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Geoff Pygall – a man of the industry

Feb 17, 2015
Geoffrey Frederick Pygall died, just before midnight, on New Year’s Eve at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Huntingdon from multiple organ failure. He was 87.


Geoff had been one of the major influencers in the post-war moving industry.  He worked with Pickfords for over 40 years, was a highly respected managing director of the company, chairman of The Institute of the Furniture Warehousing & Removing Industry in 1969 and president of BAR in 1977.  During his career his initiatives helped to change the face of the moving industry in the UK and worldwide.   

He stared his career in 1942 at the age of 14 working for Pickfords in Eastbourne, his home town.  After completing his National Service he returned to the company and then became the manager of the Herne Bay depot, moving through the ranks of the company in the South-East area, eventually becoming the manager of the Southampton depot, one of the company’s largest. He was subsequently elevated to the role of chief removal manager for the company taking over from John Tarsey. 

He became Pickfords MD in 1976. Under his direction Pickfords was the first company to translate the BAR trading conditions into plain English; the first to introduce payment in advance that provided better cash flow and financial certainty and was subsequently adopted universally; the first to introduce a fixed rate for insurance based on the price of the move rather than the value of the goods; and was a pioneer of palletised storage using a unique, larger sized container, that Geoff preferred to standard containers as they provided better vehicle space utilisation.   

As Institute chairman and BAR president he travelled the country lecturing at Area meetings despite there always being a background antipathy towards Pickfords largely because of its dominant position in the market.  His favourite subject was helping companies understand their operating costs and, therefore, develop realistic pricing structures.  He was also a great link with the government post Barbara Castle’s 1968 Transport Act helping to ensure that legislation took the position of the removals industry into account. 

Tony Richman handled political lobbying for BAR and FEDEMAC for many years.  “I think it is fair to say that he was the instigator of lobbying activities - something the Association had had little influence upon before then,” said Tony. “This is yet another advantage of having the biggest removal company within the Association ranks. Geoff could summon the ear of important politicians and was quick to comment on issues such as consumer protection, licencing, drivers' hours and restrictions and offer advice on matters such as costing/charging. In fact Geoff's work had a great influence on the path that later led me into lobbying on behalf of the industry on behalf of BAR and FEDEMAC.” 

In 1982, at the age of 55, Geoff became the chief executive of British Road Services, the largest group within the National Freight Corporation.  He was on the main Board of the NFC until he retired.  He was also partly instrumental in facilitating the purchase of the organisation from the government in 1982 which provided Pickfords with the freedom to flourish and the shareholders with a very nice return as the stock appreciated some 100-fold when the company went public in 1988.  

Around the same time Geoff took the Pickfords name overseas.  Denis Olliver, who subsequently took over from Geoff as Pickfords MD, said that the initiative was driven by overseas agents paying lip service to reciprocation of traffic with Pickfords.  “Geoff realised that our agents were expecting us to move into their territory so would not consign traffic to us,” he explained.  The company bought Downards in 1982 and quickly moved to create firm footholds worldwide. As well as being the largest company in the UK, Pickfords became the largest moving company in the world by 1989.  It’s Second Brands Group – Hoults, Pitt and Scott, A&N, etc. – was also developed to be the second largest in the UK. 

As well as a colleague, Denis and Geoff became close personal friends.  “He had a unique quality of listening to people,” said Denis.  “He was a gentleman, and there aren’t many of them around nowadays.  He was very straight and fair, there was never any misunderstands with him. He was a qreat motivator who was also very ethical.”  

Pickfords' Managing Director Russell Start said: "Geoff Pygall is an important part of Pickfords' history. Many colleagues and ex colleagues remember him as a gentleman and as a very approachable managing director. We know he retained a fondness for the company and its employees long after his retirement and we are saddened by his loss.” 

Geoff dedicated his life to his wife, Lillian, Pickfords, NFC and his colleagues.  As well as his removals work Geoff was also MD of Pickfords Travel until 1982 with around 250 retail shops in the UK.  This enabled Geoff and Lillian to exercise their love of travel.  The couple particularly enjoyed spending the winter in Australia after he retired.   

He and Lillian retired to live in Brighton in 1988.  Although he continued to run the large NFC Pensioners’ Association for many years thereby extending his link to NFC to almost 60 years. In her later years Lillian suffered from Parkinson’s disease, through which Geoff nursed her for many years without complaint.  Denis Olliver summed up his feelings about Geoff, mirroring those of many others who knew him well. “He was unique and I have nothing but the highest regard for him as a man, as a friend and as a business colleague who will be a tremendous loss to us all who knew him.” 

Geoff’s funeral took place on Tuesday 27th January at All Saints Church in Eastbourne and was attended by many friends, family and representatives of the industry he loved. 


Photos: Geoff Pygall, pictured at the BAR Past Presidents’ Lunch in 2006

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