Obituary: Sir Alex Alexander

Korda Kesztenbaum (Alexander Sandor Alexander), industrialist and financier: born Berehovo, Czechoslovakia 21 November 1916; director, Ross Group 1954-69, managing director and chief executive 1967-69, chairman, 1969; chairman, Imperial Foods 1969-79; director, Imperial Tobacco Group 1969-79; chairman, J. Lyons and Co 1979-89; deputy chairman, Allied-Lyons 1988-89; managing director, Europe, Lehman Brothers International 1989-92; married 1946 Margaret Vogel (two sons, two daughters); died London 25 July 1994.

ALEX ALEXANDER built a remarkable life as an industrialist, financier and patron of the arts. A refugee from Czechoslovakia, he became chairman of numerous British companies, including Imperial Foods Limited and in his 'retirement' successfully rebuilt J. Lyons as Allied-Lyons.

He was born Korda Kesztenbaum, and educated at Charles University in Prague. His business career began when he struck a friendship with Jack Petre and his mother on their farm at Westwick Hall in Norfolk. A business partnership blossomed and grew from a canned-fruit franchise to a sizeable frozen food enterprise.

In 1948 Alexander founded Westwick Preserving Company and Westwick Distributions. A year later he became founder chairman of Westwick Frosted Products in partnership with Ross Group and in 1954 he joined the Ross Group Board. By 1967 he had become managing director and chief executive of Ross, and was named chairman and chief executive two years later.

In 1969, Alexander's business acumen came into its own as he oversaw the takeover of Ross by Imperial Tobacco. He retained the chairmanship of Ross Group but also joined the Board of Imperial Tobacco Group. By 1971, he had become chairman of Imperial Foods and directed that company's successful expansion until he retired in 1979.

Official retirement, however was not on Alexander's agenda. That very same year he became chairman of J. Lyons, the newly-acquired food subsidiary of Allied Breweries, and spent the next decade successfully rebuilding the financial position of the company and helped to create what is known today as Allied-Lyons.

Despite joining Lehman Brothers as a senior managing director at 73, he arrived early for work each morning ahead of many younger colleagues and made daily contributions to the investment banking business.

For his pioneering efforts and outstanding service to the British Food Industry, Alexander was knighted in the 1974 New Year's Honours List. For any ordinary person, this would have been a highly satisfactory end to an impressive career, but Alexander was never ordinary. He continued to contribute to business and the community throughout the rest of his life.

No doubt his early arrival in Britain as a refugee just before the Second World War contributed a great deal to the strength of spirit Alexander demonstrated to his last day. There can be no doubt as well that alongside his conviction that industry thrives best within a healthy community that places a high value on cultural and social pursuits, appreciation for his new country lay behind his many philanthropic endeavours.

Alexander served as chairman of the Royal Opera House Trust, governor of the Royal Ballet, trustee of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust, chairman of Glyndebourne's 50th Anniversary Building Appeal, a member of the Royal National Theatre's Development Council and the Advisory Council of the Prince's Youth Business Trust, chairman of the Charles Forte Foundation and the Theatre Royal (Norwich) and trustee of the Thrombosis Research Institute.

He championed the arts with government ministers, advised non-profit organisations on how to develop and maintain sound management structures, encouraged his peers in industry to become involved in cultural and community projects through corporate sponsorship, and personally supported a large number of worthwhile causes. In recognition of these outstanding contributions to Britian's cultural heritage, Alexander was awarded the prestigious Goodman Award in 1991.

Only the month before he died the synergy between his business and cultural interests was demonstrated when he organised and hosted an evening at Glyndebourne. It was he who encouraged Lehman Brothers to sponsor the Opera Festival's first new production, Eugene Onegin, in the new opera house.

(Photograph omitted)

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'