Sir Patrick Lowry

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The Independent Online

John Patrick Lowry, industrial relations manager: born Leicester 31 March 1920; Director, Engineering Employers' Federation 1965-70; Director of Industrial Relations, British Motor Corporation (later British Leyland Ltd) 1970, Board Director 1972, Director of Personnel 1975-77, Director of Personnel and Administration 1977-78, Director of Personnel and External Affairs 1978-81; CBE 1978; Chairman, Acas 1981-87; Kt 1985; President, Institute of Personnel Management 1987-89; married 1952 Sheilagh Mary Davies (one son, one daughter); died London 30 May 2001.

Patrick Lowry was one of the most influential figures in the development of modern relationships in the world of work.

He was a quiet, modest, yet witty man, who earned universal respect in the industrial relations jungle of the post-war period. He recognised that archaic employment procedures and practices, fragmented bargaining and confrontation were not sustainable in a modern economy as it became influenced by globalisation. He saw too, that many managers were hopelessly trained and equipped to do their jobs. Tackling such issues became the principle feature of his life's work.

John Patrick Lowry was born in Leicester in 1920 and, after leaving Wyggeston Grammar School, joined the Engineering Employers Federation as a statistics clerk in 1938. During the Second World War, he served in the army, rising from the rank of private to captain. He saw active service with the British Expeditionary Force, was evacuated from Dunkirk and later he served in Normandy and Burma. He gained valuable experience first hand of the frustrations and consequences of poor leadership and organisation.

Rejoining the EEF after the war, Pat Lowry took a degree in economics, studying as an evening student at the London School of Economics. By 1965 he had become Director of Industrial Relations at the EEF, leading numerous negotiations at the monthly national conferences held at the Royal Station Hotel in York. He was active in the affairs of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the International Labour Organisation and a member of a number of courts of inquiry including, in 1977, one concerning the Grunwick dispute.

In 1970 he had been invited to join the newly formed British Leyland Motor Corporation as Director of Industrial Relations. For the following 11 years he remained in the eye of the storm in one of the bitterest periods of industrial conflict ever seen in Britain.

On his appointment as Chairman of Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) in 1981, Lowry quickly established a reputation for political awareness as he shrewdly developed Acas policy during the Thatcher era. He was knighted in 1985. Lowry was active behind the scenes in promoting the role of Acas in achieving consensus between government and industry. He took centre stage in conciliating in a number of high-profile disputes including the miners' strike and the dispute between the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Dock Labour Board.

At the height of this dispute which threatened the closure of British ports, difficult and rowdy all-night negotiations resulted in the conclusion of an outline agreement. Lowry invited his conciliation team to share the moment over a quiet drink. It was a prime example of the way, throughout his life, that Lowry encouraged and nurtured mutual respect and camaraderie within the numerous groups, which he led or chaired, as he moulded them into formidable and professional teams.

He shared his experience willingly and contributed to management training through his Presidency of the Institutes of Personnel Management from 1987 and of Supervisory Management from 1972. Throughout Lowry remained firm in his conviction that collective bargaining could be made to work effectively and that procedures could be agreed that would avoid the coercive action that destroyed beneficial employment relationships.

He believed that management should be persuaded to take seriously their responsibility for managing, developing, motivating and engaging the contribution of the people, at all levels, for whom they were responsible. He had little time for dogma, whether represented by class warriors of the left or the proponents of unchecked managerial prerogative. Lowry encouraged the coming together of people at work to craft solutions that would endure and advance the customer and competitive imperatives of the organisation.

Unwilling to hang up his boots in retirement, Lowry became the independent chairman of two national negotiating bodies. In September 1987, he became chairman of the National Joint Council for the Engineering Construction Industry serving employers and trade unions who provide the skills to erect the process plants and power stations that provide essential resources to the UK economy. Lowry aligned himself with the special requirement of engineering construction, which required the retention of collective bargaining.

