Corporate giant and Thatcherite Lord Hanson dies

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THE ultimate 80s businessman and arch Thatcherite Lord Hanson has died from cancer. He was 82.

Lord Hanson built up his company, Hanson, into one of Britain’s most powerful companies in its time.

Lord Hanson set up Hanson in 1964 with his friend Gordon White, later Lord White. Between them they built an industrial empire worth nearly 11 billion.

In the 1980s, Hanson bid 2.5bn for Imperial Tobacco, and bought SCM Chemicals for 930 million.

Hanson prospered by acquiring poorly run, low-tech companies and turning them around.

Lord Hanson, who was once engaged to the actress Audrey Hepburn, was knighted in 1976. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made him a life peer in 1983 for his services to industry.

Lord Hanson was an outspoken right-winger and a major contributor to Conservative Party funds. He was one of the first British businessmen to earn more than a million pounds a year.

His domination of the corporate world epitomised the capitalist excesses of the Thatcher years and he was nicknamed "Lord Moneybags" by one tabloid newspaper.

During Imperial’s struggle against his unwanted takeover bid, a spokesman for the company said: "Lord Hanson buys companies well and sells companies well, but he manages them very badly. He buys, squeezes and goes on to the next one."

Lord Hanson made money work hard and shareholders were richly rewarded. An investment of 100 in his company in 1964 was worth 70,000 by 1986. Pre-tax profits rose every year until 1992. Between 1985 and 1990 the yield enjoyed by shareholders was estimated at 2.7bn.

But the recession of the early 90s caused growing numbers of investors to question the effectiveness of their philosophy.

Institutional investors began suspecting that Hanson had had its day after a failed bid for ICI in 1991.

When the unwieldy giant fell out of favour with investors, Lord Hanson, whose personal fortune was estimated at 100m, decided in 1996 to split it into four companies: Energy Group, Millennium Chemicals, Imperial Tobacco and Hanson plc.

The announcement was hailed as the end of an era characterised by Thatcherite excess and Lord Hanson retired the following year.

Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, said: "James Hanson will be remembered as one of the great British industrialists of recent times, who played a leading role in the economic regeneration of Britain.

"His determination and focus set an example and inspired many new entrepreneurs in Britain, but he was also an enormously distinguished citizen of our country who took a close interest in politics. He will be greatly missed."

Lord Young of Graffham, who was Trade and Industry Secretary during the late 1980s, described Lord Hanson as "a giant during his time".

"He really built himself up during the 60s and 70s at a time when frankly it wasn’t fashionable for people to build up good businesses," Lord Young said.

He said accusations that Lord Hanson was an asset stripper were inaccurate.

"Of course he had critics, because he had strong political views," he said.

"I think at the time he was a role model for many people starting up because here was a man who went out, started a group and built up a very big business."

Born on January 20, 1922, in the northern mill town of Huddersfield, James Edward Hanson began his career at a transport company inherited from his father, a wealthy entrepreneur.

With his brother Bill, he launched a transport business in Canada and later formed Jet Petroleum, sold to Conoco in the 50s for 12.5m.

He died at his home near Newbury, Berkshire in southern England, with his son Robert at his side.

Lady Hanson died from leukaemia in February this year, after 45 years of marriage.

Lord Hanson leaves one other son, Brook, and a stepdaughter, Karyn.