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Sir Michael Marshall – A Job Very Well Done By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

marshall-queens-awardIt can hardly have been easy for any man that has spent 61 years of his working life working for one company and who has for the past near 27 years also been its Chairman to announce at the Annual General Meeting yesterday that he would soon be standing down from an organisation of which he represented the third generation of the family to run it. That is just what Sir Michael Marshall, Chairman of Marshall Group, did yesterday as he informed shareholders that he will from October 1st this year be handing his day to day responsibilities to his deputy, Mr. Alex Dorrian.

Thankfully, Sir Michael will not be severing his links with the company completely as it was also announced that from the same date he will assume the role of being the first President of Marshall Group. In that role he will continue to represent the Company and its subsidiaries at major events and on various national and local panels.


A very well-known figure in Cambridgeshire just as he is in London and elsewhere, Sir Michael and the Marshall Group have been great supporter of and indeed, benefactors to various organisations such as the Royal Aeronautical Society over many years. It is good to know that we will continue to be able to welcome him at various future events.


Highly respected in industry, government and by all those that have had the pleasure of knowing and working with him over the year, generous, kind hearted and yet in business, firm and to the point and extremely intuitive, Sir Michael is also a man with a wry sense of humour. The third generation of the Marshall family to run the privately owned Cambridge headquartered business founded by his grandfather in 1909 and a man who embraces modern thinking just as much as he also appreciates old fashioned common sense it was to me apt that Sir Michael should say in his remarks yesterday that he was “especially proud that, despite the growth we have seen in all of our businesses, that we are still a privately-owned company, that we’ve remained true to our core values and that we have continued to grow each of our businesses in a changing market”. It was the mark of the man and one who beloved by a great many loyal staff who have worked at the company for years and come to know him just as much as it was a rather typical understatement that could so easily portend to suggest that running a business such as this has always been easy.

Of course, as many that have gone before can tell us, managing a private company and particularly one the size of Marshall Group is far from easy. And to that end it is worth recalling that at the time that Sir Michael took over the reins of the family owned business from his father, the late an equally well known and respected Sir Arthur Marshall, back in 1990 the Berlin Wall had just come down. For the defence industry these were times of serious angst as nation after nation decided that the break-up of the Soviet Union and the pre-supposed elimination of threat from Eastern Europe was an opportunity to engage in the so-called peace dividend – meaning cutting expenditure on defence.

The 1990’s began with a severe recession in the UK and within two years the nation was facing up to the consequences of what became known as Black Wednesday, a day etched in my own memory as a defence and aerospace industry analyst at the time, and that occurred on the 16th September 1992. On that day with interest rates having gone up to 15% Britain made its inevitable and very humiliating exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. “We were”, to quote my old friend then as now the Conservative MP for Stone in Staffordshire, Bill Cash, “in a state of political shambles”.

In times of economic and political difficulties such as these when confidence is low most usually corporate related investment considerations tend to put on hold or abandoned completely. Profits often go into reverse if confidence is low and positive cash flow, vital for a company’s health, all but dries up. What a time for Sir Michael Marshall to take over the running of a business such as this one and to design a strategy that could work. That is exactly what he did though and rather than follow the downward trend that others would take as they battened down the hatches, within weeks of taking over the company in 1990 Sir Michael embarked on a programme of investment across all most of the various Marshall Group business activities.

In the years that followed under his direction the company came has come a very long way forward. Suffice to say I think that Marshall Group has never been stronger than it is today. That is in large part due because Sir Michael has never been reluctant to embrace change or to accept sensible ideas put to him and yet if there is one thing that stands out throughout his long career and that certainly has not changed through in all the years it is the absolute commitment of the company and its people to its customers and to the overall customer relationship.

It was the Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa who once said that “if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. As true a word today as it was when it was first said, such words fit well with how Sir Michael has always been prepared to accept new ideas and concepts, to be innovative and adapt and change whenever required. And yet for all that, I would have to say that in all the years that I have known the company, the underlying culture of Marshall’s has not changed. Indeed, I would go so far as venturing to suggest that both Sir Michaels father and grandfather would recognise that much of what they had instilled in terms of culture lives on in the company today and that they would be just as much at home with the culture they found operating within Marshall Group today as they had been in their own time.

Never backwards in coming forwards and with a quiet sense of fun that is never far away in the background, I suggest that if truth were known there are many interesting and even very funny stories that could be recounted about Sir Michaels Marshall career, particularly during his national service years, his time in the Royal Air Force gaining his wings and flying Meteor and Vampire jets and brushing with death in the process, before he headed off to Cambridge University during which he also rowed in the 100th Boat Race against Oxford University before eventually emerging some time later with an honours degree in History in 1955.

