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ADL celebrates 13 years of transformational leadership

Published: 16 Jun 2020

Alexander Dennis Limited (“ADL”), a subsidiary of NFI Group Inc. (“NFI”), one of the world’s largest independent global bus manufacturers, celebrates the leadership of its outgoing Chief Executive, Colin Robertson, who has spearheaded the company’s growth from a national player to a world leader.

In the 13 years since taking charge in April 2007, Colin Robertson has led the transformation of ADL from delivering an annual turnover of £178m generated mostly in the UK market to a global revenue of £631m in 2019. We look back at some of the key highlights of his transformational leadership.

Just weeks after Colin’s appointment in 2007, ADL finalised the deal to buy Britain’s last remaining coach builder, Plaxton. Seizing the opportunity to make ADL more than just the sum of its constituent parts, a concerted effort followed to integrate the previously disparate and historically often competing locations into a single business working seamlessly together, focusing on company-wide objectives. Revenue per square foot doubled over the next years as the company employed a much more flexible approach to manufacturing, using outsourcing where appropriate to support a highly skilled core workforce able to ride out the bus and coach market’s usual demand volatility.

In the UK market, Colin Robertson recognised ADL’s over-reliance on a single major customer and set out to broaden the company’s appeal. Expertise in innovation and fuel-saving lightweight design was combined with investment in the development of what was to become the market’s widest range of clean bus technologies, beginning with the breakthrough of hybrid technology in 2008 and followed by efficiency enhancements as well as biogas, battery electric and hydrogen vehicles.

A relentless champion of aftermarket support as part of a wider customer focus, Colin insisted that operators must find ADL a reliable, responsive and trusted partner. This unwavering customer focus enabled ADL to not only become one of the preferred suppliers for all of the UK’s major bus operating groups, but also grow its customer base with municipal and independent operators who have appreciated the company’s can-do attitude and focus on passenger-centric vehicle specification, earning the company an undisputed reign as market leader.

International activities accounted for less than a quarter of turnover when Colin took up the role as Chief Executive, but by penetrating new markets including Mexico, Switzerland, New Zealand and Singapore, this was more than doubled by the time ADL was acquired by NFI in May 2019.

The long-established presence in Hong Kong has served as a springboard for the wider Asia Pacific region. This has been most apparent in Singapore and New Zealand, where a landmark deal in 2011 paved the way for ADL to lead the bus market. With a refreshed product, ADL has also been able to win an increasing share of the Hong Kong market itself since 2012, supporting investment in regional assembly operations to meet this burgeoning demand.

In North America, steady growth has seen double deck buses go from a niche product to an acclaimed high-capacity solution for commuter services. A strong team built up local manufacturing in both the United States and Canada supported by a regional supply chain, allowing products to be tailored to the requirements of customers.

Over recent years, Europe has become the latest growth area for ADL. Leveraging global experience as the world’s leading supplier of double deck buses, initial orders from Switzerland have been followed by Berlin’s decision to order its new fleet of double deck buses from ADL.

Where the bus market has been characterised by global adoption of the three highly modular products at the heart of the ADL range, the dynamics of the coach market have followed a different path. Retaining and strengthening the iconic Plaxton brand, the last British coach builder has leveraged its proximity to the customer by building up a wide portfolio of products that address the specific needs of operators and which have consistently led the way on accessibility.

The successes have been achieved by a strong and capable team living and breathing Colin’s vision and values. Investment in the next generation of the best and brightest talent has been an ongoing commitment, with strong apprenticeship programmes at all UK manufacturing sites, summer internships, business and engineering graduate trainee schemes as well as management and leadership talent programmes for emerging leaders in the business.

Colin Robertson’s leadership has been recognised as Director of the Year from the Institute of Directors and EY awards for Entrepreneurship and Outstanding Achievement. He was appointed Chair of Entrepreneurial Scotland in 2018 and awarded the honour of CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2019 for his services to exports and to the bus and coach manufacturing sector.

Following the acquisition of ADL by NFI, Colin Robertson was asked to remain in place as Chief Executive for a year, which has now been extended by three months. He will continue to build on his track record of global success after 30th September 2020 in his new role as Vice Chair of NFI, assisting Board Chair, the Honourable Brian Tobin O.C. P.C., and Paul Soubry, the President and Chief Executive Officer of NFI, in supporting NFI’s international growth.