With the death of Donald Malcolm, the west of Scotland and the construction and haulage industries have lost an entrepreneurial giant. Donald Malcolm was a big man in many ways. He had a fine business and strategic brain, a prodigious memory, an unrivalled command of the English language (including the expletives section), a strong sense of human-ity towards his people, a Highland sense of the fey and fun, and, above all, a very strong commitment to his family.
In 60 years he built a business, which is nationally known and still under family control.
Donald John Malcolm was born on April 16, 1925, the eldest child of Walter, who ran a small horse-and-cart haulage business, and Marion, who came from Shawbost, Stornoway. There were two younger sisters, Morag, who taught maths, played
hockey for Scotland, and bridge internationally, and Agnes, a committed and brilliant general medical practitioner.
Donald went to Kilbarchan primary school. In 1934 his father died and for a few years his mother looked after the business, but, in 1937, at the age of 12, he left school to run the business. At that stage there were four horses and carts and one lorry. During the war and
into the 1950s the business
grew steadily, based at the fam-ily home in Brookfield, Renfrewshire. By the late-1950s
the business needed a larger partner and offers were received from TDG, Tillings and Grampian Holdings, of which the last was accepted. Donald and Grampian was to prove
a 43-year highly successful
At this stage, Donald's business instincts came into play. The business had always consisted of two parts - logistics (flats and artics) and construction services (tippers). Anticipating the road-building boom of the 1960s, Donald now recycled his sales proceeds into a new plant-hire company and a shale bing company, both of which were subsequently sold to Grampian Holdings to join the original W H Malcolm business.
With further foresight, a depot network was established with acquisitions in Johnstone, Glasgow, and Ayrshire, and new depots were opened. There was a temporary flirtation with a business on the east coast. In parallel, Donald had created a personally owned lorry fleet, which supplemented the WHM fleet at times of peak demand.
The business grew steadily
in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and became more and more
the dominant part of Grampian Holdings. In that period, Donald had a volatile but respect-
ful relationship with Gram-
pian chiefs, including Peter Hutchison, Lewis Robertson, and Bill Hughes.
He never took a major part
in group politics but rather focused on his own businesses. This culminated in the acquisition in 2000 of the Malcolm family private interests by Grampian, the disposal of all non-haulage interests, and the renaming of Grampian as Malcolm Group. The business is
still run by his sons, Andrew
Donald's memory was prodigious and at one stage he could recite the numbers not only
of his current fleet but of lorries he used to own. He knew all
the players in the market and
for many years the problem with the business was in finding
a computer system that could
do more than him. For exam-ple, in the 1960s the company could report sales by customer and by vehicle the following working day.
Donald's large physical stature was tempered by a sense of fun, a twinkle in the eye, and a deep humanity towards his people. Many a manager or employee with health, family, or legal problems got the treatment of both being bawled out and bailed out. The bawling outs were public, but the bail-outs were private.
At the same time, Donald retained a strong sense of fam-ily. He married Wilma in 1956 and moved his mother and sisters to another house 400 yards up the road. After that he visited them every day. There are
four children: Wilma a deaconess, Marian a marketer, and Walter and Andrew, who run the business. In turn, there are 13 grandchildren.
An enduring memory is to see Donald at home on a Sunday afternoon, smoking a cigar, on the phone with the children at his feet.
Unlike many modern entrepreneurs, Donald's social life was low-key and tended to be with other hauliers and farmers. Family holidays were in St Anne's and socially he was almost teetotal. At the same time there was an element of the superstitious. Until recently, lorries had to have HS Renfrewshire numbers and, following a near-fatal car crash, 777 was the registration of choice.
Donald's death leaves a major void, not just with his family but also in west of Scotland industrial history. There is unlikely to be another one like him again.
Donald Malcolm; born April 16, 1925, died May 3, 2003.