A colourful character bows out

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The Independent Online
THE departure of Sir Neville Bowman-Shaw from Lancer Boss removes a colourful character from an increasingly grey industrial scene, writes David Bowen. Tall, aquiline, and admitting that 'people skills' are not his forte, he would have looked well in the Light Brigade, or hobnobbing with the Iron Duke.

This is not surprising. In 1950 he was commissioned into the Fifth Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, and when he founded his own company seven years later, he used 'lancer' as a nod towards his army life. But most of his life has been hard grind. On leaving the army he sold encyclopaedias while his brother Trevor flogged vacuum cleaners. They started importing Dutch forklift trucks, but decided they could do better on their own, and designed their own machine.

The front axle fell off their first truck, but they persevered and Lancer Boss grew fast in the Sixties. In 1974 it almost collapsed when it standardised on Perkins engines just before that group ran into trouble, and the Bowman-Shaws spent the rest of the Seventies recovering and bringing costs into line with international competitors. As a result they were able to ride the early Eighties recession, and in 1983 - after several attempts at buying other companies - they bought the near-bankrupt Steinbock.

Sir Neville always believed that only 10 or 12 forklift truck makers would survive in the long run, and that Lancer Boss would have to acquire, or be acquired. It followed Steinbock with purchases in Spain and Italy, and by 1992 had nudged its way into the top 10 producers.

Despite the receivership, Lancer Boss ranks as an industrial success story, maintaining a respected presence in a field dominated by giants. It built up a reputation for advanced products and a determination to take a long view - a function, Sir Neville said, of its private ownership.

Though not technically trained, Sir Neville has an eye for design and machinery, which is reflected in his collection of vintage tractors - the largest in the UK - and a fondness for the finest cars.

(Photograph omitted)