As JCB heir's son takes Wrightbus reins, how many jobs can be saved?

Jo Bamford, who is the new owner of Wrightbus
Gary McDonald Business Editor

HE'S a grandson of JCB founder Joseph Bamford, son of the digger firm chairman Anthony Bamford and hails from a family whose fortune has been estimated by Forbes at close to $4 billion.

Educated at Edinburgh University, he enjoys the thrill of motor sports and rode horses for England as a teenager.

And now Jo Bamford takes over the reins at Wrightbus in Ballymena after seemingly cutting the hardest of deals to rescue the bus-builder from administration and possible obscurity.

Just last month the 41-year-old, doubtless in anticipation that he would get the spoils, registered Bamford Bus Company Limited.

He left JCB in January after 14 years to set up another company called Ryse, which provides hydrogen refuelling to buses, and had already had links with Wrightbus, with their joint venture securing a 10-year contract from Transport for London to convert 20 buses to run on hydrogen.

When Wrightbus slipped into administration last month, threatening to point 1,200 workers towards the same dole office in Ballymena that JTI (Gallher) and Michelin staff had previously traipsed, Bamford tried to save the day.

But negotiations seemingly stumbled on a key issue around land, and on Thursday it looked like the Wrightbus heir-apparent would walk away.

Yesterday, though, Bamford got the spoils, having agreed terms on a deal in principle with the Wright family for the Wrightbus factory and land.

"We are still to conclude a deal with the administrators but are pleased to report this important step in right direction," he said in a statement issued through his company.

However, remains to be seen how many of the 1,200 former staff he re-hires.

It was understood that Wrightbus was already "personnel heavy" in advance of going into administration, perhaps by as many as 400, so it's unlikely all of those laid off will get their old jobs back.

In today's Irish News columnist Newton Emerson draws an interesting parallel between the two families at the centre of this drama.

Newton says: "Jo Bamford is the grandson of the founder of JCB, a family-run vehicle engineering firm, giving him a strikingly similar background to Jeff Wright, the majority shareholder of Wrightbus. The Bamfords were devoutly religious, like the Wrights. But Catholic, unlike the Wrights.

"Taking their inspiration from the Quakers, the Bamfords built a model village beside their factory. This is credited with making the firm a success, by preserving workplace relations throughout the strike-prone 1970s. Jeff Wright’s attempt to build a model village beside his factory has not worked out so well."

Read more: Wrightbus deal done 'in principle'

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