Gerald Frankel

Founder of the Industry Forum
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The Independent Online

Gerald Joseph Frankel, businessman: born London 14 November 1921; MBE 1989; founder, Industry Forum 1993; married 1946 Dolly Krivine (one daughter); died London 24 November 2003.

Gerald Frankel made a unique contribution to Labour's election victory in 1997. Frankel was the founder in 1993 of the Industry Forum, created to bring Labour politicians and British businessmen face to face.

Robin Cook became the Forum's president and Going for Growth, a 1994 Labour publication funded by the Forum, opened with a foreword by Tony Blair which promised that his party's aim was "to create a consensus which will be to the long-term benefit of small firms and the country at large". Over the next four years the Industry Forum's membership grew to 300, including 100 of the UK's largest companies.

Margaret Beckett, Jack Cunningham, Derek Fatchett and many other Labour MPs went to the Forum's meetings to discuss economic issues with senior representatives of BP, British Gas, Nissan, Tesco, Glaxo-Wellcome and others; even the "non-political" Institute of Directors joined in. Most business members of the Forum staunchly maintained their political impartiality, but Sir Terence Conran's announcement in February 1996 that he would vote Labour at the next election reflected a general shift in attitude.

Pivotal to the success of the Forum, however, was Frankel himself. A warm, untidy man with a complex, creative mind and a wicked sense of humour, Frankel charmed, cajoled and convinced all but the most entrenched doubters on both sides. Many Labour MPs had never met a senior businessman, let alone discussed business policies and vice versa. The Industry Forum was a catalyst for many.

The son of a furrier, Frankel was born in Forest Gate, north-west London, in 1921. He went to the City of London School and then trained as a ballet dancer under Judith Espinosa and Marie Rambert. He enlisted in the RAF at the beginning of the Second World War and trained as a wireless mechanic before joining Ensa and touring Europe as a member of "The Raffians" dance company. A knee injury prevented him making a career as a dancer after the war. His artistic talents were subsequently expressed through sculpture and fly-fishing.

He married the entrancing Dolly Krivine in 1946. Two years later he bought an Addressograph duplicating machine and founded Commercial Aid Printing Services (CAPS), which he ran from their bed-sit in Soho. One of his early contracts came from Geoffrey Crowther, the editor of the Economist, to produce a broadsheet version of the magazine during a printers' strike which threatened its unbroken publishing record.

Frankel expanded CAPS in partnership with Bob Gavron, now Lord Gavron, and Luke Fitzherbert, subsequently founder of the Directory of Social Change. CAPS survived the usual small business perils, including a major client defaulting on its debt. "Don't tell anyone," Gavron instructed their sales manager. "Particularly not us," Frankel added half-jokingly. Like many true entrepreneurs, he was only interested in money as a means to an end and treated balance sheets and profit and loss accounts with less respect than they sometimes needed.

In the early 1960s Frankel developed a new microfilm enlarger with Martin Zeib and other enthusiasts in his garage at Wembley, where he and Dolly had moved with their daughter Jennifer in 1948. Neighbours complained to the police of men entering at all hours and Gerald and Dolly's home was placed under 24-hour surveillance as a suspected brothel. CAPS Microfilm was financed by Lord Crowther and the Cadbury family, and a subsidiary in New York was backed by William Casey, head of the CIA. But the cost of development proved too great and the company went into liquidation in 1969. Undaunted Frankel started again. Within four years his new company Imtec, short for Imaging Technology, had carved a substantial niche in the microfilm imaging market in Europe.

But Frankel's efforts to sell his products to the UK public sector were frustrated by the risk-averse Civil Service's reluctance to buy British. It was the start of a personal crusade by Frankel to reform British public procurement policy in line with European and US practices, which then as now favoured national suppliers as a matter of principle. Frankel campaigned aggressively for more government support for British manufacturers, winning support from Tory politicians such as Kenneth Baker. When the Conservatives came to power in 1979, Baker helped convince Margaret Thatcher that too many public sector contracts were going overseas. An Imtec recording system was installed in 10 Downing St in 1982.

The following year Imtec went public. At the same time Frankel formed the British Office Technology Manufacturing Alliance (Botma) to promote UK information technology abroad, for which he was appointed MBE in 1989. He also chaired a working party for the National Economic Development Office (NEDO) on office machinery. Frustrated by Tory indifference to the plight of small businesses, however, Frankel joined the Labour Finance and Industry Group at the invitation of John Smith and began working on a small firms policy for Britain. Based on consensus, this included an alternative to immediate bankruptcy for growing companies in financial straits, along the lines of the US's Chapter Eleven, so that British jobs and products could be safeguarded. Twenty years on, the present government is about to legislate for just this. Far too late, however to save Frankel himself from further brushes with insolvency.

In October 1988 Imtec was rescued from bankruptcy by British & Commonwealth Holdings, and Frankel resigned as chairman. A year later the new owners sold off Imtec's loss-making engineering graphics subsidiary for £700,000 - to a management team led by its ex-chairman.

Rescuing his own business did not deter Frankel from pursuing his wider agenda for business through the Industry Forum. Its impact was amply demonstrated in the Labour Party's Vision for Growth, published late in 1996, which laid out a new industrial strategy for Britain. Frankel's influence was easy to spot. When Labour swept to power the following year, Gerald Frankel had made a unique contribution to making a socialist government acceptable to business, big and small.

After the election Frankel remained an influential advisor on business policy to the new government, although he had to fend off an attempt by Downing St to take the Industry Forum over. But in 1998 he suffered a crippling stroke. He struggled heroically to overcome its effects, but in 2000 he reluctantly conceded control of the Industry Forum, although he continued to oversee its policy as honorary life president.

Berry Ritchie