Obituary: Sir Alex Alexander
Monday 01 August 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.
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