The founder and former boss of Barrhead Travel became a threat to the company’s prospects because he would not step back after it was sold in 2018, according to the chief executive of the US firm which bought it for £36 million.
Travel Leaders Group chief executive Ninan Chacko (pictured) told an employment tribunal in Glasgow that Bill Munro had been “unable or unwilling” to accept he was no longer in charge of the travel company he had created.
Although he had received his personal share of the sale price – £9 million – and a new management team was in place, “Bill was Barrhead and that was never going to change in his mind,” Chacko said.
Despite repeated written and verbal agreements that he would take on a new role in Travel Leaders Group, which bought Barrhead Travel in February 2018, he continued to turn up at its offices, contact suppliers, and attempt to instruct staff, Chacko said.
Munro is taking Travel Leaders Group to a tribunal claiming he was unfairly dismissed from the role of chairman of Barrhead Travel, which he retained after the sale.
Chacko said the position was effectively redundant after Barrhead became just one part of the larger company. However, he said the wider problem was Munro’s belief that the company could not function without him.
Chacko said that the role envisaged Mr Munro – one agreed to by him – was an ambassadorial one, using his contacts and experience to find new prospects for Travel Leaders Group. However, he was unhappy at suggestions that he work from home and take no significant operational involvement in Barrhead Travel.
“His view was ‘I’m crucial, indispensable. I’m the ideas person – I need to stay involved’,” Chacko said, adding that he could “sense the struggle “ Munro was having.
“Bill was failing to understand that we didn’t appreciate his notion that he was utterly indispensable and Barrhead couldn’t survive without him.”
As the new owner became increasingly frustrated, communications became more direct and formal.
“We were wholly unsuccessful in getting Bill to change his course in respect to his role at Barrhead,” Chacko added.
A letter was sent to Munro setting out that he would focus expressly on activities beyond Barrhead. This, Chacko said, was to ensure there was no ambiguity.
But problems continued after Munro signed the letter.
“During this period I had continuing feedback from the Barrhead management team that Bill was still involved, on the premises and looking to direct resources. So, no change.”
Still hoping to encourage Munro to pursue the property and acquisitions role set up for him following the sale, Travel Leaders Group assigned its UK director of strategic development Henry Gilroy to support him, in developing ideas he had suggested, driven by his own contacts.
But after a flurry of activity, nothing was taken forward. Chacko denied the company had attempted to “thwart” these efforts or that it had created a hostile environment.
Meanwhile, Munro continued to involve himself with the staff of Barrhead Travel, in particular trying to make use of managing director Jacqueline Dobson, who took over after Munro’s daughter Sharon stepped down in January of this year.
This was disruptive to Dobson and other staff at Barrhead Travel, who were having to say no to their former boss.
“It was difficult for them given the role Bill had historically taken, not to mention the family tie between Sharon and Bill,” Chacko said.
In fact, by the time Munro appealed after being made redundant, the paperwork records that he and his daughter were “at loggerheads”, the tribunal heard.
Even after this, he found reasons to got to the offices of Barrhead Travel and discuss the appeal with staff and the decision to sell the firm – actions Chacko characterised as “thoroughly inappropriate.”
Chacko said he regretted his own inability to find a solution. “I put my best efforts into giving him a face saving way to exit,” he said.
The tribunal also heard from Travel Leaders Group president John O’Hara, who said Munro had been retained on a zero hours contract at £67 an hour but it was not envisaged him spending many hours working for it after the sale.
“He said he wasn’t a golfer but a sailor. I thought he was going to spend more time on his boat,” O’Hara said.
It was O’Hara who had rejected Munro’s appeal having concluded his role was indeed redundant, he said, adding: “I don’t think the position of founder of a business is really ever relinquished. I think you are the founder once and forever.”
Munro is due to give evidence to the tribunal today (Thursday).
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