RAYMOND PENNOCK was a remarkably smooth operator whose deft touch combined with tenacity and guts took him from grammar school to the top of British industry and ultimately into the House of Lords. Business owes him a tremendous debt for the way in which as President of the Confederation of British Industry he regalvanised the organisation after the sudden death of the then Director General, Sir John Methven, in April 1980.
The CBI's reputation, after a series of bruising battles with the Labour government, had never been higher and membership had soared, but without the crusading Methven it faltered. Ray Pennock then deployed all his leadership ability because he realised Britain's 'business voice' would need to make itself heard by a new Conservative government, despite Downing Street's clear contempt for 'corporatism'.
He brought off a coup in weaning Sir Terence Beckett from the then prosperous Ford of Britain in 1980 to become the new Director General. But even though he rated a standing ovation, Beckett made a gaffe in threatening in a speech a 'bare-knuckle' fight to get the case across to a deaf government imposing 16 per cent interest rates on business.
Pennock and Beckett were carpeted at Downing Street the next day as 'spontaneously' about half a dozen right-wing industrialists decided to resign CBI membership (they all subsequently picked up a peerage and most quietly rejoined later).
It needed all Pennock's subtle charm and diplomacy to reach calmer waters but he held to the course deftly and even managed eventually to win a seat at the Thatcher table of advisers. But he always weighed his words thereafter in No 10 extremely carefully. Meanwhile the CBI staff warmed to him and the members rallied.
Pennock had served an apprenticeship for his CBI presidency in 1980. As chairman of the economic committee producing the highly rated industrial trends survey - still one of the best barometers of business activity - which he would analyse and present with forensic skill but some dry humour too. He had earlier served as President of the Chemical Industries Association where he had not been afraid to speak up on the emerging environmental issues.
Pennock was a confident business lobbyist moving freely between industry and the City, at the highest level in Whitehall, increasingly in the television studio but also in Brussels where as the first British president of UNICE - the European employers' organisation - he shook that into shape too, dislodging some extremely entrenched bureaucrats.
Pennock had spent more than 30 years with ICI, Britain's largest industrial company, which he joined in 1947, working first in personnel - an initial experience which always served him well - then in sales, before becoming Chairman of the Agricultural Division in Billingham in 1968. When people said ICI 'enjoyed good industrial relations', he always reminded them, 'Yes - because we worked bloody hard at them.'
Promoted to the main ICI board in 1972 he went on to become Deputy Chairman and was already a public figure destined it seemed for the top job which he clearly cherished. But he was pipped by an old colleague, his fellow Yorkshireman Sir Maurice Hodgson.
This did not deter Pennock for long, however, and in 1980 he became executive chairman of BICC, in the red when he arrived. BICC was soon back to profitability under a boss who never failed to work in mention of his company no matter what subject the CBI had programmed for him that day.
The pace of work at one time laid him low with shingles but he conducted business from bed and it was one of the few periods in his life when his daily tennis was cancelled. He played most mornings at his home in Blackheath with a variety of regular influential partners with whom he was never slow to do a little lobbying between sets.
He liked life's comforts - in particular the big green Rolls- Royce which he reckoned he had earned and from which he conducted much of his business. No trains for him - and no disturbance either. Pennock travelled alone and met his advisers at the other end of his journey, refreshed and ready to go.
After the CBI and BICC a further successful career beckoned in the City with various directorships but in 1986 he did not fare so well as first British chairman of the Channel Tunnel project in which his fluency in French was useful. The problem lay not across the sea but in London where efforts to raise the UK portion of the equity nearly flopped. Pennock gave up the job a little later though remaining a board member until 1991, but he always felt he had carried the can unfairly.
It was the only blemish in a remarkably successful career but it rankled. Nothing much else did, however. He had a highly successful marriage to Lorna Pearse, whom he married on war leave from the army where he was commissioned in the Royal Artillery. And he had a loving, convivial relationship with his two daughters and his son.Reuse content