Mr Brian Souter, megabuck-earning chairman of transport company Stagecoach Holdings, is hardly your stereotypical businessman. He eschews the uniform of the boardroom dynamo, Savile Row suit and handmade brogues, preferring instead loud sports jackets and Kickers casual boots. It is surprising and disappointing, then, to hear of him describing his customers in disparagingly stereotypical terms. In a lecture, he has called his customers from the north beer-drinking, chip-eating, council-house dwelling, old Labour-voting masses, whose business he none the less greatly appreciates. And he has described southerners as wine-drinking, courgette and mangetout-eating, semi-detached-dwelling, New Labour-voters. Mr Souter's remarks smack of hubris, but he will not suffer the terrible nemesis experienced by Mr Gerald Ratner, whose jewellery business collapsed because he drove his core customers away

in their thousands after describing his products as ''crap''.

For a start, Mr Souter believes in Stagecoach, which has spectacularly exploited bus and rail privatisation, and is expanding into the continent. And his customers are hardly likely to be so offended by his stereotyping of them as to stop using his products. Even if they did want to vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere, they would be unable to do so since Stagecoach has created effective monopolies by driving out the competition in many of the areas in which it operates.