People and Business: Sir David's gong

A LIFETIME achievement award that has been won in past years by people as varied as The Right Reverend Jim Thompson, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of Williams Holdings, has just gone to Sir David Lees, chairman of GKN and Tate & Lyle.

The gong is the 1999 Founding Societies' Centenary Award - the top accolade of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

"I don't think I ever saw myself as a practising accountant," says Sir David, who qualified with Binder Hamlyn in the City in 1962.

He recalls: "For some reason as a youth I wanted to go into industry. My dad didn't want me to go to university - this was a long time ago - and since I was numerate I thought I would give accountancy a go."

In the 1960s Sir David was chief accountant at Handley Page, a distinguished British aircraft company which proved too small for his ambitions, and he moved to GKN in 1970. "The wheel turned full circle many years later when GKN bought Westland," he says.

Among many other roles, Sir David was appointed to the board of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden last March, although he has so far managed to avoid appearing in any "fly on the wall" TV documentaries on the house's troubled rebuilding programme.