Retiring Young: industry stalwart reflects on 40 years in plant

Brian Young

BRIAN Young, one of the most respected and longest-serving figures in the Scottish plant industry, recently retired from his role as managing director at Molson Young Plant Sales.

Brian, whose parents Tom and Bridie founded the Doune-headquartered business more than 40 years ago, will remain with the company in a consultancy role but has made the decision to walk away from the day-to-day running of things – fulfilling a long-held promise he made to himself to retire while he was still able to travel the world and experience new adventures.

“The original agreement (after selling to the Molson Group) was that I’d stay on for two years, and I’ve stayed on for three,” Brian told Project Plant in the plush surroundings of the Dunblane Hydro, where he was meeting some long-standing colleagues for retirement drinks. It seemed like a good time to go. One of the reasons is that I’ve always promised myself that I’d go while I had good health, so I can go off and do things I’ve wanted to do all my life. 

“How much longer can you guarantee you’re going to have good health? My wife and family have sometimes missed holidays because I’ve been too busy. There’s a lot of the world I want to go and see, and I want to be fit enough to enjoy it and do a few adventurous things.”

At the time of interview, Brian was about to take a trip to Poland, having already enjoyed breaks in America, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium since standing down.

He is not completely walking away from the industry. He remains a committee member with the Scottish Plant Owners Association (SPOA) and will continue to look after some key Molson Young customer accounts. The staff, however, are having to get used to him not being around the office every day.

“You miss the buzz,” Brian admitted. “I don’t know what’s happening anymore; that leaves a big vacuum. I don’t know who’s making sales, who’s not making sales, what the service and parts teams are up to on a day-to-day basis. Ordinarily I’d be involved in every aspect.

“One staff member has been with me 36 years, another one 28 years, and there’s a few between the ten and 20-year mark. It’s been an emotional time for everybody and quite difficult for me to say goodbye as I’ve been going in there for 40 years. It’s not easy but it’s something I’ve been promising myself for some time. 

The Young Plant team at ScotPlant 2008

“My wife Jean is having to cope with seeing a lot more of me. Sometimes that can be difficult for her! But she’s enjoying the extra travelling and the things we’re doing. She’s also enjoying me getting around to doing some of those jobs around the house I’d promised to do years ago. And the dog’s loving it – she’s getting three long walks a day!”

In terms of standout memories from his career, Brian cited taking on extra staff and buying out North British Tractors (NBT) in 2003 as being key milestones for the business.

“That was a huge one at the time,” he explained. “A lot of work was involved in that, and that brought with it the Thwaites, Bomag and CompAir agencies. We’d been chasing Thwaites and Bomag for many years, courting them and going to see them. They were very loyal to their existing dealer so the best thing to do was to go and buy the existing dealer in the end to get those dealerships. That was very good for us.

“When Bob Lyttle joined us in 2000, that took a burden off me. He was the sales director for NBT when we asked him to join us, so he was very familiar with their products, which made that transition easier. We’ve also had various celebrations with Kubota, from selling 500 machines to selling 1,000, then 5,000 and 6,000, and also being a dealer for 40 years. We could well be one of the longest serving Kubota dealers in the world. We certainly are in the UK and probably Europe as well.”

This gold Kubota excavator once made an appearance on the Young Plant stand at ScotPlant

Another favourite anecdote of Brian’s is the time he completed his first multiple machine order. He sold eleven mini excavators to GAP Group in the late 1980s, when such a deal was so unusual that a sales manager from a competitor firm drove to see him to accuse him to his face of lying about it!

Young Plant was credited with introducing the mini excavator concept to the Scottish market. As well as Kubota, today the firm’s portfolio also includes products from the likes of Kobelco, Dieci and Bergmann. Since being acquired by the Molson Group, further brands have been added including Molson Green recycling equipment.

Not surprisingly for someone who’s worked in the sector for several decades, Brian has lived through a multitude of changes. He lamented the fact that a lot of the characters have disappeared, and deals have become harder – but stressed some of the changes have been for the better.

“The industry has gone through several bad recessions and there are more and more accountants getting involved in running businesses,” he said. “There’s much tighter financial controls. It’s good in some ways. It’s good for the bigger businesses to have more control. The buyers are much more professional now than they used to be. Contracts can take a long time to work out. It’s not just a handshake over a beer at a show to win an order. There’s a lot more involved.”

