OBITUARY : Sir Maxwell Harper Gow

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The Independent Online
Maxwell Harper Gow made an outstanding contribution over 40 years to the Scottish and UK business scenes, notably through the family firm of Christian Salvesen, of which his Norwegian great-grandfather had been the founder. The company's dominant activity had been whaling. Harper Gow showed great flair in taking it into new and diverse businesses. The first of these was fishing, in which he directed Salvesen's efforts in pioneering the processing and freezing of fish at sea, a system that was extensively copied world-wide.

The involvement with frozen fish led to the development first of cold storage, in which the company became a world leader, and subsequently the very significant food distribution business which is still a major part of Salvesen's activities.

Further diversification into oilwell drilling, oilfield services and house-building gave the company a much broader base, on which its growth and profitability was built in the 1960s and 1970s. Harper Gow became chairman in 1964 and retired from active management in 1981, continuing as non-executive vice-chairman until 1987. He made an outstanding leader; he was fair-minded and generated enormous loyalty from all who worked with him.

Leonard Maxwell Harper Gow (LHMG to all at Salvesen's) was born in 1918 and educated at Rugby and Corpus Christi, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1939, before being commissioned into the Commandos. He had a fine war career, taking part in the Normandy landings under the command of Lord Lovat. He joined Salvesen's after the cessation of hostilities and, in keeping with company tradition, learnt the business at the "sharp end", spending some three seasons on the whaling grounds in the Antarctic.

Although dedicated to the company, Harper Gow developed a wide range of other business involvements. He was a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland for some 22 years and of the Scottish Widows' Fund and Life Assurance Society for a similar period. He strongly encouraged the early development of independent radio in Scotland through his chairmanship of Radio Forth. He also played a role in the broader business scene through support for the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the Institute of Directors.

Salvesen's connection with Norway and his own antecedents led to his being appointed Consul for Norway in 1949, a position he held for 40 years.

Harper Gow was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and encouraged Salvesen's to develop sponsorships. He was particularly keen on the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and was founder and benefactor of the Queen's Hall, the orchestra's "home".

His other interests extended to active membership of the Queen's Body Guard for Scotland, enthusiastic involvement in the Consular Corps and as founder of the Scottish Chapter of the Society of Knights Bachelor. He also took a keen interest in farming, horse racing and fishing. The home that he and his wife Lillan made in East Lothian was a happy place at which their many friends seemed ever welcome.

Barry E. Sealey

Leonard Maxwell Harper Gow, businessman: born 13 June 1918; MBE 1944; chairman, Christian Salvesen 1964-81, vice-chairman 1981-87; chairman, Scottish Widows' Fund and Life Assurance Society 1972-75; chairman, Radio Forth 1977-87; Kt 1985; chairman DFM Holdings 1985-89; married 1944 Lillan Kiaer (two sons, one daughter); died 1 January 1996.