Obituary: Sir Alex Page
Wednesday 02 June 1993
ALEX PAGE, former Chairman of Metal Box, was a man of practical common sense and great determination who made the most of his life and his abilities. He grew up a competitive sportsman, rose to champion one of the largest companies in Europe for nearly a decade, and retired to care for his farm and woodlands.
Page was born in 1914 and was brought up in Surbiton, Surrey, the son of a patent agent. He was educated at Tonbridge School and Clare College, Cambridge, where he finished with a degree in engineering and a half Blue for tennis. He was a keen tennis player and competed in junior Wimbledon three times before the Second World War, once reaching as far as the semi-finals.
On coming down from Cambridge in 1936, he joined Metal Box as one of their first graduate trainees. Considering his Cambridge degree in engineering, he was naturally assigned to the sales department - his social skills being more valuable than the technical. He would have accepted the judgement, for he always believed that academic qualifications were of lesser importance in assessing people. Indeed it was in sales that Page'sstrengths lay. His good-natured ease with people and his sincere interest in others, his ability to listen and give his undivided attention, his sense of humour and modesty, endeared him to his customers as well as his colleagues.
During the war Page served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He fought in the follow-up to the D-Day landings in the North West Europe campaign. Even though he did not feel he was cut out to be a soldier, he rose from sapper to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was appointed MBE in 1943 and was mentioned in dispatches.
After the war, Page returned to Metal Box, as assistant to the general sales manager. He was promoted rapidly, being appointed to run a division in 1949, to the position of group sales director in 1957 and managing director in 1966.
Page made a great contribution to the growth of Metal Box after the war. The company's production of open- top cans rose from 50 million a year when he joined in 1936 to six billion a year when he took over as chairman in 1970. Under his chairmanship the business expanded world-wide, in the height of its expansion opening a new factory every year. In an era that favoured diversification, he broadened the activities of the company, reduced its dependence on tin cans and protected it from the growing threat from US manufacturers. He took it into central heating, bathroom equipment and cheque printing. When Page stood down as Chairman in 1979, the sales of the business for the first time exceeded pounds 1 billion.
He used to say that if he had not gone into business (and had had sufficient capital), he would have been a farmer. On his retirement, as well as serving a number of companies as director, he set up a small farm at home, built a poll barn with his own hands and fattened his bullocks the year round.
Alex Page was always happy to be with young people, and it was striking that the throng of close friends at his final ceremony was full of young people as much struck by his loss as were his contemporaries. My own acquaintance with him stems from family holidays from my earliest years. I see him in the quiet evening sunshine of France busying himself preparing chairs and drinks in preparation for the obligatory chatty hour.
His funeral service was held on a fine English spring day at Dunsfold where he had lived for many years, in the church beside a yew tree 15 centuries old.
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