Brian spoke about the technological advances he’s seen in construction equipment over the years and the challenges that has brought about – not least the fact that it’s become harder to find well-trained service engineers who are adept at dealing with the various components.

He’s also witnessed the industry’s journey into the Internet age. Brian explained there is generally less patience than there once was, as evidenced by the difficulties plant hire companies have in finding customers willing to accept novice operators onto sites. 

“It’s the same with putting an engineer with an L-plate on his back onto a site to fix these machines,” Brian added. “People have no patience; they don’t really want you to bring an apprentice with you and have the apprentice working on the machine. They want that machine out of action (for as minimal a time as possible). 

“Everybody expects everything to happen immediately now. It doesn’t matter if the machine’s at the other end of the country; they still want it fixed in five minutes, even if you’ve got a three or four hour travel time.”

Despite that, Brian is wholly optimistic for the future and is particularly encouraged by some of the younger faces coming through.

“There are some very talented people on the SPOA committee – second and third generation guys who are very much switched on and know the industry. Most of them seem to have a very good grounding in technology and financial control as well – far more so than I would have had at that age.”

To mark his retirement, Brian was presented with a gold Kubota excavator model by Kubota UK dealer manager Colin Frost in recognition of his success with the brand in Scotland over several decades. 

Kubota UK dealer manager Colin Frost presented Brian with a gold Kubota excavator model

Turning his attention to the business his parents started from scratch, Brian is confident he is leaving it in safe hands – and there will remain a Young presence in the shape of Brian’s son Joe, who works in the after sales department.

Brian believes his dad, who passed away in 1992, would have been “delighted” to see the way the business has evolved. His mother was still alive when he started conversations with the Molson Group which ultimately led to the business being sold. Brian said she was aware of what was happening and why it was happening, and was happy with the direction things were moving in.

Bridie and Brian Young
Bridie and Brian Young

“We’d been crying out for investment for some years and we’re certainly seeing that now,” Brian said. “The staff are seeing the benefit. We got a brand new computer system two years ago that’s about to be replaced with another system. That will offer far stronger management and planning tools, and forecasting, which should make stock control and forward ordering a lot easier.

“I’m very proud that there’s still a Young in the business. My daughter’s still at uni. She’s studying media and has already had a few job offers. You never know, she might make an appearance in the business at some point, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that!”

Current head of sales, Mark Proudfoot, is taking on the role of director in Scotland and will be tasked with overseeing day to day operations.

Mark Proudfoot

Molson Group joint MD Jonathan Wilson said, “Brian has been a fantastic servant to the Scottish construction equipment industry over many years will certainly be missed as he steps back to enjoy his well-deserved retirement. With many stories from a long and illustrious career, I am sure Brian will deservedly look back with pride on the many successes that he has achieved. He leaves a business on a clear upward trajectory, with new dealerships on the horizon and in the midst of an interesting time in the Scottish construction industry. I am sure the team we have in place are more than capable of continuing to improve the service our customers receive from Molson Young Plant Sales, as Brian has strived to do throughout his career.”

Brian with colleagues from Molson Young Plant Sales

Andy Wilson, area sales manager at Molson Young Plant Sales, shared some of his favourite anecdotes involving Brian. 

Andy started with the business in 2004.  “I used to help out in the yard but quickly realised offering to assist Brian doing anything – you quickly ended up doing the job yourself and he would disappear back into the office!  He would never like to bin anything so once we had him sussed, the skip would be filled daily when he was on holiday.”

Andy got married on the final day of ScotPlant 2008 and fondly recalled Brian turning up at his wedding that night still wearing his Young Plant shirt! At another ScotPlant, Brian used a garden fork belonging to Andy’s dad to try and spike the ground to help with a flooding issue – and promptly snapped it in half!

Andy also told of Brian’s habit of sending multiple emails and the time he injured his arm and turned up to work with two rulers and tea towels strapped around his wrist.

“The last 15-and-a-half years have had their ups and downs but Brian has stood by me and helped progress my career to where we are today,” Andy said. “He has been generous and understanding with most of us although the constant shouting down the corridor will be missed. I’d just like to say thank you for the fun times and laughs over the years and have a happy retirement, which he announced to me, you guessed it, by EMAIL!”