Thicker than Water / Obituary of a capitalist ?

In the late 1970s a shepherd in Perthshire, Scotland was made redundant. Around the same time the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher was starting its privatisation programme, including the deregulation of public transport, permitting anyone to provide bus services in competition to the council services. The shepherd gave his £25,000 redundancy pay to his two children, Ann and Brian, to buy two second-hand buses.

Accelerate twenty-five years forward and their company (Stagecoach) has grown into an international transport conglomerate extending to bus, rail and airport operations, with holdings in five continents and turnover of £1.5bn.

Brian Souter is now the richest man in Scotland and his sister Ann Gloag is the richest woman. Souter has an explanation for this: “ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do, because capitalism is based on greed”. But unknown to many there was a third founder of Stagecoach, way back in the early 1980s. What happened to him ?

In December 2007 a number of newspapers reported on the death of the third founder, Robin Gloag. Who’s Robin Gloag to deserve an obituary, you might wonder? He certainly was not well-known, but his was arguably the flip-side of a capitalist “success” story. It would be hard to read his obituary and not reflect on the misery capitalism causes.

Robin Gloag at one time owned one-third of Stagecoach, along with Brian Souter and Ann Gloag – his wife. At the time of his death he still retained one share in Stagecoach the international bus and train company. “They tried to get me to sign it away, but it’s still in my name… They didn’t push hard enough and I didn’t fall off a cliff.”

But he was all but pushed off a cliff, being legally shafted within the rules of the market when the thieves fell out. Brian Souter and his sister Ann manoeuvred Robin Gloag out of the business after 3 years. It seemed he didn’t have the necessary personality or willingness to match their ambitions for the fledgling company. He preferred to have his head under the bonnet of the coaches.

He was given £8000 to leave. But when he used this pay-off from Stagecoach to set up a small-scale rival running only one small route near Perth this was still perceived as too much of a threat by his (now ex) wife and brother-in-law . They halved their fares then dropped them to nothing to put him out of business altogether. No love appears to have been lost. After putting his company into administration, Ann Gloag and Soutar purchased it for pennies and sacked him.

Dysfunctional families falling out over money happens regardless of class of course. World socialists aren’t interested in individuals – it’s the system we oppose. We are opposed to the nice fluffy capitalists just as much as the bastards, the Richard Bransons and Anita Roddicks, as well as the Brian Souters or the Conrad Blacks of this world.

As the business grew, the ultra-competitiveness with which Stagecoach forced Robin Gloag off the roads become legendary in the initial cowboy world of unregulated bus services . One Monopolies and Mergers Commission judgement branded Stagecoach’s behaviour as “deplorable, predatory and against the public interest”. Investors were delighted however.

While Ann amassed enormous wealth, Robin Gloag continued to work at his small coach hire business. He was no capitalist : “I am far too soft” he said. Ironically, he had planned to run it as long as he was fit enough, reflecting: “It’s what I have always done and I enjoy it… I have never been afraid of hard work.” Robin Gloag died in December 2007 working at the age of 64; he was covering a shift for one of his employees who was sick.

The Stagecoach story is a lesson in the random nature of business success. Capitalism partly justifies itself on the basis that it is open to anyone to become a capitalist. In reality the vast majority of the members of the capitalist class were born in the right bed to start with. But there are exceptions, including the shepherd’s children, Ann Gloag and Brian Souter. But their story is not one of incredible initiative or hard work, just a fair bit of money to start with and good timing (the launch of Stagecoach conveniently coincided with a national rail strike). Plus of course a willingness to shaft anyone – friends or family – who got in the way.

On the same day that Robin Gloag was killed at work, Stagecoach reported healthy six-monthly results, posting a 9 percent rise in profits to £85 million.


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