Obituary: Gordon Tourlamain

Gordon Tourlamain, Avid yachtsman and entrepreneur behind world's biggest generator-renting company. Picture: Contributed
Gordon Tourlamain, Avid yachtsman and entrepreneur behind world's biggest generator-renting company. Picture: Contributed
Share this article
Have your say

Born: 24 November, 1944, in London. Died: 29 July, 2014, in London, aged 69.

GORDON Tourlamain was one of Scotland’s leading businessmen and entrepreneurs, best known for co-founding the British branch of Aggreko, the Glasgow-based company which is now the world’s largest temporary power provider, renting out electricity generators. Starting out in a Nissen hut in Dalreoch, Dumbarton, he helped turn Aggreko into a much-sought-after company in times of natural emergencies worldwide, including power cuts in New York and California, and at countless sporting events from the Superbowl, several summer and winter Olympics, the recent Commonwealth Games and the upcoming Ryder Cup. It also provided the generator power behind the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic in 1997.

Mr Tourlamain was also a passionate yachtsman, latterly owning the £2.5 million luxury catamaran Cattitude, which he had recently sailed through the Panama Canal and on to Tahiti, Australia and New Zealand. The yacht, with four double cabins, a jacuzzi, two dining areas, a chef and an open-air cinema, was based in the South Pacific as a charter vessel for the wealthy when he was not using it.

He had sailed across the Atlantic many times, mostly on a series of previous yachts he had always named Sunbird and were based at Ardrossan, Ayrshire.

He and his wife Liz were prominent members of the Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club near their home in the village of Rhu, near Helensburgh, where they held their wedding reception on the lawns of the historic yachting clubhouse on the banks of the Clyde estuary three years ago. He was also an accomplished pilot, owning several small aircraft including a six-seater Piper Seneca.

Although born in London, Mr Tourlamain moved to Scotland at the age of 11 and always considered himself very much Scottish. He was a Formula One motor racing buff and helped sponsor his friend David Coulthard from the early days of his driving career and on through his FI successes. His wife Liz had booked a surprise holiday and race tickets to Abu Dhabi this November to mark his 70th birthday, which would have been on the day after the Grand Prix.

Mr Tourlamain, who spent his retirement between Rhu, the marina town of Calvía in Mallorca and St. Petersburg, Florida, was for a decade a director of the Christian Salvesen transport and logistics (and former whaling) company after the latter acquired Aggreko in 1984 and went public the following year. During his career, he was a director of 28 different companies, including Aggreko Generators Ltd, Aggreko Holdings Ltd, Aggreko UK Ltd, Aggreko International Projects Ltd, Rhu Marina Ltd, and Clyde Marina Ltd. He also ran Sunbird (UK) Ltd, which sells yachts and runs marinas in Scotland and on the Mediterranean.

As non-executive chairman, he was also heavily involved in the Clyde Broadcast Products company, based in the Clydebank Business Park, which makes and installs equipment for broadcasters throughout the UK and beyond.

Wherever he was in the world, except when he was sailing to some exotic location, he attended the company’s monthly board meetings in Clydebank, where colleagues said his experience in developing overseas markets was a key factor in Clyde Broadcast’s growth into the international arena, notably in East and West Africa.

“Gordon was very much part of the Clyde team, and was always available for advice and support, mostly of a highly practical nature, and was never shy to air his own personal views – expressed in his own inimitable manner,” one colleague said.

“His sense of fairness and ‘correctness’ was appreciated by the many people who knew him both in professional and social capacities and his significant contribution to the company will not be forgotten.”

Gordon Owen Tourlamain was born in North London in 1944 to Walter Tourlamain and his wife Mabel (née Wetton).

When he was 11, the family moved to Helensburgh, where his father set up a carbon paper-producing company, a lucrative business in the era of typewriters and before the rude arrival of Xerox photocopiers.

Gordon attended Strathallan independent boarding school in Forgandenny outside Perth before joining the chartered accountancy firm Thompson McClintock. He soon realised, however, that accountancy was not for him so he set up his own business, based in a Second World War Nissen hut in Dalreoch, close to the river Clyde in Dumbarton.

In 1971, he realised the practical rather than just the political dangers of bubbling industrial strife in the UK, notably involving the coal miners.

It was then that his entrepreneurial skills shone through. Borrowing £20,000 from a local bank manager who saw his potential – it would be more like six figures today – he went to Ireland to buy every second-hand diesel generator that he could get his hands on, shipped them to Dumbarton and sold them at a healthy profit as companies throughout the UK sought to keep the wheels of industry turning.

In 1973, Mr Tourlamain and an English partner, David Yorke, became aware of a little-known generator-providing Dutch company called Aggreko, which had been launched in 1962, and they soon saw its potential. (The name Aggreko comes from the Dutch word for generator).

The two men obtained the rights to open a UK subsidiary – Aggreko (Scotland Ltd) – on Birch Road, Dumbarton, and soon saw their subsidiary outpace the Dutch parent company. They turned Aggreko into a global player, with its head office now in Bothwell Street, Glasgow.

The success of Aggreko (Scotland) Ltd coincided with development of North Sea oil, which Mr Tourlamain was quick to exploit by forming a strategic alliance with an Aberdeen-based company.

As part of the Salvesen group, Mr Tourlamain relocated with his wife Pauline to the US, where his entrepreneurial skills helped develop Aggreko at a frenetic pace, making acquisitions, launching start-ups and expanding the business beyond the old diesel generators to include super-quiet generators, chilling equipment, air-conditioning and ultimately oil-free air compressors.

North America would go on to provide the majority of Aggreko’s revenue, with expansion to China, India, Singapore, Australia and beyond. and the rest of Asia following.

“Gordon was a very charming and humble man with a heart as big as the ocean,” his wife Liz said. “Whether in his business or his personal life, anyone he came in contact with was the better for it. He was caring and generous and will be missed by all.”

Mr Tourlamain’s first wife Pauline died several years ago. He married his second wife, Elizabeth Kelly, originally from Balornock, Glasgow, in June 2011. He had no children. He is survived by his wife Liz, of Rhu, his sister Margaret, brother John, nephew Guy and niece Collette.