Casting a flamboyant spell from a private plane

Depriving Tiny Rowland of a private jet would be like keeping a Rolls-Royce in the garage to save on petrol. His style requires such apparently flamboyant gestures, just as it requires his polished manners and his immaculate suits. (In fact, he owns one of the most renowned tailors in Savile Row.)

Not that a private plane should be seen simply as a luxury for the chief executive of a conglomerate with business interests in more than two dozen countries scattered round the world. Rowland's royal progress through Africa, which I first witnessed with awe in Malawi 30 years ago, has made his company the leading British trader on the continent and given him a deeper knowledge of African politics than MI6 and the Foreign Office combined (as I've heard both acknowledge).

The way his alleged pounds 5.5m perks-and-salary 'package' has been presented to the press bears all the hallmarks of a calculated leak from the camp of his partner and rival, the German Dieter Bock, in an attempt to discredit him ahead of today's meeting. It is hard to believe that his admittedly high level of expenses was not known, and much of it approved, by the Lonrho board.

I must be one of relatively few people privileged to hear at first hand Rowland's view of Bock and Bock's view of Rowland. Curiously, Bock gave me his views on board the company Gulfstream on a trip last year to secure a gold mine concession in Tashkent. The gist of it was: 'If Tiny wants the plane as the price of his friendship, then fine - but I'll expect a lot of friendship for this.'

One can only assume that he feels Rowland has failed to deliver. Not that Bock has been notably friendly himself, systematically stripping Rowland of his allies on the board and imposing non-executive directors. Bock has skilfully exploited the post-Cadbury principles of strict corporate governance to put Rowland at a disadvantage. Whether he actually believes in them may be another matter, just as it is unclear what he plans to do with Lonrho once he escapes Rowland's long shadow (if he ever can).

I first came across Rowland at a Government House reception in Zomba, Malawi, in 1964, when he arrived with Angus Ogilvy to buy Nyasaland Railways. His height, striking good looks, old-world courtesy and general style made a memorable impression on everyone. I've since seen him exercise the same spell over Africans, including Nelson Mandela, Arabs, Indians, Mexicans, Russians and Iranians.

His many trips to Africa, even his unscheduled calls on guerrilla leaders in the bush, are like state visits, with minimal airport formalities. The jet is undeniably comfortable (apart from the time it was shot at by Angolan rebels), but the journeys are long and gruelling and Rowland, now 76, is prey to occasional asthmatic and malarial attacks. This is not sybaritic jet-setting (he is a non-drinker) so much as hard work.

As with the plane, his elegant homes in Buckinghamshire and Chester Square, London, are in effect Lonrho offices, as his loyal and supportive wife Josie, aged 50, must ruefully observe as yet another evening or weekend is given over to entertaining yet another Third World leader.

Because he has deliberately shunned the establishment, the City knows little about Rowland except his public feuds and obsessions. They know nothing, for example, about his lively and mischievous sense of humour, which lights up all his personal contacts.

He may need that sense of humour today if the board seeks to strip him of all power in the company that has been his whole life. There have been some very high payouts in recent months to unwanted Lonrho directors: the imagination boggles at what it might cost to remove a man with a pounds 5.5m annual price-tag.

The author was editor of the Observer during the 12 years it was owned by Lonrho.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
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

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform