Businessman and politician;
Born: June 12, 1929; Died: October 10, 2012.
SIR Matthew Goodwin, who has died aged 83, was one of Scotland's most prominent businessman as co-founder of the plant hire firm Hewden Stuart, a company once described as "a legend in the construction industry".
In 1960 he was a junior partner at a firm of Glasgow-based chartered accountants when a friend in the building industry persuaded him to invest £500 for a half share in a mechanical digger. The intention was to use it for a few months of the year and rent it out for the rest.
"The machine was rented out to the Coal Board and 18 months later I decided to check how it was getting on," recalled Sir Matthew when he retired. "It was a gloriously sunny day, and there, in the middle of a wood, was Willie Bell the driver, sitting with the engine switched off, reading a paperback.
"Every three or four hours a lorry would come by, Willie would fill it up with wood, and then return to his reading. Frankly, I went away thinking that this must be the easiest way imaginable to make money – and bought a second machine, then a third, then a fourth."
In 1962 earth-moving equipment hire firm Hewden Plant was created in association with Frank Jamieson, who had sold the original mechanical shovel. Sir Matthew and Mr Jamieson determined the company would have a hands-on style of leadership, of "intelligence gathering", dropping into depots regularly and making a point of knowing the name of every driver.
This attention to detail paid off and the company merged with Ronnie Stuart's RG Stuart Plant in 1968, forming Hewden-Stuart, which then went on to become Britain's largest independent plant-hire company. Mr Jamieson was its first chairman, with Sir Matthew Goodwin succeeding him in 1979.
Hewden-Stuart became known for its extremely conservative accounting policies and refusal to follow fashionable business trends. This reflected an early history of chasing debts and a policy of holding enough cash to pay wages 12 months in advance. It resulted in Hewden-Stuart possessing the most modern plant in the UK, if not in Europe.
Sir Matthew (he was knighted in 1989) also decided early on to "provide security of employment and opportunities for all our people", an unusually paternalistic approach in an industry renowned for hiring and firing at will. "We took the contrary view that it was up to the management to find work and to guarantee a full week's work," he later explained. The result was a "flood of applications from the best drivers".
A colourful figure in the Scottish business community, Sir Matthew was nevertheless not ostentatious, refusing to "indulge in luxury or corporate swank", such as flying first class or taking Concord, because, he admitted, there was "no real advantage in it". In other words, he believed in not spending money he did not have, and took a particularly dim view of rewarding directors who had clearly failed to meet targets.
He also enjoyed some success in unelected politics, serving as deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party and later treasurer.
He once contested a seat in Labour-dominated Maryhill, which highlighted not only his determination but the general belief that he was – as his son-in-law Leslie Tennant put it – "not one for the rule book".
Severe turbulence within the party after its poor showing at the 1987 election led to Sir Matthew's resignation in 1989, although his firm continued to make political donations. Challenged after the 1992 election as to whether these were a good investment, his riposte was cutting: "The alternative would have been even more disastrous."
After 1993 Sir Matthew was, in theory at least, non-executive chairman of Hewden-Stuart, at which time his business associate Sandy Findlay was appointed group chief executive. But, as Mr Findlay later conceded, Sir Matthew remained too active and involved in the company to be described as non-executive. "He is part-time," quipped Mr Findlay, "but fully executive."
Sir Matthew retired properly in April 1995 as profits soared thanks to a series of canny investments during the recession of the early 1990s. The company was declared the most successful plant hire company of all time with revenues topping £200 million and still climbing.
He put his share of that wealth to good use, acting as a quiet but generous benefactor to a number of charities.
In 1999 he also re-engaged with politics as treasurer of the ill-fated ThinkTwice campaign (which opposed devolution), providing a valuable link with business but a less than successful outcome.
In retirement, Sir Matthew also continued to enjoy the good life on his Lanarkshire estate. Dinner guests at his cottage would be treated to deliciously sweet, locally- shot duck fed on waste from a friend's business – which turned out to be scraps of Tunnock's Caramel Wafers.
Sir Matthew Goodwin is survived by his wife, Lady Margaret, and daughters, Frances and Carol.
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