Ernest Harrison

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Sir Ernest Harrison
Ernest Thomas Harrison

11 May 1926
Died16 February 2009(2009-02-16) (aged 82)
OccupationChairman, Racal

Sir Ernest Thomas Harrison OBE (11 May 1926 – 16 February 2009)[1] was an English businessman, best known as chairman of electronics company Racal and as the first chairman of its spun-out mobile telephony division, Vodafone.

Early life[edit]

Born in the Salvation Army Hospital in Hackney, a suburb of London, his father was a docker under the Casual Labour Scheme, while his mother was a seamstress making ties in an East End garment factory. The family moved to Holloway, where he was educated at Trinity Grammar School, Wood Green,[1] and he gained a lifelong love of Arsenal F.C..[2]

Evacuated at the start of World War II, in 1944 he joined the Fleet Air Arm in Canada, to perform his National Service.[3][4] On release, he trained as an accountant with Harker Holloway, qualifying in 1950. Wanting to get into industry he was turned down by Smiths Industries in Cricklewood, London.[4] After a brief spell at George Touche, he became the 13th employee of newly formed Racal.[2][3]


Harrison joined Racal, then based in Neasden,[1] as an accountant on a salary of £650,[4] and later held the positions of chief buyer, personnel director and contract negotiator. He joined the board in 1958, and as deputy managing director from 1961 helped Racal to obtain a stock market listing.[1] Harrison became chairman in 1966, when co-founder Ray Brown was lured away by the Ministry of Defence.[1] The major deals he undertook were:[2]

Under Harrison, £1,000 invested in Racal in 1961 would have been worth £14.5 million when he retired in 2000. Harrison received an estimated £25 million from the sale of Racal in 2000, and is estimated to have died with a wealth of £40 million.[1]

Charity and awards[edit]

Harrison was chairman of the Cancer Research Trust at the Royal Free Hospital. Appointed OBE for services to National Savings in 1972, he was knighted in 1981.[2] He was the first recipient in 1992 of the Mountbatten Medal.

A generous benefactor to the Conservative Party, and a friend and admirer of Margaret Thatcher, when Sir John Major put him up for a peerage, Prime Minister Tony Blair turned it down. Harrison was said to be more successful than his two great competitors in business who both gained ennoblement – Lord Weinstock and Lord Hanson.

Personal life[edit]

Harrison married Beryl Cole, with whom he had twin sons. After the marriage was dissolved in 1959, in 1960 he married Janie Knight, with whom he had a son and two daughters. Harrison kept a permanent suite at the Dorchester Hotel,[3] while the couple's main home was in Surrey.[4] His hobbies included growing tropical flowers.[1][2][3]

Harrison's love of football and racing resulted in both Racal and Vodafone placing major sponsorship in these sports. A member of the Jockey Club,[3] Harrison owned Polish Patriot, the European sprint champion of 1991; and Cacoethes, a contender for The Derby in 1989.[2]

A medal collector, Harrison presented the Victoria Cross won by Stanley Hollis for his bravery during the D Day landings to the Green Howards' regimental museum. Ten years later, he purchased, for the Green Howards, the Normandy hut which Hollis had attacked.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Sir Ernest Harrison: chairman of Racal Electronics". London: Daily Telegraph. 2009-02-18. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Sir Ernest Harrison". Daily Telegraph. 2009-02-22. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Brewerton, David (2009-02-22). "Sir Ernest Harrison". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  4. ^ a b c d Jim Levi. "Britain's High Priest of Shareholder Value". Retrieved 2010-06-29.

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