Obituary: Sir John Davis

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The Independent Online
John Henry Harris Davis, businessman: born 10 November 1906; Chief Accountant, Odeon Theatres (later Rank Organisation Ltd) 1938, Secretary 1938, Joint Managing Director 1942, Managing Director 1948-62, Deputy Chairman 1951-62; Director, Rank Foundation 1953-93; Kt 1971; Joint Chairman, Rank Xerox 1957-72, Joint President 1972-83; Chief Executive, Rank Organisation plc, Subsidiary and Associated Companies 1962-74, Chairman 1962-77, President 1977-83; Chairman, fund-raising committee, Westminster Abbey Appeal 1973- 85; CVO 1985; married 1926 Joan Buckingham (one son), 1947 Marion Gavid (two daughters), 1954 Dinah Sheridan (marriage dissolved 1965), 1976 Mrs Felicity Rutland; died 27 May 1993.

THE BUSINESS career of John Davis has been well documented, but there were many other sides to 'JD', writes Peter Lendrum.

All great leaders, whether military, political, or industrial are rarely universally loved and admired, particularly by those who who do not know them or who have crossed swords through disagreements or their own failures. JD was a man greatly respected, but he instilled a sense of fear if you should not meet his exacting standards - and there were none higher. By his own example, he extracted a workload from his colleagues of which they themselves did not know they were capable. The satisfaction of knowing a job was well done, did not result in commendation, but by instruction to improve on it in a similar situation the next time round.

Davis did not maintain standards, he set them. There was no second best nor second chance. All those close to him found him a great companion, loyal and in private, a man who could willingly laugh at life. His compassion and generosity have never been publicly acknowledged. So many members of the company who became ill, were bereaved or fell on hard times were invariably helped through his intervention. They never knew.

Davis enjoyed life. On one visit to Tokyo I was summoned to his hotel suite at about 6.30am - not early by his standards. The door was opened and a stern-faced Sir John asked: 'Is there any reason you should not be fired for your appalling behaviour last night?' Before I could reply, he continued: 'Two of you went out last night and I understand visited about 10 night-clubs, rolling back here in the small hours. Why was I not invited?' 'Not possible,' I replied. 'We were just making a reconnaissance so that we could take you to the best club tonight.'

Also little known is his unique contribution as chairman of the fund- raising appeal for the restoration of the fabric of Westminster Abbey. This appeal never went public, yet raised over pounds 10m by the time he retired. The exterior of the abbey today is one tribute to his memory. His permanent memorial is a stone carving of his name high on the north wall alongside that of the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the appeal organisation.

(Photograph omitted)