Ronald Brech: Economist with a passion for his field


Toby Green
Sunday 07 October 2012 18:06

The career of Professor Ronald Brech was full of variety, but throughout it all his passion for economics – as well as life in general – remained undiminished.

A chairman of the Institute of Statisticians and someone who enjoyed great success in industry and the media, he also worked into his late 80s on teaching others about business and economics through video games.

Born in London in 1915 to an Austrian father – who, because of his nationality, was interned during the First World War – and Bavarian mother, Brech studied at the London School of Economics before work on his PhD was interrupted by the start of the Second World War. His time in the army was distinguished, and he was awarded the prestigious Belt of Honour while at Sandhurst as the best candidate in his class of prospective officers.

A member of the Royal Tank Regiment, he was later seconded into military intelligence. With his unit attached to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, his roles included liaising between Field Marshal Montgomery and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower, who, it is fair to say, were not the best of friends.

After the end of the war Brech was closely involved in the Allied's attempts to learn from the conflict, chairing an Anglo-American committee whose brief was examining the German war economy to find out why Germany had not won the war in 1941, and was then defeated. As well as serving on other government committees, he moved into the world of media, becoming assistant editor at The Economist between 1947 and 1952.

Another switch in his career saw him enter industry to head the economics and statistics department of Unilever. He produced for the consumer goods giant a report entitled Britain 1984, an innovative 25-year forecast for the British economy. A thorough, readable look into what the future could be like, it foresaw among other trends the shift towards luxury foods, drinks and consumer goods.

After leaving Unilever in the mid-1960s, Brech was involved in his first major attempt at portraying the worlds of business and economics for a wider audience. Running for 26 programmes on the new channel BBC2, The Fothergale Series, written and presented by Brech, followed the fortunes of the eponymous fictional company which had struck upon the ingenious idea of making disposable, one-wear shirts; each episode analysed the company's attempts to tackle a different business problem.

Around the same time he became Chairman of the Institute of Statisticians, having been Honorary Secretary for a number of years. The organisation later joined forces with the Royal Statistical Society.

An active Roman Catholic throughout his life, he was also in the early 1960s chairman of the Catholic international overseas development charity Progressio, then known as The Sword of the Spirit, and it was during his time that the charity was involved in setting up Cafod.

When running his own consultancy, which advised a number of major companies, Brech worked to get them to use such techniques as economic forecasting and risk analysis in their long-term planning. He was also an advocate of the value of integrity in management and the need for businesses to be thinking about their contribution to the social good.

In the 1980s, despite reaching an age when most are thinking of retirement, Brech threw himself into the emerging world of computing games. Hiring software developers, he created a number of educational titles for companies, universities and school students. Among them was Beat The Boss, a business simulation which at one point held 40 per cent of the schools market. Created around the game was a cross-country competition "The Young Business People of the Year", sponsored by Argos, in which hundreds of schools took part.

His work on computer games, which continued into the 2000s, was just one example of his long-lasting passion for life and new challenges. He was also a keen and adventurous traveller with his wife Margaret (better known as Peggy) and their five children, while at the age of 95, albeit with the help of a mobility scooter and cable car, he made it to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain, which he had climbed as a teenager. He took great pleasure in having such a large family; his children gave him 19 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Professor Ronald Brech, economist: born London 22 September 1915; married 1943 Margaret Barlow (five children); died London 23 August 2012.

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