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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness