Obituary: Michael Ball 1959 – 2016
Michael Ball, former managing director of Volvo Bus in UK & Ireland and a vice president of Volvo Bus Corporation, passed away on 2 November after a period of illness.
A much-liked and respected figure – not only in the Volvo organisation but throughout the bus industry around the world – Mike spent more than 30 years in the business before taking early retirement in 2012.
Born in Southport and one of three siblings, Mike Ball grew up in Hesketh Bank in Lancashire, between Southport and Preston. He attended Preston Catholic College Grammar School.
A lifelong Preston North End supporter, he was in later life also to be found at Franklin Gardens watching Northampton Saints, as well as at numerous golf courses both in the UK and beyond.
Good and generous company in any setting be it a business or social context, he combined humour with humility in an easy way that gained him lifelong friendships along, what was to prove, a distinguished career path.
Sponsored by Leyland and awarded Commercial Student of the Year in 1981, after completing his BSc in Business Administration at Salford University, he joined the graduate training programme at Leyland Vehicles. As part of this scheme, he was assigned to the advertising & sales promotion department of Leyland Bus – already a bus and coach man through and through.
Involved in the launch of the Royal Tiger Doyen in 1982, after a period in the coach contracts area, his first sales role came along in 1984 when, based in Leyland’s Reading office, he became regional coach sales executive for the south-east area.
Seeing the writing on the wall for his then employer, Mike joined Volvo Bus’ UK operation in June 1986 in an area sales executive role. By the time Volvo acquired Leyland Bus in 1988, he was already in charge of bus sales for Volvo, so taking greater responsibility in the new enlarged business, VL Bus & Coach, was a natural progression.
Always highly personable and proficient, the customer relationships he formed in those early years were to stand him in good stead throughout his career, with many bus and coach operators to this day counting Mike as much a friend as a business partner.
In 1994, his growing reputation in the wider Volvo Bus organisation created an opportunity in Asia Pacific and Mike, and his wife Katrina, relocated to Hong Kong, where – as director & general manager – he ran the regional Volvo office as well as becoming increasingly involved in developments in China.
After three successful years overseas, he returned to the UK in 1997 to take on the role of managing director of Volvo’s UK & Ireland and Benelux bus businesses, succeeding Sandy Glennie – in many ways a hard act to follow.
Yet Mike set about running the business in his own distinctive style, leading by example but also empowering and mentoring his team, ensuring that customers were always put first. It is no accident that his ten-year tenure in the role of MD from 1997 through to 2007 coincided with one of the most successful periods for Volvo’s UK & Irish bus business.
Now a highly regarded senior figure in the business, his skills and experience were again called upon by Volvo Bus Corporation in 2007. Based in Goteborg in Sweden, he took on the role of European vice president of the coach business, a position he held until taking early retirement in January 2012.
Uniquely able to win the respect and fondness of everyone he came in contact with, many tributes have been paid by Mike’s former colleagues, customers and friends from right across the world.
Steve Dewhurst, who took over the reins as MD of Volvo Bus in the UK in 2007, said: “I was fortunate to have worked with Mike for over 35 years. He was a wonderful guy, with a passion for the industry and for Volvo. There was never a dull moment when you were in his company.
“Professional in all he did, he led from the front and his successes were fundamental in cementing Volvo’s position in the UK bus and coach market today. He had friends around the world from his different roles and there is a real feeling of loss from many, many people. For me, I have lost my mate and life will now always be duller.”
Nick Page, current MD of Volvo Bus adds: “Everyone who knew Mike is devastated by his loss. He combined wit with wisdom, passion with professionalism and always led by example. He was a truly exceptional person who will be sorely missed and, not only on behalf of everyone at Volvo, but also those in the wider industry, I would like to express our heartfelt condolences to Mike’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”
Mike leaves wife Katrina and children Carl, Hayley, Robert and India.