My friend and former boss Bob Thomas, who has died aged 83, was an innovative figure in the UK freight and parcels industry who in 1971 bought a 75% share in the loss-making London delivery company City Link and turned it into the country’s first express parcels carrier.
When Bob bought his City Link share for £75 I was the youngest of his three employees, based in an old fish and chip shop in north London. The company had losses approaching £20,000 on an annual turnover of £100,000 but Bob introduced innovations such as same-day deliveries throughout the UK, specific and timed deliveries, and automatic proof-of-delivery; all covered by City Link’s then-unique “double money back guarantee”. He also introduced franchising to the UK express parcels industry, and the company became known as “the courier’s courier”.
Born in Lambeth, south London, to Harold Thomas, a caretaker, and Eva (nee Hollands), a housewife, Bob left Sutton County grammar school at 16 to take up a job as an import clearance and freight co-ordinator with United Carriers in west London. A year later, in 1956, he joined nearby Lep Transport in their export department. His career progressed rapidly, and at the age of 25 he led a management buy-out of another London company, Vulcan Freight Holdings, becoming its managing director from that point onwards. Over the next four years Vulcan became one of the most successful freight forwarders in the capital. In late 1970, following a takeover of Vulcan by Alltransport Group, he resigned, and a year later took over City Link.
As the company grew and flourished, in 1988 Bob appointed me as managing director as he moved over to assume the role of chairman. By 1991, when he sold City Link to the Securiguard Group and retired, sales had grown to £32m per year, with a network of 36 UK depots and 600-plus employees. He was a highly impressive businessman with a great head for figures. He rarely used a calculator, and his speed with mental arithmetic habitually amazed those who worked with him.
A family man, even-tempered, quiet and sometimes shy, Bob worked hard in retirement for various charities, including the Variety Club of Great Britain, for whom he served on its sunshine coach committee. During his working life he had sponsored countless events raising money for specially adapted minibuses to cater for schools and non-profit organisations working with disabled and disadvantaged children and young people.
After 10 years of retirement Bob and his second wife, Pam (nee Minnery), whom he had married in 1994, moved to live in the sunshine of Florida.
Pam died in 2016. Bob is survived by two sons, Darren and Richard, from his first marriage, to Linda Collins, which ended in divorce in 1984.