Lord White `in need of miracle to survive'

Doctors are not expecting Lord White to recover from the serious lung disorder that has confined him to hospital for the past two weeks, it emerged last night.

Those close to him said yesterday that nothing short of a miracle could pull him through.

Lord White was part of one of the most successful business partnerships of post-war Britain. With Lord Hanson he built the Anglo American conglomerate, now Hanson, from nothing into Britain's 12th-largest company in 30 years.

Though Lord Hanson still hopes his colleague will make a full recovery, friends say he has privately reconciled himself to the fact that Lord White will never return to corporate life.

Even if he revives from his present unconscious condition, Lord White is likely to require highly risky transplant surgery to prolong life.

Lord White has known of his rare lung disorder, described as a fungal infection, for some years now, though characteristically he kept the seriousness of his condition even from close colleagues

Although the long-term outlook for sufferers has always in the past been fatal, Lord White harboured hopes that modern medicine and techniques would eventually clear the problem and until very recently he has been able to live an active and normal life.

He was finally struck low by the disease while on a return flight to the West Coast of the United States. Just hours before, he had agreed details of Hanson's latest blockbuster bid, a pounds 2.5bn offer for Eastern Electric.

Lord White has been taking a back seat in Hanson's affairs for some little while now.

But although the US interests he so successfully built up and ran have been left in good hands, Lord Hanson, the other half of the Anglo-American acquisition machine, will find it hard to function so effectively without the advice, support and dynamism of his trusted partner.

Lord Hanson, now 73 but still in the peak of good health, is said to be determined to stay on as chairman of Hanson for the next year or two, a decision that has won support in the City

"Inevitably, the illness has made Lord Hanson think of his own mortality as well as upset him very greatly," a friend said, "but he would like finally to bow out on a high note."

After the successes and growth of the 1980s, Hanson shares have consistently underperformed the rest of the stock market in the 1990s, falling to a new low for the year yesterday of 212.75p.

Though in part this is a reflection of stock market fashion - industrial conglomerates have long been out of favour - there have been doubts about Hanson's ability to sustain long-term earnings and dividend growth without access to the old techniques of acquisition accounting and financial engineering.