Obituary: Lord Cayzer

LORD CAYZER was an aristocratic businessman of the old school, a tall, distinguished sportsman who proved to be immensely shrewd at business, noted for his flair, his excellent timing and taking the long view. As a result he left a fortune certainly well above the official estimate of pounds 285m.

Throughout his life he was a notable spokesman for the shipping industry, although he sensibly shifted much of the family money out of shipping in the 1960s and 1970s. Cayzer's grandfather, Charles Cayzer, founded the Clan Line, owners of what became a 100-strong fleet of ships, most of them tramp steamers sailing round the Cape of Good Hope to India and the Far East. Cayzer's father August was created a baronet in 1904.

Nicholas Cayzer - or Sir Nicholas Cayzer as he was known from the age of 10 in 1921 until he was given a life peerage in 1982 - naturally went to Eton and Cambridge. Equally naturally he started work for the family shipping line in 1931 when he was only 21, becoming a director seven years later. So far so orthodox. But in the 63 years until he finally retired as chairman of the family holding company - by then called Caledonia Investments - he had successfully weathered the transformation of the family business from shipping to a diversified industrial group. (He remained president of the family business until he died).

In the early part of the Second World War Cayzer served in the Army but was soon deploying his managerial talents in organising convoys. After the war his first major coup came in 1955 when, as vice-chairman of the Clan Line, he master-minded Clan's take-over of the Union Castle Line, best known for its fleet of speedy mail liners running between Southampton and Cape Town, thus creating a group, British & Commonwealth Shipping, with 100 vessels. His success was the greater because his unsuccessful rival was Harley Drayton, at the time one of the most feared of City financiers.

After taking over the chairmanship of B & C on the death of his uncle Lord Rotherwick in 1958, Cayzer led the family's retreat from shipping, putting the family fleet into a notably successful joint venture, Overseas Containers, and investing in a number of unrelated businesses. These included British United Airways, a successful independent airline, the private Wellington Hospital in St John's Wood and Gartmore, an investment management firm named after a family estate in Perthshire.

But Cayzer's biggest coup came with the growth of a series of broking and investment businesses within British & Commonwealth. B & C was run by the entrepreneurial John Gunn whose daring business tactics ran against the caution habitually practised by the Cayzer family. Luckily (or cleverly?) the Cayzers decided to sell out of a group which they no longer controlled and did so, receiving pounds 428m for their stake, which represented four-fifths of the family's assets. Their sale was superbly timed, coming only three days before the stockmarket crash of October 1987 and only a short time before the virtual collapse of B & C. Typically, Cayzer bought back control of Exco, the money brokers which had been the foundation of B & C's financial portfolio, for a mere pounds 20m five years after the collapse.

Despite the family's shift away from shipping Cayzer retained an interest in the industry, especially in Liverpool - the home port for the family fleet where he was chairman of the Steamship Owners' Association. He also acted as President of the British Chamber of Shipping and the General Council of British Shipping, and when he was elevated to the peerage by Margaret Thatcher in 1982 he took the title Lord Cayzer of St Mary Axe - the street in the City of London most closely associated with the shipping industry.

The elevation was in recognition of his steadfast support for the Tory Party. He had been chairman of the local Conservative Association in Chester, a town where his uncle had been MP before the war. More importantly he was a generous donor to the party and a fund- raiser through a mysterious body called British United Industrialists.

William Nicholas Cayzer, ship owner and businessman: born 21 January 1910; Bt 1921; created 1982 Baron Cayzer; married 1935 Elizabeth Williams (died 1995; two daughters); died 16 April 1999.