Two hunters in perfect empathy

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LORD WHITE once famously joked that the City was "full of people just waiting for us to lift their wallets and rape their wives".

While neither he nor Lord Hanson would have ever taken such sentiments literally, during the 1980s many a company director shuddered at the suggestion that this duo were taking a close look at his business. In vain did Lord Hanson try to dispel the carnivorous impression.

"We're not predators," he said. "We go into the game park and get the wounded animal with the tranquilizer, put it right, and then set it free again."

But he added: "Predatory tactics will become outdated only when there aren't any more companies with inefficiency in management."

The son of a wealthy Yorkshire entrepreneur who had once gone backrupt, Lord Hanson was brought up to run his own business.

His father, Bob, a Huddersfield celebrity, used to take young James with him when he went to negotiate a loan, so he could see how it was done.

Part of the family business, covering buses and road haulage, was nationalised for £5m in 1948.

James and brother Bill initially invested some of the money in Canada, setting up a transport business and later forming Jet Petroleum, which was eventually sold to Conoco for £12.5m.

Through his father's love of horses, James became involved in the post- war show-jumping circuit, which took him into the 1950s gossip columns - something he preferred to play down as he sought respectability in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bill, at 19 the youngest major in the British Army, met up with Gordon White in Hull. But it was Bill's death from stomach cancer in 1954, at the age of 29, that brought together his devasted brother and Lord White.

"Gordon White was very like Bill," said Hanson, "and he became my surrogate brother. He had the flair for salesmanship and marketing. It might all have happened with Bill, too, but I couldn't have done it without Gordon.

"We're twins really. Gordon and I talk on the telephone several times a day, although he doesn't always tell me what's going on. I don't have his flair for spotting winners. He's the one who's responsible for the creative side."

In the late 1950s, the two started importing US greeting cards into Britain. The Canadian operation was sold as Hanson temporarily reverted to the UK and obtained control of Wiles, a quoted company that became the basis for Hanson plc.

Lords Hanson and White admit they sometimes turn up to meetings wearing the same ties, such is their telepathic understanding.

Said Lord White: "James is more cautious than I am, more of a statesman. If he were climbing a mountain, he'd follow the footpath. I'd look for a short cut."