Lord King: abdicates

Click to follow
The Independent Online
FOR A MAN who scaled the heights, Lord King surrendered the chairmanship of British Airways on an uncharacteristically low note.

Yesterday he presented a forlorn and defensive figure, his reputation tarnished by the dirty tricks affair, the legendary spring missing from the step and his family apparently worried about his health.

In his valediction, Lord King, 75, described his 12 years at the helm of BA as 'the crowning achievement of my working life'. So it was. The foxhunting and clubbable peer usually got what he wanted in his brusque and domineering way.

BA swallowed two of its domestic rivals whole, with the acquiescence of the regulatory authorities, and saw a third out of the skies while expanding its international reach with stakes in five overseas carriers.

Lord King transformed BA from a semi- bankrupt, bloated, state-owned monolith into what the propaganda claimed was the world's favourite airline and what the hard figures showed was the most profitable.

Yet for all that, the enduring memory of his stewardship may yet prove to be the underhand activities of computer hackers in a back room at Gatwick airport.

The backlash against BA - and Lord King personally - as the full details emerged of its attempt to undermine Virgin is said to have quite shocked him. Lord King apologised to Richard Branson in public, not once but twice.

From humble beginnings, John Leonard King made his fortune from ball bearings and defence and became one of Britain's most influential businessmen. Knighted in 1979, he took over at BA two years later at Margaret Thatcher's request and piloted it into the private sector.

His three-year appointment as BA president is part recognition of his undisputed contribution and part reminder to his successors of their inheritance.