Sir Ernest Harrison
Ernest Thomas Harrison
11 May 1926
|Died||16 February 2009 (aged 82)|
Sir Ernest Thomas Harrison OBE (11 May 1926 – 16 February 2009) 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.
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, and he gained a lifelong love of Arsenal F.C..
Evacuated at the start of World War II, in 1944 he joined the Fleet Air Arm in Canada, to perform his National Service. 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. After a brief spell at George Touche, he became the 13th employee of newly formed Racal.
Harrison joined Racal, then based in Neasden, as an accountant on a salary of £650, 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. Harrison became chairman in 1966, when co-founder Ray Brown was lured away by the Ministry of Defence. The major deals he undertook were:
- Negotiated a British Army battlefield radio contract, which secured the future of the company
- Led the merger between Racal and British Communications Corporation, that bolstered Racal’s radio business
- Bought Decca in 1980 against competition from General Electric Company plc, the rival British company led by Arnold Weinstock
- Bought the British Rail Telecommunications network, to form the basis of Racal Telecom
- Creation and spin-out of Vodafone
- Stopped the proposed takeover by Williams Holdings by demerging Chubb
- Invested in National Lottery company Camelot Group
- Sold Racal Telecom to Global Crossing
- Sold Racal's remaining defence and industrial electronics divisions to Thomson-CSF of France for £1.8 billion
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.
Charity and awards
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. 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.
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, while the couple's main home was in Surrey. His hobbies included growing tropical flowers.
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, Harrison owned Polish Patriot, the European sprint champion of 1991; and Cacoethes, a contender for The Derby in 1989.
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.
- "Sir Ernest Harrison: chairman of Racal Electronics". London: Daily Telegraph. 2009-02-18. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- "Sir Ernest Harrison". Daily Telegraph. 2009-02-22. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Brewerton, David (2009-02-22). "Sir Ernest Harrison". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Jim Levi. "Britain's High Priest of Shareholder Value". salbu.co.za. Retrieved 2010-06-29.