During a period of success for the industry he initiated a number of working parties intended to modernise and develop best practice in a short-term hire and fire industry. At the time of his death Lowry had taken the helm of the latest and most fundamental review of that industry's total performance and its collective agreement. He relished the task, which included representations from the workforce as well as the "great and the good" of employers and trade unions. He drew on his store of optimism and firm resolve to nudge the industry towards lasting strategic change in order to secure continuing investment and a future for the UK construction industry in a global market.

At the opposite end of the employment spectrum Lowry chaired for the National Joint Negotiating Committee for University Non- clinical Academic and Related Staff. Employers and trade union representatives recall him bringing skill and diplomacy to the staff and as a tough man with the capacity to bring people together.

Lowry's boundless energy carried beyond his business career. He excelled through his love of rugby, on and off the field. He enjoyed a very distinguished playing career, mainly with the Wasps Rugby Club. An accomplished lock and second row, he played from 1945 until 1956. In this period several distinguished county and international players passed through his hands. A natural leader, Lowry won the support and respect of fellow players and became a popular "skipper". He was made a Vice-President of Wasps in 1957. On his retirement from mainstream business in 1987 he joined the executive committee of Wasps and became chairman between 1992 and 1996.

He played a leading role in modernising the Wasps in particular and club rugby generally. In 1993 the Rugby Football Union asked Lowry to chair a committee designed to reorganise the RFU itself, which he successfully achieved with the publication of the "Lowry Report" followed by "Lowry II" which provided the mainstay of the administrative capability of the RFU for a number of years. He served in an honorary capacity on several of its committees and the RFU appointed Lowry as a privileged member.

On his final day and within sight of the 57th anniversary of his landing on the Normandy beaches, he was cleaning and preparing not his weapons, but his bicycle, for one of his regular expeditions into Richmond Park.

L. Sampson

G. Armstrong

and I. Montlake

 

In the 1970s the truck and tractor division of the British Motor Corporation, soon to become British Leyland, at Bathgate, was the biggest concentration of machine tools under one roof in the whole of Europe, writes Tam Dalyell. As the crusty old boss of Austin had said to me in 1962: "Please remember, Dalyell," over his lunch table in Longridge with George Turnbull and Alec Issigonis, designer of the Mini, "that as long as you are Member for West Lothian, we predict that Bathgate will end in tears, because we were directed to go there from the Midlands against our better judgment by the Cabinet of the Macmillan government."

Mushrooming to employ 7,000 people, most of whom were entirely new to the motor industry and who were divided into 11 different trade unions, created huge problems. As the MP for the plant I was for ever running to Pat Lowry begging him to give attention to this, that or the other problem. Even if it was 11 o'clock at night and he'd had an appallingly difficult day, Lowry never failed to respond. I once asked him around midnight, at the end of a rather frantic call, how he managed to remain so unflappable and good-tempered. His reply was simple: "What is there to flap about in life after you've been evacuated by good fortune from Dunkirk and survived the horrors of the war in Burma?"

The distinguished engineer who ran the Bathgate factory with success, Jack Smart, praised Lowry, saying, "I have a lot of time for Pat Lowry. In an immensely complicated job, he doesn't do one thing and say another. Moreover he understands me, as an engineer running a huge plant, and the engineering and logistical problems."

This favourable view has also been transmitted from the other side of what was then a management /workers divide. Chris Bett, of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering union, and a Communist parliamentary candidate, said, "I always found Lowry straightforward, genuine and honest." The convenor of the Joint Shop Stewards' committee at Bathgate in those years, Stan McKeown, went further:

Lowry was very efficient, and to the point. He was fair in his overall assessments. When you were sitting across the table, I would rather sit opposite Pat Lowry than any of the rest of the management. He always gave me the impression that if there was leeway to be got, leeway would be given. Unlike others, he was not looking over his shoulder all the time to safeguard their backs and to look at how their actions would go down with more senior management in the company.

At the grassroots, in the context of the motor industry, I am quite sure that Lowry saved a huge amount of industrial trouble. In the 1970s the British motor industry could have gone into the abyss. Lowry was one of the few people who saved it.

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