Professor Sir Roland Smith

Marketing pioneer and businessman
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The Independent Online

Roland Smith, marketing scholar and businessman: born Manchester 1 October 1928; Lecturer in Economics, Liverpool University 1960-63, Director, Business School 1963-66; Professor of Marketing, Umist (University of Manchester Institute for Science and Technology) 1966-88 (Emeritus), Honorary Visiting Professor 1988-2003, Chancellor 1996-2002; chairman, Temple Bar Investment Trust 1980-99; chairman, House of Fraser 1981-86; chairman, Readicut International 1984-96; chairman, Hepworth 1986-97; chairman, British Aerospace 1987-91; chairman, P&P 1988-97; Kt 1991; a director, Bank of England 1991-96; chairman, Manchester United 1991-2002; married 1954 Joan Shaw; died Twyford, Berkshire 20 November 2003.

Roland Smith was one of the best-known names in Britain's boardrooms, a member of the Court of the Bank of England, and a leading business academic who pioneered marketing as a discipline in the UK and in 1996 became Chancellor of Umist (the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology).

Asked how Smith contributed to board meetings, Garry Weston, chairman of Associated British Foods, once said: "by asking the right questions. He is very impressive and has a lot of business experience and judgement." A Manchester United fan, in 1991 Smith became chairman of the football club, where he was instrumental in building its strong commercial brand.

How did this son of a Manchester police sergeant hoist himself to fill a range of top jobs in industry, including the chairmanships of House of Fraser, British Aerospace and Manchester United? When you have lived in the roughest parts of Manchester, where survival is the name of the game, Smith recalled, you definitely have all the motivation to succeed. "My father, who came from Bolton, was a miner before joining the police force in Manchester. My parents sacrificed for me and wanted me to succeed. The northern work ethic was drummed into me at an early age." But it was university which opened Smith's eyes to another world.

He first studied Economics at Birmingham University, then completed a PhD at Manchester. After national service in the RAF, Smith took up a teaching post in 1960 as an economics lecturer at Liverpool University, where in 1963 he became director of the Business School. In 1966, in his thirties, he was appointed to the Joe Hyman Chair of Marketing at Manchester, the first appointment of its kind. Here he began to combine teaching with consultancy. Sir Austin Pearce at Esso Petroleum gave Smith a major assignment involving cost reduction and profit improvement. This work for Esso led to projects for RTZ and other leading companies.

Smith's appointment at Umist coincided with growing interest among UK companies in marketing. "I was in the right place at the right time," he recalled. "Public companies were becoming interested in management science and there was a demand for business academics to speak at conferences." In Manchester he ran regular residential management programmes for senior executives. "When you are on your feet lecturing," Smith admitted, "you build up a great many friendships and contacts. One learned how to move comfortably from large groups of postgraduate students to boards of directors." Among his students were many who went on to become business leaders, including Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco.

Smith pioneered marketing as a discipline in this country, according to Professor Bob Bouchier, former Vice-Chancellor of Umist, who once said of him: "He is a fantastic networker and intensely loyal. Behind the avuncular disposition there is a very shrewd brain and a constant sense of urgency."

Smith's experience in a series of complicated business situations became legendary. During his time as chairman of House of Fraser in the early 1980s, the retail group resisted a takeover bid by Lonrho (Smith famously told Lonrho's Tiny Rowland, to "get your tanks off my lawn") before being acquired by the Fayed brothers, and as chairman of British Aerospace, 1987-91, Smith was caught up in the controversy surrounding the takeover of Rover. "I just help to develop strategies and advise on improving company performance," he would say with a hint of self-depreciation. A director of Hepworth's, where Smith was chairman 1986-97, explained that "his grasp of financial data and statistics is mind-blowing. He brought a depth of vision to this company which was previously lacking."

Besides his long-time devotion to Umist, the role Smith cherished most was as chairman of Manchester United. He rarely missed a match or a board meeting in his 11 years as chairman, but typically preferred others to attract the limelight. He steered the club through its stock-market début in 1991 and clearly played a leading hand in its later marketing success.

One of his lesser known achievements was his work for good causes. In Manchester he was a key member of the committee set up to raise funds for the Christie Hospital and of the Umist appeal which raised substantial funds for new buildings and research. In 1991 he was knighted. In 1992 he became chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh's Commonwealth Study Conference.

In 1954 Roland Smith married Joan Shaw, also a Mancunian, and of considerable charm. She gave him much support and was the stability factor in his life, well accustomed to his workaholic style, with its triumphs and tensions. He would advise younger colleagues that it is only possible to be successful if you have a happy personal life.

Wilf Altman