Talking about history and humour, although now covered up by subsequent resurfacing it is true that somewhere under the runway at Cambridge City Airport the letters MM can be found preserved forever. The letters had been placed in the original wet concrete as it was being laid in the Coronation Year of 1953 by a young and no doubt lively 21 year old Michael Marshall.

Sir Michael is, as mentioned earlier, the son of the late Sir Arthur Marshall, a man that I once had the good fortune to meet in a business context during the early 1970’s and whose own father, David Marshall had founded the business in 1912. Suffice to say that Sir Michael can I believe retire from this superb business in October knowing not only that he is passing control as Chairman of the business into very sound and highly respected hands of Alex Dorrian, that his son, Robert Marshall as the fourth generation of the family now Marshall Group CEO, great people such as Steve Fitz-Gerald, CEO of Aerospace and Defence and many others that I have the pleasure of knowing in the business, but that what he is doing is handing over a business that is very much expanded and grown from the one that he took over as Chairman in 1990 and yet, it remains one that still privately owned.

From the outset of taking over as Chairman of Marshall Group Sir Michael has been determined to build on the legacy of what he had inherited. To that end, and in my view rightly, he remains convinced that the private status of Marshalls has given the company a great competitive advantage by allowing the company to always put the needs of customers first as opposed to public companies that have a need to constantly look over their shoulders at serving shareholders. In any business conversation or debate, Sir Michael will always focus on the customer and making sure that they are satisfied. He is also quite rightly proud of his track record on training and few companies today can claim an unbroken record that goes back to 1920 in respect apprentice training programmes.

Sir Michael has always been noted for the extra-ordinary sense of loyalty and generosity to the people around him, something that has been reflected in the number of long service awards presented by the company to people who have completed 30, 40, 50 or even 60 years with the Company. Indeed, it is worth noting that since 1976 of 1,079 awards covering 28,470 years of service have been presented and yes, Sir Michael did himself receive his 60 year award in 2015, the fifth person to receive a 60 year award from the Company.

On the business front it is well worth noting that Sir Michael was instrumental in the selection of the C-130 by the Royal Air Force in 1966 and for bringing together the key people from the RAF, the MOD, what since the merger between Lockheed Corporation and Martin Marietta in 1994 has been Lockheed Martin and with Marshall. Similarly, he was instrumental in securing the C-130 Hercules Integrated Operational Support Contract for the company and providing increased aircraft availability to the customer by bringing the Marshall, RAF and MOD teams together as one team.

A keen advocate of change in the business, provided it makes the company more efficient, more competitive and more secure he has always accepted the responsibility which comes from his position and encouraged individuals and teams to rise to the challenge. A great chooser of people and accepting the need to bring in outsiders. His office in what is a Grade ll listed building on the Cambridge Airport site can best be described, if one likes period offices as I do, as being one of the finest that one would be able to find in this day and age.

Sir Michael’s choice of senior management over the years has been remarkably good. His choice of Martin Broadhurst for instance to be Managing Director of what is today Marshall Aerospace back in 1996 and who from 1999 to 2010 was its Chief Executive was an excellent decision and that strengthened the division enormously. So too was, as I hinted earlier, his quite excellent choice of Steve Fitz-Gerald to take over from Martin Broadhurst in 2011 and who brought into the company the benefit of 35 years of experience in the aviation and defence industry. Suffice to say that Marshall Aerospace has done very well under the new management team and gone from strength to strength. The bottom line is that although this is already a very large part of the group, I believe that Marshall Aerospace is still very much in its ascendancy. I consider that the same is also true for other parts of the group as well.


Born on 27th January 1932, the eldest child of Arthur and Rosemary Marshall and the eldest grandchild of David Marshall who founded Marshall of Cambridge in 1909 Michael Marshall was educated at Ashbury College in Ottawa, St Faith’s School in Cambridge, Eton College and at Jesus College, University of Cambridge where he obtained a Blue for rowing in the 1954 Boat Race.  He also rowed for England in 1955.  He obtained his private pilot’s licence soon after his 17th birthday in 1949 and as previously mentioned, flew Meteor and Vampire jets in the RAF during his National Service years and beyond. His pilot’s licence is still current and he continues to fly whenever he can. Married to Sybil, there are four children, two sons, two daughters and two step-children. His eldest son is Robert Marshall who is Group Chief Executive of the Marshall Group.


