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December 19 2018
By James Rudman

Lucketts in step with growth targets

The growth-minded Lucketts Group of companies and its Managing Director, former British Army captain Tony Lawman, is seeing benefits of a military element to organisation, staff and business mix

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, returned to Portsmouth last week after a four-month deployment.

Tony Lawman

But it wasn’t only family and friends greeting the vessel and its crew. The Fareham-based Lucketts Group of companies was there providing coach transport for crew members and their families around Portsmouth Naval Base, to railway stations and the town centre.

The one-day operation was part of a wider, longer-term agreement with the base and its transport office that sees Lucketts act in the preferred coach supplier role for routine work and major events, explains Paul Barringer, Lucketts’ Group Sales and Marketing Director.

MOD connections

“The business has had a connection with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for a long time, obviously being related to Portsmouth’s Naval Dockyard being near Lucketts’ Fareham base,” says Tony Lawman, the group’s Managing Director. His own 23-year army career included being an infantry soldier with the Royal Green Jackets, gaining skills in transport and logistics in the Logistics Corps, and training to be an accountant in the Adjutant General’s Corps.

Closer links between Lucketts and various aspects of the MoD have developed in recent years. This has been helped by the group’s growth strategy, including acquiring Solent Coaches in 2017 and North Hampshire-based Mortons Travel this year, that has extended its southern England presence and operational capacity.

Lucketts’ other MOD-related work includes providing staff transport services for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s bases at Porton Down, Wiltshire, and Fort Halstead, Kent; and transporting some military bands.

“We have also done far more US Navy work in the last two years than we have done previously. That is because we have worked really hard at understanding what is needed to work with the MOD,” Tony explains.

Three short-notice missions have seen Lucketts mobilise its resources to provide shore leave transport for US Navy vessels docking at Portsmouth. Recently, transport was organised for a landing ship’s crew. In October, a plan was created with 36 hours’ notice to take more than 5,000 servicemen and women from aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman on shore leave across southern England over five days using around 40 vehicles.  A similar mission was delivered in 2017 for aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush’s crew.

USS Harry S Truman

Tony says this highlights the extent of support “the second-largest independent coach operator in the UK” can offer for such ad-hoc events. This is due to it now having 170 vehicles, including 150 mainstream coaches and also minibuses, operating across the region.

“So, we can deliver that capability, and have the expertise to do it.”


He joined Lucketts as its Finance Director in February 2016 after his post-military career involved similar roles, including with a large US firm. Nine months later, he was made Managing Director to deliver a business growth plan he had drafted, and succeeded Steven and Ian Luckett, who as joint MDs since the early 1980s had overseen Lucketts’ annual turnover rising from £1.6m to £20m and the acquisition of Worthing Coaches and Southampton-based Coliseum Coaches.

The target is to increase the group’s annual turnover to £50m within the next five years and deliver a reasonable profit margin on that. This year’s turnover is expected to top £27m, 30% up on 2017’s figure.

The group comprises the Lucketts Travel coach holiday business and the coach companies. It has a National Express contract operating services out of Brighton and Portsmouth. Other work includes major contracts with commercial partners such as banks, private and state school routes, and rail replacement. Its VIP coach’s duties include transporting the Portsmouth Football Club team to matches.

Acquisition is a key growth driver to further increase the group’s presence, currently extending from the edge of Brighton, Worthing and across to Bournemouth and north to Basingstoke. Lucketts has been receiving approaches from coach operators in their second or third generation of ownership and interested in selling.

“Our strategy is about acquiring new geographical areas by buying a business, setting up an operational base and then exploiting the opportunities in the business,” Tony explains.

Acquired coach operators will be run as autonomous units by one of Lucketts’ trained managers, who go through the group’s own management development programme and have commercial and operational skills.

“We are trying to buy and grow the businesses, but also fundamentally to learn from the firms we acquire.

 “Overall, the aim is straightforward: to deliver long-term economic benefits which secures jobs for the future, and grow the business and employ more people,” says Tony, who has day-to-day responsibility for Lucketts Group through a group board comprising the senior management team and a holdings board, which group chairman David Luckett and his sons Ian and Steve Luckett sit on with their MD.

Training and Jobs

Lucketts has around 400 staff, including approximately 340 drivers. About 100 new employees have joined in the last two years.

“We train anything up to 40 or 50 drivers annually, just for our own use. But as we are growing, we always need more.”

Tony sees opportunities for Lucketts to use its training facilities to train Service leavers as drivers and then offer them jobs within the group’s own network or through its UK partner operators. 

Lucketts has signed the Armed Forces Covenant and was awarded the Government’s Defence Employer Recognition Scheme bronze award earlier this year.

“It is a recognition to all Service leavers and Service families and serving personnel that we recognise their skills and what they can contribute,” says Tony. Lucketts offers some preferential treatments, including guaranteed job interviews for any available role in the group for Service leavers, families, spouses and partners

The 23 ex-Service personnel currently working for Lucketts are mainly coach drivers.

Former Army regular Dave Nestor, the Fareham depot’s workshop engineering manager, joined Lucketts this year and is a reservist with Portsmouth-based 128 Support Company Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Lucketts support includes allowing Dave time off for military duties.

Tony says that supporting Service leavers and reservists enables Lucketts to attract people with a real skill set that can deliver quality within the business and are loyal, committed and have core values.

“We know they are the kind of people who get stuck-in, are industrious, self-motivated, all the qualities needed in a coach driver that leaves the yard in the morning and has to look after himself and a coach load of 50 people.

“When we bring MOD personnel into a business with their civilian counterparts, you get a real mix and both learn from each other.”

“Cutting edge”

As it continues its growth strategy, Tony says Lucketts is operating “right at the cutting edge of where the industry is.”

Currently, 40% of its fleet are Euro 6 compliant.

It has been participating in a trial in conjunction with Scania and National Express on using Hydrogen-treated vegetable oil (HVO) biofuel on new vehicles with Euro 6 engines. The three-month trial included assessing efficiency, impact on the engines and emissions, which were seen to be reducing. Lucketts is now testing HVO fuel’s impact on some vehicles with Euro 5 engines.

Earned Recognition

Having founder member status for DVSA’s Earned Recognition Scheme, after three of its companies – Lucketts Travel, Coliseum Coaches and Worthing Coaches – participated in the pilot, is a “real accolade” and something Lucketts is really proud of, says Tony.

“It means we have the highest level of compliance possible in today’s industry. Our challenge is trying to encourage customers to understand why this is important to them.”

Earned Recognition’s operational positives to Lucketts include its coaches not being stopped for DVSA checks.  


So how is Tony’s army experience helping in his job “to lead and manage people and drive a positive impact” on the business?

“What I take from my military background is about leadership and management. It is about being able to relate and talk to people at all different levels. I get that through being promoted all the way through the ranks in the Army.

“What I have done here is really clarify the sense of purpose of where we are going,” he says.

“The business has always been a successful business.”


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