Obituary: Sir Owen Aisher
Saturday 02 October 1993
OWEN AISHER was well known for urging those who approached him for career advice to 'aim to leave this world a little better than when you came into it'. To say that he accomplished that goal himself is a monumental understatement of the achievements of a man who, despite leaving school at an early age, was the co-founder and driving force behind the creation of Marley, the internationally known building materials company, and its chairman for 37 years, from 1945 to 1982.
In the early 1930s Aisher developed with his father a method of manufacturing concrete roofing tiles, which they produced and sold in the Kent area. Marley Ltd was established in 1934, and roofing tiles remained a core element of the business in the years of diversification and expansion that followed.
During the war, Marley produced parts for the Mulberry Harbours vital to the success of the D- Day landings in Normandy. At the end of hostilities Owen Aisher took over as chairman from his father. He re-established the company's production capacity for roofing tiles and moved into the production of plastics for the building industry. He had visited plastic flooring plants in the US during the war and set up a flooring-tile plant at Harrietsham, near Maidstone, in 1948, eventually making Marley a leader in the new industry. In the 1960s Marley started producing plastic rainwater gutters and piping, plastic plumbing and underground drainage, and aircraft parts.
Aisher was a classic example of an entrepreneur but he hated that term and characteristically described himself as a tile manufacturer. Lack of formal education never hampered his ambitions. He inherited from his father the ability to read widely, urged on with such aphorisms as 'to read much is to learn much', 'to learn much is to know much' and 'knowledge is power'. He augmented his reading with an equal zest for travel and meeting people in their own environment, always with the inbred instinct to learn from what he observed, to cultivate ideas for new products to be transformed into jobs and to profit Marley and its employees.
People were an essential ingredient of Aisher's way of life and he was never known to dine alone. He was adamant that employees were the most important part of any manufacturing company. Unlike the popular image of a successful industrialist, Aisher did not regard himself as a delegator but rather as a leader by example. He preferred to be involved at all levels and liked nothing better than a day out with a salesman to get the real feel of a business; many a customer was surprised by the quality of a Marley salesman's assistant despite their arriving in a very modest car.
Innovation Aisher regarded as an equally important element for success in industry and he frequently smiled in recent years when this quality was publicised as if it was a new discovery.
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