Obituary: Philip Chappell
Saturday 15 May 1993
PHILIP CHAPPELL was a merchant banker whose mission it was to transmit the highest moral and professional standards of the City as he first knew and understood it into a world of new technology and financial techniques.
A son of the rectory, he was imbued with the high seriousness which went with that upbringing, but this was softened in him by personal warmth and by a kind of slightly quizzical diffidence which quite kept away any hint of moral superiority.
After Marlborough, National Service and Christ Church, Oxford, he was recruited to Morgan Grenfell. There in 1954 the life of a recruit from outside the family circle was one of stifling drudgery, but in 1957 he was chosen to go to Sydney to manage Morgan Grenfell's new joint venture with Lazard Brothers, the London Australia Investment Trust. He loved Australia, to which he often returned throughout his life. There he experienced a financial and economic environment more innovative and more confident than that of the City, and for a time after his return to London in 1958, he found the banking parlours of Great Winchester Street unbearably stuffy.
There, however, he came to work with Kenneth Barrington, then acknowledged as one of the City's masters of corporate finance. Under Barrington's infuence, Chappell established his reputation as one of the safest pair of hands in the business, clear-sighted, imaginative, informed and unfailingly discreet. He became a director of the bank in 1964.
In 1971 he was seconded from Morgan Grenfell to become chairman of the National Ports Council and his successful years there were recognised when he was appointed CBE in 1976. Four years later he was persuaded to take on the Chairmanship of ICL, then the flagship of the British computing industry. This turned out badly for him. The company was already in trouble for reasons which long predated his association with it. He found things worse than he expected, and many of its problems outside his experience.
The government, which had pressed him to take the job, decided only to give the help which he felt that he had been promised if he withdrew in favour of an industrialist. This he did without hesitation, unquestioningly putting the company's good ahead of his own career.
Chappell's absence from Morgan Grenfell and his association with the ICL debacle enabled a hungrier generation to overtake him in the bank's hierarchy, since without those excursions he might have become chief executive. He was not in sympathy with the new management style. He believed that the basis of sound corporate finance was the interest of the client, from which the prosperity of the bank would necessarily follow, and he warned against the highly personalised victory-at-all-costs style of business which the bank was undertaking amid such publicity in the early 1980s. His warnings and his assessment that Morgan Grenfell's excursion into the securities business was misconceived and ill-planned was irksome to his rasher colleagues, and in July 1986 he was suddenly relieved of his vice- chairmanship. In the four months that followed no announcement of his departure was made, but it was then that Morgan Grenfell took its fateful steps in the Guinness takeover of Distillers.
For the rest of his life Chappell devoted himself to the more public affairs of the City. He was especially interested in the promotion of portable pensions, believing that individuals should control their own savings and that the tax system should not force them into institutional schemes in which they might be at the mercy of greedy employers or unscrupulous corporate raiders. He was still writing persuasively about this in the last year of his life, and he saw his ideas gain increasing acceptance. From 1986, he was Adviser to the Association of Investment Trust Companies, and he was an investment adviser to colleges in Oxford and Cambridge.
He married Julia House in 1962. His warm family life, with their four children, was rather after the old-fashioned rectory pattern, but as befitted a successful merchant banker, less austere. Although concerned with money all his life, Philip Chappell was never preoccupied with it, seeing in it the means to civilised, sociable and humane existence. He enjoyed sailing and music, especially opera. He was an untiring supporter of the City of London Festival and in one year its chairman, and he was an active member of the Georgian Group. The public appointment which perhaps he enjoyed most was as a Governor of the BBC between 1976 and 1981.
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