Sir Carron Greig: Shipbroker who turned his company into a world leader in its field

 

Sir Carron Greig was one of the leading figures in the shipping industry, starting as an office boy in the tanker department of H Clarkson & Co and staying with the same London firm for almost 50 years, ending up as chairman and taking it to become the largest shipbroking company in the world. He was made chairman of the Baltic Exchange in 1983 and was appointed CBE for his contributions to the industry, always renowned for his modesty, integrity and quiet ambition in a world famed for temperamental tycoons, inflated egos and extravagant vanity.

It was a business which relied upon trust and personal connections and Greig thrived, becoming a legendary deal-maker known for being scrupulously straightforward and hard-working. Costos Lemos, the richest of all Greek shipowners, insisted that Greig and Clarkson's manage the deals for most of his fleet of ships.

Greig was a man of many parts, a breeder of Red Poll cattle and Large White sows, a bibliophile and a countryman who knew his Great Black-backed gull from the common seagull. He was a voracious reader and could speak German and Norwegian as well as having a steel-trap memory with a startling recall of facts and figures.

A founder member of The Trollope Society and life-long collector of first editions by the Victorian novelist, Greig found relaxation trawling antiquarian bookshops for titles in original cloth bindings and for rare ephemera. His collection of Trollopiana, made with his son Geordie, was one of the finest in private hands, with items at times loaned to the British Library. Once in Soho, when he wandered into what he thought was a normal secondhand bookshop, he asked the assistant if he had any Trollopes for sale. The man said he did and asked lasciviously but sincerely if his preference was for blondes or brunettes as he could supply either. Greig liked to tell how he beat a hasty retreat, explaining that he was not after that sort of trollope.

Born in Kingston, Surrey, in 1925, Greig was one of the most modest and unpretentious men in the City. He started his career with just a Pitman's typing and shorthand course when he joined the shipping firm in 1948 as an office boy. He missed out on university but was a life-long autodidact. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of history and politics and could without thinking identify every port, flag and capital round the world. He did the Times crossword every day in 30 minutes, rarely chewing over a particularly knotty clue until the next day.

He rose swiftly to become joint managing director in 1962 and chairman of the shipbroking company from 1972 to 1985, than as chairman of the whole group – Horace Clarkson plc – until his retirement in 1993. He was renowned for his integrity, common sense and fairness. He was also quietly ambitious and determined. The company became a global force and he personally made a powerful impact as he increased its business, especially with Esso, bringing in Brazil, Norway and the Far East to its portfolio. He also fought off Russian and English corporate raiders in the 1970s.

One of the kindest and friendliest men, he was the same way to everyone, from his regular Evening Standard seller at Waterloo Station to the foreign magnates who brought his City firm millions of pounds of business. It received a Queen's Award for Industry under his stewardship.

He was without snobbery or side. He was also as firm as iron when necessary. He was particularly liked by the leading Greek ship owners, who enjoyed his humour as much as his pragmatism. When he laughed his shoulders would shake, tears rolling down his cheeks. He collected PG Wodehouse first editions and on the surface he adopted a similar light take on life, never trumpeting a profound Christian faith, being a member of the church council at St Andrew's in Minley, and also being a trustee of the Church of England's funds during Robert Runcie's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury.

When the IRA were bombing London, twice his office at the Baltic Exchange had its windows blown out, in 1992 and in 1993. He never panicked and went to work on each occasion the next day. He was an anchor-like figure of trust in a shark-infested sea of shipowners, oil companies, merchant traders and occasionally pirates in a business world which took no prisoners. "The name Carrron Greig meant the deal was good. His word was enough," said Costos Lemos, the richest Greek ship owner of all time.

As well as a distinguished career in shipping, he was also a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland when it was a byword for sensible, cautious banking. He was a director of the gunmaker Purdey's, too. Outside his business life he was an amateur farmer in Hampshire, rushing home after a long day before Christmas to help pluck a thousand turkeys. He pored through the genealogy of his herd of pedigree Red Polls and loved to help feed his hundreds of Large White sows.

Few in the City knew he was also a royal courtier. His father, Sir Louis Greig, had been Private Secretary to the Duke of York, later King George VI, partnering him at Wimbledon in 1926, the only time a member of the Royal Family has played at the tournament. Queen Mary and Henry, Duke of Gloucester were Carron's godparents. He lived until he was 30 at Thatched House Lodge, a magnificent grace and favour house in the middle of Richmond Park, loaned by George V.

Unlike his father, who captained Scotland at rugby union and was a fitness fanatic, Carron's idea of an outside activity was not on a sports field but heaving bails of hay, pulling up ragwort in his fields or chopping up firewood from trees in his woods, making bonfires after clearing paths on the farm in Hampshire he bought in 1962. His best friend became his farm manager, Iain MacVicar. He gently cajoled all his four children to join him in his woodland pursuits as he was above all else a family man, having three sons and a daughter by his wife, Monica Stourton, granddaughter of Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton.

Educated at Eton, at 18 he joined the Scots Guards for the final year of the war. He trained at Sandhurst, where he was the top cadet, winning the Sword of Honour – in wartime a Belt of Honour, which his father's friend General Eisenhower signed. King George VI wrote to his father: "I'm glad he's a chip off the old block."

Made a captain and intelligence officer, he joined the Scots Guards 3rd (Tank) battalion which worked mostly in Germany as the enemy was in retreat. His hand was crushed by a tank barrel, but his philosophy was never to complain; it seemed to him boring and self-indulgent. His senior officers praised his calmness, resolve and ability to get on with everybody. He was part of a remarkable set of junior officers in his tank battalion which included a future deputy Prime Minister, Willie Whitelaw, a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, and one of Mrs Thatcher's captains of industry, Hector Laing, of United Biscuits.

He never lost his sense of humour, wryly pricking pomposity with a dry wit. He was no dandy and had an uncanny ability to make any smartly pressed suit seem crumpled within 30 seconds. He took life seriously but also saw that it was best seen as an amusement. Once when his son Geordie was bizarrely criticised by the commentator Paul Johnson in The Spectator for having communist leanings he went round newsagents in Hampshire trying to find a copy, without success. One Asian newsagent, he liked to recount, volunteered, "We don't have The Spectator but we do have copies of Voyeur!" He carried on looking elsewhere.

He was made a Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire and awarded a CBE, and given a knighthood by the Queen for his courtier role as Gentleman Usher for almost 30 years until 1995, when at 70 he became an Extra Gentleman Usher. His job had been to escort the Monarch and senior members of her family to their seats at state and ceremonial occasions and also those receiving honours at Buckingham Palace investitures. His son Louis was Page of Honour to the Queen, his daughter Laura a lady-in-waiting to Princess Diana.

In his last years he suffered from Parkinson's disease, which he never thought worth mentioning. Life was to be lived and his life mantra had always been "dull not to". His children teased him affectionately about the KCVO, CBE and DL which went after his name on envelopes and added JGE to envelopes of the letters they wrote him: Jolly Good Egg. It was how he was widely viewed. He is survived by his widow, Monica Stourton, and his four children and 10 grandchildren.

Henry Louis Carron Greig, shipbroker: born Kingston, Surrey 21 February 1925; Chairman, Horace Clarkson plc 1976–93; Director, James Purdey & Sons 1972–2000; CVO 1973, KCVO 1995, CBE 1986; married 1955 Monica Stourton (three sons, one daughter); died Fleet, Hampshire 11 July 2012.

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