Obituary Sir Arthur G. Norman

The following obituary was published in The Times on 19th Oct 2011.

Sir Arthur Norman - Industrialist who oversaw the growth of the De La Rue printing group and espoused environmental causes.

Sir Arthur Norman was a captain of postwar British industry. He revitalised De La Rue, now the world's largest security printing group, served as president of the Confederation of British Industry and later championed environmental causes. A forthright leader, he was widely respected within business circles for his far-sighted and, at times, unorthodox thinking, as well as his down-to-earth manner.

As head of the CBI in from 1968 to 1970 he called for wage restraint and clashed with Barbara Castle, then Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, and the unions over industrial relations policy.

In 1969 the White Paper In Place of Strife had proposed that trade unions be required to hold a ballot before calling strikes and suggested that an industrial board be set up to settle disputes. However, to Norman’s annoyance, the Wilson Government eventually reached an agreement with the TUC to back away from such proposals.

Norman spent much of his career with De La Rue, developing it into a diversified group whose products ranged from Formica, playing cards and postage stamps to its long-standing business of printing of banknotes, and later passports. One motive for this diversification was the expectation that demand for banknotes would dry up with the advent of cashless technology.

Ironically, perhaps, the printing of banknotes continues to be the group's main source of revenue.

As managing director, 1953-77, and chairman, 1964-87, Norman played a central role in building De La Rue into a large conglomerate with a considerable international presence. The company was quick to embrace new technology - it was responsible for the first cash machine, at a branch of Barclays in Enfield in 1967, and the printing of cheques - and he did not hesitate to leave the less profitable businesses such as playing cards (sold to Waddington), Formica and stamps.

In 1977, after initial reluctance, Norman accepted an invitation to direct his talents to improving the fortunes of the WWF-UK, set up in 1961. He had at first resisted the invitation, from Sir Peter Scott, its founder, to help the fund, claiming he was too fond of shooting.

He was twice chairman of the fund, from 1977 to 1984, taking over from Scott, and again from 1987 to 1990, overseeing the group as it broadened its focus from conservation into broader environmental causes. His support proved to be a boon for the fund in raising money, particularly from industry. In 1984, with Sir Derek Barber, he founded the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED). The pair persuaded Patrick Jenkin, the Environment Secretary (and now Lord Jenkin of Roding), to help to fund CEED. Jenkin recalled that he was impressed by their argument that industry and the environment were not in conflict and were, in fact, complementary: without industry there would be no resources to look after the environment, and if industry failed to protect the environment it would lose public support.

Jenkin also later recalled that the two were "well ahead of their time in making a claim for sustainable development" - CEED was set up long before the publication of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development's Brundtland Commission report in 1987, which coined an oft-cited definition of sustainable development. Under Norman CEED grew to be a largely self-sufficient group promoting industry hubs with an environmental focus and undertaking work on behalf of government and industry.

Arthur ("Gerry") Gordon Norman was born in 1917, the second son of a Somerset farmer. He attended Blundell's School, Tiverton, where he was top of his class, played in all the sports teams and was head boy in his final year. When his father could not afford his final year, his housemaster met the shortfall.

His history master, a cousin of Bernard Westall, the managing director of Thomas De La Rue & Co, suggested to the young Norman that he consider industry as a career. He joined the company in 1934. A few years later it won a lucrative contract to print banknotes for Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government in China, a deal bigger than anything it had undertaken previously. Norman, then only 21, was sent to Shanghai to buy land, build a factory and set up a banknote printing business disguised as a playing card factory, under the noses of the Japanese, who had surrounded Shanghai, and smuggle the notes out in dust carts.

Norman managed to set up the factory within six months and hide workers by giving them accommodation within the factory. When printing paper was discovered by the Japanese he had the presence of mind to offer the factory incinerator to destroy it, saving much of it in the process.

The factory was closed after the German invasion of France, and its equipment was smuggled out of China to Rangoon. Soon afterwards Norman resigned to join the RAF and trained as a pilot in the US. He was posted to 295 Squadron which towed gliders, flying agents and equipment into occupied France, Italy and Morocco. He was awarded a DFC when his aircraft was attacked by several Junkers 88s over the Bay of Biscay and his gunners managed to shoot one down before he escaped from them.

In his report of the encounter, he wrote: "The first attack on the Halifax developed before cloud cover could be reached, one E/A [enemy aircraft] attacking from the port beam, another being engaged by the rear gunner on the port quarter, while a third was preparing to attack from the starboard bow. Corkscrewing evasive action was immediately commenced ... after which the Halifax attempted to turn in towards the attack from the starboard bow, which was being pressed home determinedly."

By the end of the war he had been promoted to wing commander and, while based in India, was awarded a Bar to his DFC. He rejoined De La Rue in 1946. He was made a director in 1951 and then managing director in 1953, at 36, after the company's bank insisted that young leadership be injected into the firm.

Norman was also managing director and vice-chairman of the Sun Life Assurance Society, chairman of the Tilling Group and a director of British Airways, Kleinwort Benson and SKF. He was chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation in Europe, a member of the Nature Conservancy Council and treasurer of the International Institute of Environment and Development. He was appointed CBE in 1966 for his services to industry and advanced to KBE in 1969.

His love of sport continued throughout his life and he regularly played in a variety of industry tournaments. He had a passion for horse racing and partowned several horses. In his last years he moved to Australia to be closer to his two daughters and one of his sons.

Norman’s wife, Peggy, died in 1982.

He is survived by two daughters and three sons.

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The following obituary was published on the WWF website, here, on 5th Oct 2011.

Sir Arthur Gordon Norman, who has died at the age of 94, was a Second World War flying ace, a successful businessman and a committed conservationist who was twice chairman of the board of Trustees of WWF-UK.

Born in 1917, he was educated at Blundell's School in Tiverton. During his war service with the RAF, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, and rose to the rank of Wing Commander.

After the war, he embarked upon an illustrious business career – he was managing director, and later chairman, of the De La Rue Company, and managing director and later vice-chairman of the Sun Life Assurance Society. He also held executive positions with the Tilling Group and the Kleinwort Benson Group. Between 1968 and 1970 he was president of the CBI.

Sir Arthur – known as Gerry – devoted more than 20 years of his life to voluntary work for WWF and other organisations concerned with nature and the environment.

He was twice chairman of our trustees – from 1977 (when he took over from our founder chairman, Sir Peter Scott) to 1984, and again from 1987 to 1990. He was also chairman of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation in Europe, chairman of the UK Centre for Economic & Environmental Development, and treasurer of the International Institute of Environment and Development. In addition, he was a member of the Nature Conservancy Council. Appointed CBE in 1966, he was knighted in 1969.

“Sir Arthur will be remembered for a life of distinction in many fields, not least his long-term commitment to nature and the environment,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF. ”We held him in great esteem and are particularly grateful for his unstinting work over 10 years as our chairman, and proud of his long-standing association with WWF-UK.”

Sir Arthur Norman CBE, KBE, DFC. Businessman and Trustee Emeritus of WWF-UK. Born 18 February 1917, died 30 September 2011