Monday, 21 January 2008

Sir John Harvey-Jones

As someone who has studied business-government relations in the chemical industry, I have read with interest the various obituaries of ICI's former head, Sir John Harvey-Jones. In summary they say:

* Although he greatly improved ICI's performance, some of the credit should go to his predecessor. He was fortunate with the business cycle and his venture into speciality chemicals was a mistake.
* His long hair and flamboyant ties are always mentioned.
* As are his criticisms of Mrs Thatcher's policies
* He is probably best remembered by the public for the television programme Troubleshooter in which he offered (not always good) advice to companies in trouble.

What no obituary has mentioned is his role in re-organising the European chemical industry federation, CEFIC, to make it more effective and give large firms a greater voice in its operations. It is now recognised as one of the most effective industrial lobbies in the EU.

ICI itself has now disappeared. It was, of course, a 'chosen instrument' and national champion, created with government encouragement in the 1920s. It was recognised as one of Britain's best performing companies. Interesting, then, that if Labour had been elected in 1951, they planned to nationalise the chemical industry.

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