been brought up in a Busman’s family, and educated in the National Bus Company, it was a world I knew well and enjoyed. The second part of my journey with First, could not have been more different, I was tasked with seeking to employ Polish bus drivers following EU accession. This required setting up a process that selected employees, taught them English to a standard that they could work in the UK. And integrating them across the 17 Bus Companies and 60 bus depots that First operated across the length and breadth of the UK.

It was an amazing challenge and adventure and no one had ever done it before, so we made it up as we went along. It was enormous fun, and eventually employed more than 3,000 employees, mostly from Poland, but in total from 29 different countries mostly from Eastern Europe. And a fair few have made the UK their homes, with their children as British as any other young person who are now becoming young adults. As for me as a result of my experience that started back in 2003 here I am with my long term friend and business partner Andy Samu, as Directors of Verita HR. A Polish Company with several divisions in Poland and the UK, Andy and his team have done an amazing job since 2008 when the Business started off with 12 employees. Today we employ around 80 staff and have really exciting and robust business.

However, that has nothing to do with what is happening in the troubled board room at First group where one group of shareholders with 10% of the shares are seeking to replace the board of 7 with 6 new members. They quote a calamity of errors after the recent announcement that they are selling off both the USA based Greyhound bus, and the UK Bus business with 17 different Companies enclosed within its portfolio. It is I suggest unlikely that that this coup will succeed but it is sadly reflective of the turmoil of a business that back in the day went from nothing to a top 100 FTSE Company employing over 125,000 people worldwide and turning over at its prime over 7 billion quid. However, nothing lasts forever, as I have discovered after recent events both personally and professionally. We will just have to see what happens from the sidelines, and hope the best outcome for the business and its loyal employees is the best that it can be.

Written by Austin Birks

June 19, 2019

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