Sir Michael was appointed a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1999 he was knighted in the 2010 New Year Honours List.    He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and of the Institute of the Motor Industry, and of the Royal Society of the Arts. A workaholic he joined the family business in 1955 and worked in both the Aerospace and Motor businesses becoming Managing Director of what is now Marshall Motor Holdings plc in 1960 and Deputy Chairman of what is now Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in 1963. Between 1960 and 1990, as Managing Director of Marshall Motor Holdings, he led a 55-fold increase in sales and, in 1980, the company became one of the first in the UK to adopt a computerised stock control system.


He became Chairman and Chief Executive of Marshall of Cambridge (Holdings) Ltd on 1st January 1990. A strong believer of putting back into the community in terms of extra-curricular activities Sir Michael was High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire in 1988/89, a Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire since 1989, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire from 1992 to 2007, Honorary Air Commodore of No 2623 (East Anglian) Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment and RAuxAF and he succeeded his father, Sir Arthur Marshall as Chairman of No.104 (City of Cambridge) Squadron of the Air Cadets, a post he held for 38 years until he handed that position over to his step-son, Mr. Christopher Walkinshaw, in 2013 and who also works in the Marshall Group  business in 2013. Sir Michael was Regional Chairman of the ATC and a member of the Air Cadet Council from 1994 to 2006.


In addition Sir Michael is President of the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, an Honorary Vice-Patron of the Royal International Air Tattoo, past Chairman (1998-2003) and President (2004-2009) of the Air League and he remains a Companion of the Air League. He is a Vice President of the Institute of the Motor Industry/ Sir Michael has Honorary Doctorates from both Anglia Ruskin and Kingston Universities, is a member of the Prince’s Charities Council, a former World Land Trust Ambassador and Vice Patron of the Order of St Etheldreda at Ely Cathedral.


A reminder now of what Marshall of Cambridge does today? The largest independent aerospace and defence company in the UK, Marshalls provides support to the Royal Air Force on aircraft such as the C-130J and, through the highly successful Hercules Integrated Operational Support (HIOS) programme, provides the RAF with market leading levels of availability. Employing over 2,000 staff in this area of the business and complete with state-of-the-art test facilities in no fewer than six hangars at Cambridge, the company supports a substantial number of international C-130 air force customers. With more than 50 years of working together with Lockheed Martin the company is the recognised centre of excellence for the maintenance, support and upgrade of the C130 type and it is also the only service centre for the current production version of the hugely successful C130-J airlifter.

Having been engaged in the aerospace and aviation industry for the past 87 years Marshall works on a wide range of aircraft types undertaking modifications and enhancements, installation of specialist equipment, testing, servicing and support. The company holds a wide range of authorisations to work on a range of executive and commercial aircraft and the company continues to support a wide range of business jets. Also included in this division is the Advanced Composite product manufacturing operation which produces a variety of specialist products for large aerospace manufacturers. Marshalls has a long history of manufacturing specialist of Land Systems equipment including support vehicles, modular medical facilities and specialist portable hospital operating units for the MOD.

One of the top ten automotive dealer in the UK and one that can trace its roots all the way back to the company’s founding in 1909 the company retains a 65% interest in Marshall Motor Holdings plc which was floated on AIM in April 2015. Marshalls Fleet Solutions is one of the UK’s largest mobile transport refrigeration and tail lift networks and one of the largest Thermo King dealers in Europe.

In property and being the owner of 900 acres of land that includes the Cambridge Airport site as well as land holdings adjacent to this site the company has for some time been working with development partners to build on various parts of the land that it owns. The company recently secured planning consent for a major mixed use development north of Newmarket Road, opposite Cambridge Airport on which it plans to build 1,300 homes along with a school and other facilities on 160 acres of land.

The Future

Alex Dorrian CBE is very well known to many of us in the defence and aerospace industry is an ideal choice to succeed Sir Michael as Chairman of Marshall Group. He is currently Deputy Chairman of the privately owned company and he brings with him into Marshall’s a wealth of experience in both the private and public sector including many years spent in senior positions in the aerospace and defence sectors in the UK and overseas.  He is also chairman of Thales UK.

Marshall Group is in excellent shape and in my view has an excellent management team to take the company forwards in the years ahead. Innovation is something that Marshall’s embrace all the time and the opportunities and potential to grow the company, particularly in aerospace and defence and in advanced composites, are in my view enormous.

Marshall Motor Group is now an independent publically quoted company on Aim in which Marshall of Cambridge (Holdings) Limited are the majority 65% shareholder. As a large £1bn plus business with over 2,000 employees and a business that is still growing by takeover and natural growth the future looks good. The same should be true for Marshall Leasing and Fleet Solutions businesses. Finally, the Property business continues to unravel enormous amounts of development potential and this will hold the company in good stead for many years to come.

For Marshall Group I can only conclude that the future looks very bright.

CHW (London 2nd June 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710-779785


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