Obituary: Peter Orchard
Monday 01 February 1993
PETER ORCHARD could well have been a career diplomat, soldier, or classical scholar. He had the talents and tastes for all three professions, but chose instead to work as a businessman.
Orchard and De La Rue, the world's largest currency and security printing company, were made for each other. Outgoing and gregarious, yet subtle, blessed with the gift of language (in all senses), and a pragmatist with vision, he was at ease in a competitive and political marketplace. He also had a keen sense of company tradition, and sought to maintain its standards whenever he thought them threatened by passing fashions.
In its triumphs and misfortunes alike, De La Rue followed a path familiar to many other British firms. The family printing business, founded in 1813, developed under three generations of inventors and entrepreneurs, but had run out of steam by the 1920s, when it went public. Then, until the Second World War, its survival depended on a small base of banknote customers.
By 1950, when Orchard joined De La Rue, the business had entered its conglomerate phase which was to last, in various forms, until 1977 when he became chief executive. De La Rue for long periods had difficulty in defining its own indentity. Though its core business was, and is, the undisputed world leader, there was always the fear of over-reliance on the banknotes as a product. If, on occasions, Orchard led De La Rue towards technologies for which he had no special feeling, he never lost sight of the fact that the company's standing in one field was its most priceless asset. He lived to see, as chairman, De La Rue regain a clear identity, as a balanced and innovative group of currency, security-print and payment-systems businesses. It was a fitting culmination to his career.
After school at Downside, in Somerset, then four years in the army as a captain in the 60th Rifles and an instructor at the School of Infantry, Orchard went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he took a first in the Classical Tripos. Typically, however, he always believed he was offered a graduate traineeship by De La Rue because the company cricket XI lacked bowling talent.
As a natural linguist, ambassador and negotiator, he rose quickly through the security side of the company, starting as an international salesman. In 1959, at the age of 32, he was managing director in Brazil, a country for which he retained a lasting affection. By 1962, he was managing director of Thomas De La Rue International, joining the De La Rue main board in 1963. Other appointments followed - he was an imaginative and influential personnel director for three years - until he succeeded Sir Arthur (Gerry) Norman as Chief Executive in 1977. In this role, he ran De La Rue for the next decade in partnership with his close friend and deputy Dan Moore.
When Gerry Norman retired in 1987, Orchard succeeded him as only the fourth chairman in De La Rue's history as a public company. Though non-executive, he continued to devote his energies to the company and to travel widely on its behalf. He never lost touch. Indeed, for sixth months in 1989, he was required to act again as chief executive, until Jeremy Marshall's appointment. Orchard collapsed and died on his way to work, after more than 43 years with De La Rue.
Described as a young man as 'brilliant, dynamic and full of fun', Peter Orchard was the same throughout his life. He retained his distinctive beliefs and patterns of behaviour, and his old friends. He could always find time to write to those in need of advice or comfort, with the same perfect prose and lightness of touch which adorned the most unlikely business reports.
A lifetime in one company seemed only natural to him - virtually all his interests were lifelong ones. He returned frequently to Downside, kept up his part-time soldiering until he was 62, and served on the Court of Assistants of the Drapers' Company for 19 years, having been Master in 1982.
Sport, especially cricket and rugby, was an abiding passion - he always liked to read his newspaper 'backwards'. He was a consummate host, and the most congenial of companions. He loved entertaining, as much among groups of pensioners as at the head of De La Rue's annual diplomatic dinner, or abroad with statesmen and business leaders.
Essentially he was a family man, both in his own home and in the extended family world of his colleagues and friends around the world.
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