Obituary: Nicholas Stacey

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The Independent Online
Financial journalist, writer, entrepreneur and patron of the arts, Nicholas Stacey was as much at home amongst the great and the good at fashionable embassy receptions, the high-flyers in the world of finance and the political milieu of governmental committees, as he was with devotees of avant-garde music and the bohemians of the Chelsea Arts Club, which he frequented.

Easily recognised by his unstuffy but elegant suits and, above all, by his enormous bushy eyebrows, this handsome Magyar would invariably cut a swathe through even the most fashionable and prestigious of gatherings to become a centre of fascinating, often outrageously politically incorrect (never malicious), but always intelligent conversation.

Stacey was born in 1920 at Debrecen, Hungary and educated at the local Jesuit Gymnasium. At the age of 14 he entered the Academy of Commerce in Debrecen and, in 1939, came to England to study in the Faculty of Commerce at Birmingham University. Within weeks of arriving he was enlisted into the Warwickshire Civil Defence to become a driver for a surgical mobile bus unit, opening in the Birmingham region. He was very proud of the Defence Medal he received at the end of the war - "How's that for a bloody foreigner!", he would fondly remark.

In 1945 he joined the editorial staff of the Financial Times and became a specialist in such diverse subjects as Britain's waterways, canals and international trade. For five years, until 1951, he was assistant secretary and public relations officer at the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, where he also became editor of its journal, Certified Accountant. During this period he studied at the London School of Economics, joined the Fabian Society and, at the age of 26, became a member of the post-war reconstruction committee, working with such luminaries as Lord Kaldor, Sir Christopher Mayhew, Leonard Woolf and Christopher Saunders.

A Fulbright scholarship awarded in 1951 took Stacey to the Graduate Business School of Columbia University; there he researched the development of English accountancy and lectured on economic history. Thirty years later, he renewed his association with the Fulbright Commission when he became chairman of the Public Affairs Committee. During his seven years of chairmanship, to encourage the study of technology, he pioneered sponsorship and awards for short-term courses for young high-flyers in British industry.

After a year as assistant editor of The Director, Stacey joined the General Electric Company in 1955 as economic and marketing adviser. In conjunction with the Economist Research Unit, he invented and published the quarterly GEC Export Guide showing Britain's foreign trade performance in 38 markets.

In 1962 he was the founder chairman of Chesham Amalgamations and Investments, a pioneering UK merger and acquisitions company set up to assist in "peaceful" mergers and, in this respect, he and his colleagues played a small but significant role in the reorganisation of UK industry during the Sixties and Seventies. The company was unusual in dealing only with uncontested mergers, and so avoided the protracted battles that were often harmful to the companies involved.

When Chesham Amalgmations was sold in 1984, Stacey became chairman of the Cel-Sci Corporation, Virginia, a US company engaged in cancer and AIDS research; he instituted and financed research programmes at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London.

Nicholas Stacey was an intellectual, he was creative and innovative and the success and esteem he acquired in the world of business and finance was achieved by applying these talents - not so much to solve problems, as to discover possibilities. Unfortunately he was often outplayed by predatory asset strippers who were more concerned with large fees and higher dividends.

He believed passionately that business and industry should support the arts; equally, he believed artists should also be business-like - and not emulate the troglodytes he so aptly described in his book Living in an Alibi Society: a catalogue of pretensions (1989). In 1969 he became chairman of Trustees of the Society for the Promotion of New Music; he reconstructed the trust and successfully reorganised its financial structure. Under his chairmanship of the Appeals Committee, the Byam Shaw School of Art became London's most successful private art college. He was also a founder-trustee of the Bankside Gallery and council chairman of the Divertimenti string orchestra. Together with his wife, the flautist Marianne Ehrhardt, he organised regular concerts in London for the Ondine Ensemble - mostly performing music of the Belle Epoque - and Platform, a musical charity created specifically to perform contemporary, experimental music by young composers.

Stacey had no patience with the woolly-minded and disliked those who assumed influence and power through unearned privilege, particularly in the cosy "old boy" network that enmeshed the business world. Inevitably he made enemies and in 1984 he lost a fortune when some erstwhile friends and business colleagues ganged up against him at Chesham to force a disastrous sale of shares.

Ebullient, optimistic and with elan, he soon overcame what he liked to describe as "a little local difficulty with the natives". Another favourite quote was "when the writing's on the wall, don't forget to read the small print". Unfortunately he must have left his reading glasses at home when the Lloyd's debacle began to unfold and as a "name" he lost more than his tailored shirt. Nevertheless his joie de vivre, his sense of humour and enthusiasm for good conversation remained intact; Nicholas Stacey sought no alibis.

John Warner

Nicholas Anthony Howard Szecsi (Stacey), journalist and businessman: born Debrecen, Hungary 5 December 1920; married 1954 Gloria Cooklin (marriage dissolved 1986), 1987 Marianne Ehrhardt; died London 19 January 1997.