Two people I liked, passed away. One is the beautiful hollywood actress, Suzanne Plesshette (and her famous husky voice). She died at age 82 and the other is british management guru and former chairman of ICI. John Harvey-Jones who died at age 83. I reproduce below the obituary of Sir John harvey-Jones as it appeared in the Economist:
Jan 17th 2008 From The Economist print edition
Sir John Harvey-Jones, manager extraordinaire, died on January 9th, aged 83
IN THE winter of 1946-47, when ice and snow lay thick across Europe, John Harvey-Jones found himself in charge of bands of Germans and Russians dismantling Wilhelmshaven docks. The docks were to be shipped to Russia as war reparations. Naturally, the two squads of workers hated each other. Every advance was followed by slippage and obstruction before, at long last, the job was done. Mr Harvey-Jones, then a young naval lieutenant, was there because he spoke both languages. It sowed the seeds of a career in man-management.
He was born two years before Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was formed in 1926, and died within days of the disappearance of ICI as an independent company after its takeover by a Dutch competitor last year. When he became chairman in 1982 the company was making a loss, bleeding heavily from the harsh effects of Margaret Thatcher's economic policies on British manufacturing. Industrial customers for its plastics, paints and pigments were shrinking or going bust. Sir John knew whom to blame, once describing the prime minister as British manufacturing's greatest handicap.
His hair was long and scruffy, his ties ludicrous and his manner jovial bordering on Falstaffian; a board meeting, for him, was a debate, punctuated by gales of his maniacal laughter. Few were better at the brisk summing-up and the clear, no-nonsense decision. He could not have been more unlike the dull, grey-suited types in most British boardrooms. The top job at ICI fell to him after a tussle as his predecessor sought a second term; roaring in, he trimmed the bloated bureaucracy and tried to make the company more go-ahead. By the time he stepped down in 1987, it was back in profit. The business cycle accounted for much of that, but Harvey-Jones magic had made the difference too.
That got him noticed. His biggest impact, however, came when he presented “Troubleshooter”, a pioneering BBC TV series that aimed to interest the general public in the nitty-gritty of running a business. Before long he became the best known boss in the country. Cameras in tow, he would breeze into a company, dispensing blunt criticism, bonhomie and brisk advice in equal portions. The series attracted 3m viewers, outshining stodgier business programmes, though with none of the cruelty attending “Dragons' Den”. Sir John was sharp in order to be kind.
He did not always get it right. Had Morgan, a specialist maker of old-fashioned, hand-built sports cars, taken his advice to modernise and expand, it would have gone bust in the recession of the early 1990s. Instead, it largely stuck to its niche market and thrives to this day. Sir John combined his TV career with dozens of non-executive roles, including—from 1989 to 1994—chairman of The Economist. When he took up that job, he invited the then CEO out to dinner, asked him what his vision was, and mauled him until, by coffee time, some sort of grand plan for the future had emerged. The Harvey-Jones mantra, both in management and in media, was the need to confront change as the only way to survive.
The hunter, not the hunted
Sir John's climb up the ICI ladder began in the 1950s, as a time-and-motion man at the huge petrochemicals complex at Wilton on Teesside, in north-east England. This site, the very symbol of post-war British industry with its dramatic floodlit skyline by the Tees, was the beating heart of the company, taking in oil and gas, brewing up and piping out the potions that supplied other ICI factories around the country. Later, as deputy chairman for petrochemicals, he tackled sour industrial relations and disjointed management at the plant. If workers at Wilton downed tools (and Sir John was quick to spot the stirrings of industrial unrest that were to lead to the “winter of discontent” in 1978-79), the whole company would grind to a halt within days. His job was to keep the site humming.
He was never an obvious candidate to lead this champion of industrial technology. He was neither an accountant nor a chemist; the only time he donned a white coat was in his early years at Wilton. Before that, he might have been a sailor. He went straight from Dartmouth College in Devon into the Royal Navy during the war, was torpedoed twice, and then went into submarines, typically opting to become the hunter rather than the hunted. After the war, with his German and Russian, he spent some time in the intelligence service “driving small boats in the Baltic”, as he put it. But management soon became his first love.
By the time he reached its boardroom, ICI was rapidly becoming less imperial, less chemical and less industrial. The days of sprawling chemical companies were over; investors wanted more focused, individual businesses. The firm started to unravel less than ten years after Sir John's departure, when a threatened bid from two corporate raiders exposed its weaknesses. An expensive foray into speciality chemicals loaded it with too much debt. Even Wilton had to be sold off to Americans. ICI dropped out of the FTSE 100 list of leading British companies, and may survive only as a brand. The bellwether of British industry, and the man who symbolised it, went out together.