Kenneth James William Mackay, businessman: born Uckfield, Sussex 27 December 1917; succeeded 1939 as third Earl of Inchcape; served 12th Royal Lancers and 27th Lancers 1939-45; Director, P & O Steam Navigation Co 1957-83, Chairman 1973-83, Chief Executive 1978-81; Chairman and Chief Executive, Inchcape plc 1958-82 (Life President); Chairman, Council for Middle East Trade 1963-65; President, Royal Society for India, Pakistan and Ceylon 1970-76; President, General Council of British Shipping 1976-77; Chairman, Glenapp Estate Company, Edinburgh 1979-94; Chairman, Inchcape Family Investment Ltd 1985- 94; married 1941 Mrs Aline Hannay (nee Pease; two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1954), 1965 Caroline Cholmeley Harrison (two sons, and one adopted son); died 17 March 1994.
KENNETH INCHCAPE was a businessman in the mould of his grandfather, James Mackay, first Earl of Inchcape, founder of the family's shipping and trading enterprises. Like his grandfather, he was chairman of the P & O shipping line, and from 1958 chairman of Inchcape and Co, a bringing together of the family businesses which, as Inchcape plc, is now one of the 100 largest companies in Britain.
He was born Kenneth Mackay at Uckfield, East Sussex, in 1917. He was educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied law. He succeeded as Earl of Inchcape, at the age of 22, on the death of his father, the second Earl. During the Second World War, he served in the 12th Lancers, who were heavily involved in the evacuation from Dunkirk, and later in Italy with the 27th Lancers.
After the war, Inchcape was for a time part of the British Mission in Vienna but, in 1946, he went to India to work with the family businesses, which included the shipping agents Mackinnon Mackenzie and Binny & Co and the general managing agents MacNeill & Co and Barry & Co which had been built up by his grandfather. Inchcape believed that it was vital that he should know these companies and their employees well before taking control of them in London. They were then important within the economies of India, East Africa and the Persian Gulf. Once back in London, he realised that it was necessary to reorganise the various groups, particularly with the emergence of self-determination in those parts of the world in which the businesses were situated.
This led, in 1958, to the formation of Inchcape and Co Ltd, a company made up of trading and shipping enterprises, then with a market value on the Stock Exchange of pounds 2.5m, and with great names in its portfolio from East Africa (Smith, Mackenzie & Co) and from the Persian Gulf (Gray Mackenzie & Co) with a business reputation of honesty and straight dealing.
The company rapidly expanded with the acquisition of similar trading companies in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, and later in Europe and the United States. Lord Inchcape was Chairman from its incorporation and remained its Life President after his retirement.
He is probably best remembered as Chairman of P & O, of which his grandfather had been chairman after its merger with the British India Steam Navigation Company. In 1972, Inchcape, then a director of P & O, opposed a proposed merger of the construction company Bovis with P & O; , he felt the terms of the deal undervalued the shipping company. He received overwhelming support from shareholders and was appointed Chairman of P & O in 1973 from which position he took over Bovis in the following year for one-fifth of the 1972 valuation.
Kenneth Inchcape inherited his grandfather's great talent as a businessman and was always very proud of the first Earl's achievements, in building up successful companies in India.
Inchcape was a quiet and somewhat shy man but, when necessary, showed great strength of character and a determination to see that right was done. This was never more exemplified than in the P & O boardroom crisis in 1972.
He had an astonishing gift of remembering people and their names. For many years, he astounded P & O captains and chief engineers with his memory, especially those who had graduated from his old love, the British India Steam Navigation Company , founded by his grandfather in India. He remembered the names, and much of the family history, of tea- garden managers in Assam and of colliery managers in West Bengal, and always took the greatest interest in the welfare of the group's pensioners.
Inchcape insisted upon the formation of an Inchcape Society 'to look after the pensioners and to keep in touch with them'. He was always kind and most generous; a frequent question was 'Is that enough?' His sense of humour was acute and he delighted in teasing colleagues and friends.
The British India Steam Navigation Co was founded by Sir William Mackinnon Bt (1823-1893) and not by the first Earl of Inchcape as printed (obituary of The Earl of Inchcape, 26 March).
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