A true capitalist with a real sense of fun


Deputy City Editor

Friends and colleagues of Lord White were unanimous in their praise yesterday of the flambuoyant financier described by many as the guiding force of the Hanson conglomerate. He died on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, three weeks after collapsing on a flight from London to New York.

Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was in awe of his hard-nosed approach to business, seeing him as a true capitalist, and knighted him in 1979. Yesterday she said: "I am deeply saddened by the death of Lord White, whose vision, energy and skill contributed so much to the creation of one of Britain's greatest companies."

Lord White had lived in the US for more than 20 years, masterminding the American side of Hanson's operations. Although nominally chairman of Hanson Industries (the US arm), he felt the demerger earlier this year of 34 smaller subsidiaries marked the completion of his work there and he had handed over the day-to-day running of the American businesses to William Landuyt, his 40-year old protege.

The successful transfer of power, and the fact that Lord White's death had been expected for some time, was reflected in Hanson's share price which closed just 1.75p lower yesterday at 216p.

Lord Hanson, who had worked with Gordon White for 35 years, described him as "the architect of the success of Hanson. His unlimited creative ideas and his persistence drove us all forward. He was the leading takeover expert in the world and I met no businessman, in the US or UK, with his instinct for opportunity."

Jim Slater, the former financier who knew Lord White well in the 1960s before he moved to the US, described him as a very able businessman with a real sense of fun. The Slater years coincided with the hey-day of White's and Hanson's headline grabbing socialising. White escorted a succession of actresses including Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.

Together White, who left school at the age of 16, and Hanson pursued a ruthless but highly profitable strategy, buying up low-technology companies at a cut price and restructuring them by slashing the workforce and turning the management upside down.

It was a strategy that worked with unrivalled success in the 1970s and 1980s as Hanson snapped up London Brick,Imperial Group and others, but the system lost steam in the 1990s as questioned started to be asked about the company's use of offshore companies for tax purposes and the secretive role of Lord White who, by keeping off Hanson's main board, avoided the normal disclosures of salary and interests required of directors.

Arguably the turning point both for Hanson and Lord White was the unsuccessful attempt to take over ICI in 1991 after araid on the chemicals giant's shares, masterminded by Smith New Court chairman Sir Michael Richardson.

Sir Michael said of Lord White: "He was the most exciting man to work with. When he walked in the room, there was a buzz of excitement. He had a clear decisive brain and a remarkable ability to look forward 5 or 10 years and be right."

Highly successful in an era when there was less scrutiny of company boardrooms, Lord White found it difficult to come to terms with modern corporate mores. He once said: "Power doesn't excite me. I've got a bloody good life over there and I don't want to come back here for board meetings."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?