Barrhead Travel founder Bill Munro was reluctant to sell the company and only agreed to the £36 million deal provided he continued to have a role under its new owners.
But just months after the sale to US-based Travel Leaders Group, which saw him personally receive £9 million, Munro was made redundant from his role as chairman of the agency chain and an “ambassador and figurehead” for the firm.
Munro, was on the verge of tears yesterday as he told an industrial tribunal in Glasgow that he would have no problem going back to work for the firm that fired him.
“I don’t care about the money, I just want to work again,” he said.
Munro is taking Travel Leaders Group (TLG), which bought Barrhead Travel in February 2018, to the tribunal for unfair dismissal.
Previous hearings this week have seen executives from TLG arguing that Munro repeatedly reneged on agreements concerning the post, which had been created to enable him to continue to work for the company on a part-time basis.
While TLG wanted him to provide occasional consultancy and to work on special projects to develop new business, the company’s chief executive Ninan Chacko and president John O’Hara portrayed him as someone who would not or could not, stop interfering in the business he had spent decades creating.
Munro told the tribunal he had stepped back from active management of Barrhead Travel several years before the sale following a medical scare and a share transfer that made his daughter Sharon the majority shareholder.
However, he had not been keen to sell the whole company when the deal was arranged in 2018, and had only agreed to it on the basis that he would continue to have a role within TLG.
In particular, he wanted to take forward two new areas of business, including a deal with insurance giant Aviva which would have been highly lucrative for the firm and for himself.
“It was a no-brainer, it was a licence to print money,” he said of the travel-insurance brokerage plan. “I was keen to work with TLG to make Barrhead a larger, stronger business and put forward suggestions. They promised me that role.”
He was to be paid a 15% share of any new business achieved, plus £67 per hour for time spent developing new initiatives. However, concerns were raised at the company over the first list he submitted detailing his activities, the tribunal heard.
Solicitor Alice Stobart, representing TLG, said this included activities such as trouble-shooting at Barrhead, and dealing with shop-fittings, despite the fact a new management team were in charge of his former company.
“I can’t, I’m afraid, stand by and watch things that are not working properly continue,” Munro said, to which Stobart responded: “And that’s really the problem, isn’t it?”
Munro said TLG had never at any point instructed him not to do what he was doing, adding: “Any instructions I had from them I carried out to the letter to the best of my abilities.”
However, Stobart said this was contradicted by the emails and verbal accounts of Chacko, and others, who had to intervene to insist he step away from Barrhead.
“Your view was that this was a big mistake, they needed your experience, you had the Midas touch, and should be involved in the property strategy,” she said.
Munro replied he had a “knack” for identifying shop locations.
TLG had offered him a new contract three months after the sale, which he had refused to sign. Munro said this was because the company refused to recognise his 32 years of continuous service, which he believed was a warning sign that they intended to dispense with him.
A colleague warned him that TLG “liked to fire people”, and he believed they might do so if he signed.
He claimed the firm had expressly refused to acknowledge his past service in the contract, which had left him with “quite a lump in my throat”, the tribunal heard.
“I’d begun to understand TLG and the American way of business,” he said. “If I signed they could and possibly would fire me the next day.”
He said he was delighted with the opportunity they were presenting him with and would have signed had the firm been willing to recognise his continuous service in the contract.
Stobart said this was not the case. “It was clear what you wanted to do was to carry on being involved in the day-to-day working of Barrhead Travel.”
Munro said that was not correct, but that the company was not making it possible for him to do what it was asking of him.
“I was stuck at home with a mobile phone, but no licences [to operate as a travel agent], no access to computer systems. I could only sit at home and watch the television. They put me in a straitjacket.”
At the time of the sale, he had had little say, he claimed, with lawyers mostly negotiating with his daughter, Sharon, who he said had received 75% of the purchase price of the business.
“They didn’t pay much attention to me – nobody did. I was being put out to grass”, he said.
Stobart said there had been no bad faith on the part of TLG. In fact, the company was considering making him general manager of the group in the UK.
“Mr Chacko had no intention to fire you. There was no reason for him to offer you a job and then dismiss you the next day,” she said.
“I don’t accept that – given what I now know about the American way of business and life,” Munro responded.
As he was on a zero-hour contract, TLG could simply have stopped approving his hours, had they wanted to get rid of him, Stobart said.
“Instead, they said, ‘We really want you to work for TLG’ and offered you a new contract – and you threw it back in their face,” she stated, but Munro said this was not the case.
He added that he would have no problem going back to work with his former colleague should he win his case.
The hearing continues.
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