Edward Stobart, who died in March at the age of 56, transformed the image of trucking and truckers in the UK during the 30 years he ran the eponymous family business.
Edward left school at 15 to join his father’s company, which began as an agricultural supplies business in the 1950s based in Cumbria in northern England. He began driving tipper trucks working on the construction of the M6 motorway and soon saw the opportunity to expand the haulage side of the business.
Ambitious, Edward took over at the business from his father at the tender age of 21. He started with eight trucks and 12 employees, and 25 years later had built the business into one of the biggest haulage companies in the country with 1,000 trucks and 2,000 employees.
Today, Eddie Stobart trucks are a ubiquitous sight on UK roads – to such an extent that there is actually an Eddie Stobart fan club with thousands of members. The fan club and popularity of Eddie Stobart trucks is testament to Edward’s efforts. Much of that was because of his hard work to professionalise the industry and change the often-slovenly image of trucks and truckers.
He was also known for his unflinching work ethic, often cleaning trucks himself in the evening after a day in the office. Edward introduced uniforms for his drivers, included a tie, in order to smarten them up, and encouraged his drivers to hoot their horn and wave at passers by on the motorway.
“Transport had had a shifty image for a long time,” he once said. “The average truck driver or small operator was basically a tramp. Service in the industry needed to be upgraded, so we put in standards which others are now following.”
Understanding the fascination of children and many adults with trucks, he also began the tradition of naming trucks after female icons including the supermodel Twiggy, singer Dolly Parton and later gave the Stobart fan club the opportunity to name new trucks.
The business ran into difficulties in 2002 due to the high cost of fuel causing the company to post its first loss. Two years later Edward sold the business to his brother William and business partner Andrew Tinkler.
Edward was publicity-shy but left a very visible legacy in his trucks, which are the basis for a series of children’s books and toys, a train service and even a shade of paint called Eddie Stobart Green.