by Robert Aplin
It is with huge sadness that we have to report that Sir Matthew Goodwin, the leading and most respected figure in the entire history of the plant hire industry, passed away last Wednesday, 10 October, at the age of 83.
When I first had the monumental privilege to interview Sir Matthew Goodwin at the end of 1989, he told me that his move into plant hire started by accident in 1961. At the time, Matthew Dean Goodwin was a partner at a Glasgow firm of chartered accountants. ‘A client and old school friend Alan Stewart, who ran a building company, came to me and suggested that together we bought a machine and hired it out when he didn’t require it himself for his own business. We bought the machine from Frank Jamieson and it went on hire and stayed there for the best part of two years, at the end of which I couldn’t understand why everybody hadn’t got involved with the hire business.’
The name Hewden came from putting together the last three letters of Matthew and adding Den, which Sir Matthew told me was a common mis-spelling of Dean. In this way Hewden (Plant Hire) was formed in 1963. At almost the same time Ronnie Stuart started his earthmoving plant hire business in Cambuslang and moved into crane hire. ‘It was in 1968 that I met Ronnie Stuart on holiday and suggested that we put the two companies together. It was a remarkable deal. Nobody argued over price because it really didn’t matter.’
After the merger Sir Matthew became Financial Director and became Chairman in 1980. In the 1989 New Year’s Honours List, he became the first – and only – plant man to be knighted. Having indelibly stamped his own accounting principles on Hewden Stuart, the company became the undisputed leader of the plant hire industry, building its business upon a rock of Scottish granite. His emphasis on cash generation and the wisdom of his approach was exemplified by the comparative ease in which Hewden Stuart not only rode out the early 1990s recession, but used it to assert and expand its market leadership.
Interviewing Sir Matthew again at the time of his retirement in June 1995, he reiterated, ‘right back to time immemorial, our philosophy has been based on the fact that cash is king. We had to be able to pay the wages a year out and, from day one, we were always looking longer term than most people.’
It was to be another eight years before I heard from Sir Matthew Goodwin again. Following my interview with the then senior management at Hewden Stuart in April 2003, Sir Matthew wrote a hand-written letter, which clearly expressed his anger at the way his beloved company was now being run.
‘For many years there was a slogan in my office that read “the only thing that matters is people”. How true, especially in a service industry like plant hire. It is the people in the depots who run the machines, know their customers and the problems associated with a breakdown in the middle of a December night on a Welsh mountain. I find it difficult to accept that the wholesale destruction of an experienced management team makes for a successful hire company.
‘In conclusion, I can only express my sympathy to all those (many of whom were known to me personally) who have lost their jobs and careers in Hewden Stuart. I am, however, certain that their training and experience in Hewden Stuart will be welcomed by many of the smaller units in the industry, who, if they maintain their flexibility, common sense and dedication to service of the customer, will continue to prosper.’
I last heard from Sir Matthew in December 2007, when he sent us a cheque for a substantial amount of money in response to EHN nominating Marie Curie Cancer Care as our chosen charity for the 2008 Executive Hire Show.
My interviews with Sir Matthew were the highlights of my publishing career. To be able to spend several hours both times in the presence of this industry legend are unforgettable experiences. Over the last 30 years, I have had the privilege to interview many of the leading executives in our hire industry, but none come close to matching the stature of Sir Matthew.
Sir Matthew made a phenomenal contribution to the development of the plant hire industry. Without a shadow of doubt, Hewden Stuart has never been the same since he retired. As a true industry legend, he will be sadly missed.
We send our condolences to his surviving family and to those in the wider Hewden Stuart ‘family’ who are grieving at this time.
Have just read, on line, your appreciation of the contribution that Matthew made to the plant hire industry. Those of us that had the privilege of working with him were indeed fortunate, and whether the subject was politics, economics or the plant hire business, he always commanded your full attention.
Although he has struggled over the past couple of years, in poor health, it was only in the last few days before he died that he was confined to bed and was sharp as a tack, right to the end.
Your article will be most appreciated by those in the ‘Hewden’ family who have fond memories of the good old days.
My best wishes.
Dear Mr Aplin
I have just seen your editorial on Sir Matthew Goodwin, my father.
Could I thank you for your kind words, which are much appreciated and will be appreciated also by the rest of the family.
His funeral will take place at 10.45 am on Thursday 18th October at Daldowie Crematorium, Glasgow.
Please accept my sincere thanks for you most excellent and perceptive tribute to Matthew.
It was no secret that you were always a great admirer of the man and his immense contribution to our Industry: this is evident from the very personal and moving way you have written about his life.
I wonder if it would be possible to let me have a copy of the magazine when it comes out, and I will pass it on to Lady Margaret. She, the family, and all his friends will find comfort in knowing that so many people are sharing their loss.
May I on behalf of all my many colleagues who served under the stewardship of the one and only Sir Mathew Goodwin thank you for the appreciation which you published recently on the contribution of Sir Mathew to our industry.
I had the great pleasure of working for Hewden Stuart PLC from 1976 when the company acquired the Gunn Group and remaining with them until recently, enjoying over 30 years most of this time spent with such a great team of people.
I spent most of my working life with Hewden in Wales which was a long drive from the then HQ in Bothwell, Glasgow. However each and every year, Sir Mathew would make the trip especially to meet with everyone just prior to Christmas to express his appreciation for the contribution of all.
I, in particular, have so much to thank the great man for. In 1990 he asked if I would represent Hewden on the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) and, today, I am its current Chairman which I am eternally thankful for his support in achieving.
I read fondly the notes from both Sandy Findlay and Ronnie Stuart – themselves ambassadors of our great industry and would like to add my sincere thanks to you for the kind words to a true Legend and also express our sincere condolences to Lady Margaret, Carol and all of the family.
Hewden 1976 to 2011