DANNY O’Neil has retired as chairman of Glasgow-based plant, tool and equipment-hire company GAP Group after 14 years, having played a key part in its diversification and growth.

Mr O’Neil told The Herald yesterday that he had worked with the board on implementing the firm’s furloughing of employees amid the coronavirus crisis prior to his departure.

GAP, which is run by brothers Douglas and Iain Anderson, has furloughed about 1,065 of its near-1,800-strong workforce amid the coronavirus lockdown implemented to slow the spread of Covid-19.

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Mr O’Neil, who is 60 early next month, added that he had known for the last year to 18 months that he was moving towards retirement. He noted that, once the company had got through the implementation of its Covid-19 response, there had been a hiatus, which had meant it was a good time to leave.

He said: “It is very amicable. For the board, they are both happy for me and sad to see me go.”

Mr O’Neil, a financial services industry veteran who was formerly chief executive of Glasgow-based Britannic Asset Management, highlighted the part he had played in GAP’s diversification, through the launch of new divisions, and in succession-planning moves.

Douglas Anderson also underlined the role played by Mr O’Neil in helping the company with the structure of its new divisions and with how these should fit into the corporate whole and in helping lead GAP through its succession-planning.

GAP, which celebrated a half-century in business last year, posted record annual profits and turnover for the 12 months to March 2019, reflecting the benefits of diversification.

Pre-tax profits at GAP rose to an all-time high of £18.7 million in the year to March 31, 2019, the latest period for which accounts are available, from £16.7m in the prior 12 months, on the back of an 8.8 per cent increase in turnover to a record £203m.

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Douglas Anderson, while noting GAP had made a loss last month amid the coronavirus crisis, projected the company would be in the black over the full financial year to March 2021. However, he noted the profit was expected to be “significantly smaller” than previously given the impact of the coronavirus crisis on revenues.

Chris Parr, group finance director of GAP, said: “I would be very disappointed if we weren’t in the black for the year to March 2021.”

Douglas Anderson, who has taken over temporarily as chairman and said GAP would decide if he stayed in this post or whether it looked for someone else to fill the role, highlighted the strength of the company’s balance sheet, and noted that it had shareholder funds of more than £100m.

He said: “We have modelled the cash flow going forward and it is fine. Our balance sheet will be fine.”

Mr O’Neil said: “Last year was a huge landmark year. It was the 50th anniversary last year. I had wanted to stay for that. I had been working a lot on succession, strengthening the team.”

He added: “I had been doing it a long time and 60 was coming. I have known the last year to 18 months I was moving towards retirement and had pretty much decided in my own mind earlier in the year...For me, it has been job more than done at GAP. Fourteen years is a long time for me to be in the chair.”

Mr O’Neil noted Mr Parr had now been with the business for around four years and that Douglas Anderson’s son, Mark, was now on the board, with Andrew Telfer appointed head of finance and a management restructuring having been completed.

Mr Parr, who previously headed paper manufacturer Tullis Russell and joined GAP in May 2016, now oversees functions including information technology, procurement, and human resources as well as finance.

Mr O’Neil said: “Those are all things I have been heavily involved in, and building up the divisional strategy and the leadership teams. If I [was] going to be going at 60, which is very soon anyway, it just felt like the right time to move on. People in GAP – some were surprised in a good way but they were also quite sad and also said they were pleased for me as well.”

Douglas Anderson said of Mr O’Neil: “We are sorry to see him go. He explained his reasons behind it. He saw 60 as quite an important date for him, which he is next month. It is always a bit of a surprise when these things happen. It is not the sort of thing you talk about for long.”

GAP was founded by Douglas and Iain Anderson’s father, Gordon Anderson, in the spring of 1969. The brothers have been running the business since 1988.

GAP has, since 2011, diversified significantly beyond its traditional plant and tool-hire business with the launch of several new divisions. The non-mechanical equipment division hires the likes of fencing, crowd-control barriers, and trenching and shoring products. The company has also established a division specialising in the provision of lifting, surveying and safety equipment. It has also launched a welfare division, with a hire offering ranging from portable toilets to liquid-waste tankers.

Mr O’Neil noted last year that the new divisions by that stage accounted for around one-third of turnover, and an even-greater proportion of pre-tax profits.

Douglas Anderson yesterday highlighted the resilience of the non-mechanical division in the current climate, with fencing and shoring equipment required on construction sites. He also cited increased demand for welfare units, including canteen facilities and portable toilets, in the context of social-distancing measures put in place amid the coronavirus crisis.

He added: “Things are picking up quite nicely over the last two or three weeks [with] construction in England – 80% of our business is there.”