By Ian McConnell

AS Andrew Malcolm talks about the past, present and future of the heavyweight Scottish logistics and construction services business he heads, what comes across is a passionate long-term view spanning not just years but generations.

This long-term vision is clearly a permanent fixture of Renfrewshire-based Malcolm Group, which is celebrating its centenary year.

The operation has evolved dramatically since it was founded as a coal-selling business by Mr Malcolm’s grandfather, Walter Hattrick Malcolm, in Johnstone 100 years ago.

It has been on and off the stock market, having been acquired by Grampian Holdings in November 1960 and taken private again in 2005.

However, its current chief executive appears determined to ensure a continuation of the values which have been embedded in the business from its earliest days.

The highest esteem in which he holds his father Donald, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer on his 60th birthday and given six months to live but went through 17 operations and died at the age of 78, is crystal clear.

Mr Malcolm talks about how he had been the permanent shadow of his father, who passed away in May 2003.

He says: “He was my mentor, my friend, everything.”

Mr Malcolm adds: “If Donald Malcolm had died before his 61st birthday, we wouldn’t have been here today because Grampian would have sold us off to the highest bidder.
“Dad had that very strong can-do will and determination and he still had 
a very strong presence in the business – even in the last six months of his life he still had a presence.”

The chief executive is sitting in Malcolm Group’s heritage centre in Linwood – at a giant boardroom table which he notes came from Grampian Holdings.

He and his brother, Walter, each own 49 per cent of Malcolm Group, with the remaining 2% held by some other long-serving members of the senior management team.

The history of the business is laid out in words and pictures around the walls of the heritage centre, which includes an impressive collection of brightly polished vehicles from decades past. Mr Malcolm talks about how there are vehicles from “every decade my dad had”.

Donald Malcolm was only nine when his father, Walter Hattrick Malcolm, died.

Andrew Malcolm notes that his grandmother, Marion, from Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis, “brought up three kids under the age of nine while trying to keep the business running”.

Donald Malcolm left school and became a partner in the business at the age of 13.

Andrew Malcolm observes: “They say behind every strong man is a strong woman. My dad had two – my granny and my mum (Wilma).”

He adds: “My Granny Malcolm had a very strong background on work. She also had a very strong background on people.

“I know Donald Malcolm had a reputation of being hard. He also had a reputation of being very fair as well.”

He notes that his granny and his dad built up the business before the sale to Grampian Holdings.

Today, Malcolm Group employs around 2,000 people, with its workforce having been reduced by about 80 since the onset of the pandemic through what its chief executive describes as a “right-sizing”.

Malcolm Group has about 470 trucks, some 1,250 trailers and around 130 items of plant.

Its logistics business is focused heavily on the food and drink sector, although it also serves other industries.

The construction services side of the business, which takes in civil engineering activities and is overseen by Walter Malcolm, accounts for nearly 40% of turnover.

Malcolm Group has nine key logistics locations and three main centres for its construction services business in Great Britain.

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In the year to January 31, 2021, Malcolm Group made pre-tax profits of £7.04m on turnover of £193.8m. It had in the prior 12 months, a period unaffected by the pandemic, made pre-tax profits of £8.005m on turnover of £222.6m.

As the construction sector came to a sudden halt during the first coronavirus lockdown which began in the spring of 2020, Malcolm Group furloughed around 900 of its staff, nearly half of the total.

Mr Malcolm highlights the fact that, by June or July 2020, everyone was back at work.

The weight of responsibility he has as an employer is clearly not in any way lost on him.

Mr Malcolm notes some of the current workforce are into the third and fourth generations of the “extended family” of employees. He says: “We call the workforce our extended family. We are into our third and fourth generation of extended family.”

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As well as road haulage, the group moves around 1,200 loads per week domestically by rail, with an ambition to increase this over the next two to four years.

It has also made enormous strides in the recycling of construction waste.

Mr Malcolm noted the huge impact of a recycling “wash plant” at the group’s Loanhead Quarry site, near Beith in Ayrshire, which is run by his eldest son, Euan, operations director of the non-civil engineering division.

Previously, around 2,500 tonnes of construction waste per day went to landfill at the site. This has, with the recycling of construction materials, been reduced to about 300 tonnes per day.

Walter Malcolm’s eldest son, Donald, is deputy managing director of the construction services division. And Walter Malcolm’s daughter, Clare, works in the group’s human resources operation.

Andrew Malcolm’s daughter, Nicola Robertson, looks after the group’s significant charitable activities, while his younger son, Ker, works as a depot manager in the logistics division. His son-in-law, David Robertson, is northern warehousing director for logistics.

The Donald Malcolm Memorial Ball is held every two years. Andrew Malcolm notes the Glasgow-based Beatson Institute is always one of the main charities for which money is raised “because of what happened with dad with cancer”. The most recent ball, held in December last year, raised a total of about £250,000, with around £190,000 going to the Beatson Institute, and the remainder split equally between Accord Hospice in Paisley and St Vincent's Hospice in Howwood.

Asked about what the future holds for the group, which is chaired by former HSBC Scotland chief executive Alison McGregor, Mr Malcolm says: “More of the same but different.”

Noting people tended to ask what he means by “different”, he rehearses his usual answer to this question: “You will find out when we get there.”

Mr Malcolm says: “My job in life is to protect the workforce I have got. I want to make sure every generation that works in the business sees a secure future, a secure income. Our first priority has been to create security and an income stream for people’s families that they can actually depend and rely on.”

Reflecting on the history of the business, he observes: “My grandpa [was] a hard-working farm hand. My granny came down from the north – a very strong people person. That combination flowed through to my dad.”

Mr Malcolm notes these traits also flowed through to himself and his brother.

He adds: “Everything we do in Malcolm is about the long-term relationships. People need to give Malcolm a reason to change.”