Obituary: Angus Macqueen

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The Independent Online
Angus Macqueen, banker: born 7 April 1910; general manager, Imperial Bank of Persia 1965-70; director, Bank of Iran and the Middle East 1965- 74; director, Bank of North Africa 1965-70; director (Morocco), British Bank of the Middle East 1965-70, director 1970-79, chairman 1975-78; CMG 1977; married 1940 Erica Sutherland (marriage dissolved), 1950 Elizabeth Barber (died 1995; one son, one daughter); died London 15 July 1995.

Post-war political changes internationally have led to the virtual disappearance of that once formidable figure in the overseas banking scene - the young Scottish banker who, because of restricted opportunities at home, sought a lifetime career overseas with a British bank. Angus Macqueen was one such who reached the pinnacle of his profession.

He was educated at the Campbeltown Grammar School and in 1927 joined the Union Bank of Scotland. In 1934 he moved to the Imperial Bank of Persia, where he spent his entire career, leaving as chairman 45 years later. This calm recital of facts hides within it a turbulent history for the bank he served.

The constant need for the bank to adapt is epitomised by its changes of name in that time. The Imperial Bank of Persia became successively, in 1935 the Imperial Bank of Iran, in 1949 the British Bank of Iran and the Middle East, and finally, in 1952, the British Bank of the Middle East. Macqueen's career, like the history of the bank, falls into two broad sections: the first up to 1952, in Iran; the second, after business in the Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle East took over.

Macqueen's experience before the Second World War was concentrated in Iran. The "Imperial" in the bank's name related not to the Shah, but to the grant of a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria, which was considered an essential element for the bank when it was founded in 1889 to introduce Western-style banking to Iran (as the bank extended its operations outside Iran, that word "Imperial" became the cause of misunderstandings).

Macqueen was well known in Iran for his cheerful and sunny disposition in circumstances often of considerable difficulty; but, even then, he shared with his colleagues thoughts as to how the bank might expand elsewhere, given the increasing financial restrictions it was facing. These concerns were shared by his seniors and in 1941 a branch was opened in Kuwait. The decision was taken to look for areas where British banks were not already established; this excluded most areas of the Middle East, hence the present concentration of the bank's operations in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia and countries formerly under strong French influence, such as Lebanon.

Macqueen was involved in carrying out this policy and found himself serving in Kuwait, Aden, Morocco, Syria and Lebanon. He also spent three years as a travelling inspector which gave him an insight into staff and their conditions of work which later proved very useful. In areas where we now see the tremendous benefits which oil has brought, it cannot be too strongly emphasised how primitive conditions were in those days and what resourcefulness was needed by staff.

In 1954 Macqueen was posted to Beirut, where he built on foundations already established to develop the British Bank of the Middle East into a leading player in a competitive market. He engendered a remarkable sense of loyalty and commitment amongst his staff - which helped the bank to withstand the shocks of political events in 1956, the Suez affair and its aftermath.

In the early 1960s Macqueen left the Middle East for the bank's London Head Office and, after a period as deputy general manager, became general manager in 1966. By then the British Bank of the Middle East had become a subsidiary of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Although the bank was running its own affairs, any major strategic decisions required agreement of the parent company. Macqueen was well suited by temperament and experience to handle this side of his responsibilities.

Possibly the most serious crisis which occurred during his general managership was the run on the Beirut office in 1967. This arose quite unexpectedly, apparently through malicious rumours spread by individuals who had suffered a financial crisis elsewhere. The potentially serious situation was averted by prompt local action, undoubtedly assisted by the special knowledge Macqueen had acquired during his time in Beirut and the help which his co- operative nature had ensured would come from the parent company and the wider City.

The 1960s and 1970s were periods of great contrasts in the bank's main area of operation. Enormous progress in the economic sphere and in terms of personal comfort for staff was balanced by increasing nationalism and nationalisation. These problems could not have been handled so well had the staff overseas not known that the man at Head Office had himself experienced similar problems and had a reputation for fairness and steadiness of purpose.

Macqueen's judgement and skill as the head of a major British bank operating in sensitive areas was recognised in 1977 with the award of a CMG.

Angus Macqueen remained true to his roots, with a deep love and knowledge of Scotland and an appetite for adventure. This expressed itself visibly when he voyaged around the Outer Hebrides in 1980 with a small group of like-minded persons. Macqueen was greatly helped in all his work by his wife, Elizabeth, whom he had met in Tehran. They married in 1950 when she had already achieved a career of distinction in the Foreign Service but, in accordance with the dictates of the time, she gave up her career and devoted herself to her husband and family. Elizabeth died in late May this year; Angus followed her a mere seven weeks later.