The corridors of power …

The peer gave short shrift to one man who was impertinent enough to ask a question. Like many small shareholders at agms, the questioner launched into a waffling preamble, at which point Lord Hanson commanded him to ask his question, not make a speech. He was clearly not a man to suffer fools gladly.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore. Tiny Rowland of Lonrho, who died in 1998, merrily flew round Africa in his Gulfstream jet, courting heads of state. He ran Lonrho like a private fiefdom, but his shareholders idolised him.

Professor Sir Roland Smith, who died a year ago, was similarly inclined to speak his mind. As chairman of House of Fraser, he famously told Rowland, who was stalking the stores group, to ‘get your tanks off my lawn’.

A few of the great business figureheads are, happily, still here to share their reminiscences. Lord King, the combative former British Airways chairman, is 86. Lord Forte, who fought a long battle to win the Savoy, only to have it snatched away by Gerry Robinson of Granada, is 96 next week.

Many of them were forged in that great roller-coaster decade, the 80s, when red tape was minimal and making money was what counted. Industry still has its great leaders, men like Lord Browne at BP or Niall FitzGerald, recently of Unilever, but it’s not quite the same.

Lord Hanson’s death marks the end of an era. But younger readers might well ask: ‘Hanson? Was he in the band?’

Jon Ashworth, business features editor at The Times.

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