Obituary: Sir Horace Heyman

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The Independent Culture
WHEN HORACE Heyman was invited in later life to return to his native Germany to give a series of lectures, he was asked if he wished to be billed as Sir Horace Heyman, or as Herr Senior Engineer Heyman. Proud as he was of the knighthood granted to him in 1976, he was first and foremost an engineer and he decided accordingly. Indeed one of Heyman's continuing themes was the need for Britain, if it was to prosper, to accord the engineer, and technical education, the standing we now give to the accountant, financier, and lawyer.

But perhaps his greatest personal commitment was to the regeneration of the economy of the North-east of England. He worked unceasingly to this end from the 1960s through to the 1980s, whether as an Exports Advisor to the Board of Trade, at the Invest in Britain Bureau, or as Chairman of English Industrial Estates Corporation. He brought to these tasks his insistent professionalism, a tenacity of purpose, and a credibility with the businessman he sought to attract that came from his own successful track record in the private sector. No one worked harder or more selflessly for this cause: yet he was always glad for others to claim the credit for the team effort necessary for success in this work.

Heyman realised that the regeneration of the North had to be underpinned by investment in people through education and training. His own background in a hochschule in Germany led him naturally to support the development of the polytechnics which, as new universities, are now a distinctive source of strength in the economy of the North East.

Horace Heyman was born in Berlin in 1912 and came to England for a short spell as a 16-year-old schoolboy at Ackworth School, a Quaker boarding school. He studied electrical engineering initially at the Darmstadt Technische Hochschule, and completed his degree at Birmingham University, graduating in 1936.

He made his commercial reputation at Smith's Electric Vehicles in Newcastle upon Tyne, which he joined immediately after the Second World War (during which he worked at Metropolitan Vickers in Sheffield), becoming managing director in 1949. Under his leadership, Smith's became the biggest manufacturer of electrically driven vehicles in Europe. Heyman developed a new control system for electric vehicles (Sevcon), and expanded the product range to petrol-driven vehicles for the delivery of meat, groceries, fish, and ice-cream. He secured the exclusive rights through a joint venture in the late 1950s for the manufacture of vehicles for "Mr Softee", the first soft ice-cream product in the UK.

Heyman's prominence in his chosen field was reflected in his Fellowship of the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and his appointment as a chartered engineer, and his invitation to speak as expert witness to the US Senate hearings on air and water pollution in 1967.

His opportunity to make a major contribution through public service came in 1970 when he was appointed to the Chairmanship of the English Industrial Estates Corporation with its headquarters on the Team Valley Trading Estate, one of the great initiatives of the 1930s to bring new industries to the depressed North East. A central aim of government policy in the 1970s was to attract companies both from overseas and from the prosperous parts of England to the old industrial areas of the UK. Important to the success of that policy was the provision of factories in advance of demand, so that when companies saw a need to expand production, places like the North East could offer first-class, well-serviced and ready-built factory space. His success in this task was marked by his knighthood in 1976.

It was during the 1970s that Heyman began to devote part of his energies to higher education, becoming a governor of a Newcastle Polytechnic in 1974. He was vice-chairman of the board from 1983 to 1986 and was made an honorary fellow in 1985. His perception of the economic potential of knowledge developed in higher education led him to be active in the formation and subsequent development of Newcastle Polytechnic Products, which sought to sell technological ideas that came out of the polytechnic - an early example of entrepreneurship in higher education. Heyman also saw the potential of tourism as a new source of employment and enterprise in the North and this led to his appointment as President of the Northumbria Tourist Board from 1983 to 1986. In all this, Heyman was very fortunate in having in his wife Dorothy a great source of help and support.

Long after his formal retirement at the age of 74, Horace Heyman's unflagging curiosity, energy and desire to improve the world around him was evident in the stream of friends and colleagues from industry and the public sector who continued to visit him in Whitburn seeking disinterested advice, challenge, and encouragement.

Horace Heyman, industrialist: born Berlin 13 March 1912; Managing Director, Smith's Electric Vehicles 1949-64; Chairman, English Instrial Estates Corporation 1970-77; Governor, Newcastle Polytechnic 1974-86, Vice-Chairman 1983-86; President, Northumbria Tourist Board 1983-86; married 1939 Edith Marcuse (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1966 Dorothy Atkinson; died Whitburn, Sunderland 4 September 1998.