EDWARD Stobart, who has died aged 56 after suffering from heart problems, was a road haulage magnate whose canny brand management helped lessen the boredom of many long distance family car journeys.
He was managing director of Eddie Stobart for more than 30 years, building the company, started by his father Eddie, into the UK’s favourite trucking business.
He created a real identity for the group by giving each truck an individuality and his shrewd business acumen ensured the company expanded prudently and survived despite the pressure on profit margins as a result of the rise in the price of oil.
Edward Stobart junior ws born in Hesket Newmarket, near Carlisle, and was always called Edward to avoid confusion with his father. From his youth he showed a keen interest in lorries and mechanical engines and when he left school he started working for his father. By 1970, the company consisted of three main parts: fertiliser, haulage and a farm shop. The various parts were eventually divided between the members of the family with Edward inheriting the haulage division and the famous name of Eddie Stobart Ltd.
The firm had its origins in agricultural transport in rural Cumbria but the father and son laid the foundations of a diversified and hugely successful business.
The distinctive trucks became iconic figures on motorways throughout Europe – they all had names and they all took on a charisma of their own. The wagons attracted an “Eddie spotting” fan base, and subsequently developed an official fan club and a merchandising operation selling Eddie Stobart branded goods. “Eddie spotting” has become an increasingly popular pastime, with the company building up a 15,000-strong fan club.
In 1976 Mr Stodart moved his headquarters to Carlisle so that he could have easy access to the M6 motorway. He also developed the idea of christening his lorries with female names. Each lorry took on a personality of its own and to add to the friendly image Mr Stobart wanted to cultivate he encouraged his drivers to look smart and always wear a tie. He also encouraged them to chat to the public at motorway service stations. He also was keen for drivers to sound their horn and wave when a motorist acknowledged them.
The first four names that Mr Stobart gave his trucks were named after four stars of the time: Twiggy, Tammy (Wynette), Dolly (Parton) and Suzi (Quatro). Later Mr Stobart allowed drivers to choose the names or to commemorate long-serving employees. The Stobart Railway engine was called Eddie The Engine.
Mr Stodart, however, was always a shrewd manager of the company’s financial affairs and he set up Stobart Rail, Stobart Ports and Stobart Developments, the last ensuring that the group could expand and own their own out-of-town depots to their own particular requirements.
He brought in a new management team in 1986 and the following year opened the group’s first depot in the East Midlands, a crucial area for transportation.
As a result of the rise in fuel prices the company in 2002 was experiencing financial problems and it is thought this may have led to Mr Stobart’s decision to sell to his brother, William, and business partner Andrew Tinkler in 2004.
In August 2007 the Stobart business got stock market listing as Stobart Group through the reverse acquisition of Westbury Property Fund, a commercial property and ports company.
Mr Stobart, who died in the University Hospital in Coventry, had been suffering from heart problems for some years. He was a popular figure in the company and his staff greatly admired his honesty and courtesy. He always described himself as “a proud Cumbrian” who enjoyed playing golf on the course near his home – the Eden Golf Club. Mr Stobart is survived by his wife Mandy and their three sons and a daughter.