Obituary: Rowan Bentall

Leonard Edward Rowan Bentall, businessman: born Surbiton 27 November 1911; commissioned, Royal Welch Fusiliers 1941; Merchandise Director, Bentalls 1946-63; Managing Director 1963-78, Chairman 1968-78, President 1978-93; Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London 1977; Lord-Lieutenant's Representative Deputy, Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames 1979-84; married 1937 Adelia Hawes (died 1986; three sons, two daughters), 1987 Katherine Allan; died Broughton, Hampshire 24 July 1993.

ROWAN BENTALL was the grandson of the founder of the department store group which bears his name and which, in addition to its flagship store in Kingston upon Thames, now has six other stores in the South-east. All six - in Bracknell, Ealing, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Thurrock and Worthing - were opened during Rowan Bentall's association with the business. It spanned 63 years, from the time he began working behind the counter in 1930, after a year's training at Harrods, until his presidency dating from 1978, and he presided at the group's most recent big development, the opening of the 600,000 sq ft Bentall Centre in Kingston last November.

The family atmosphere which is a characteristic of Bentalls stores owes much to Rowan Bentall's own personality. Though naturally reserved, he was a thoughtful and kindly man who took immense trouble to get to know his staff - at one time numbering over 3,000 - their families and their problems. He knew many of his customers, too, and showed the highest example of personal and courteous service - on one celebrated occasion interrupting a board meeting to go into the store when all other efforts to resolve a customer's problem had failed. It seems her neighbour's bees had swarmed and since she always went to Bentalls for all her needs, assumed they would be able to help. Rowan, whose mother had been a beekeeper, was able to provide the appropriate advice.

He schooled himself to make speeches and public appearances and overcame his inherent shyness to make sure he spoke to almost everyone present and to make them feel welcome. 'If it's good for Bentalls,' he used to say, 'then I must do it.'

He developed a great flair for marketing the store, and in the days before most people had the opportunity for travelling abroad he staged numerous in-store promotions featuring the merchandise of foreign lands. Subsequently 'Friendly Finland' was put on in 1976 to help neighbouring British Aerospace secure a foreign contract, a deal which was conditional upon some degree of reciprocal trade. In the face of much scepticism, Bentall sent his buyers to Finland on an exercise which generated national publicity there, as well as in the UK, and British Aerospace secured orders for pounds 128m worth of Hawk aircraft. Many of his initiatives live on in his history of Bentalls, My Store of Memories (1974), which was reprinted last year; it includes anecdotes about his predecessors and colleagues.

Bentall was well-known for his generosity and support for the community - not just in Kingston, where it included the church, hospitals, scouts, sea cadets, British Legion, arts trust, grammar school and rugby club, but also the charities for employees in the retail trade, and in 1960 he founded the Rowan Bentall Charity Trust which benefits numerous charitable organisations.

During his decade as Chairman, from 1968 to 1978, the group turnover more than doubled from pounds 14.5m to pounds 35.1m. It was a source of pride to him that his eldest son, Edward, became chairman in 1982 and stood beside him on many Bentall occasions thereafter, among them the 125th anniversary of the business exactly 12 months ago.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An HR Consultant is required to join thi...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable