A true capitalist with a real sense of fun

TOM STEVENSON

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
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Customer Relations Officer

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

£30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable