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Ernest Harrison

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Subject: Racal, Stanley Hollis, Henry Tandey, Chubb Locks, Mountbatten Medal, Deaths in February 2009
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Ernest Harrison

Sir Ernest Harrison OBE
Born Ernest Thomas Harrison
11 May 1926
Hackney, east London, England
Died 16 February 2009(2009-02-16) (aged 82)
Surrey, England
Occupation Chairman, Racal

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

Early life

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]


Main article: Racal

Harrison joined Racal, then based in Neasden,[1] as an accountant on a salary of £650,[4] but 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]

  • Negotiation of a British Army battlefield radio contract which secured the future of Racal
  • Led the merger between Racal and British Communications Corporation, that bolstered Racal’s radio business
  • Bought Decca in 1980 in competition from General Electric, the rival British company led by Arnold Weinstock
  • Buying the British Rail Telecommunications network, to form the basis of Racal Telecom
  • Creation and spin-out of Vodafone
  • Stopping the proposed takeover by Williams Holdings by demerging Chubb
  • Investing in National Lottery company Camelot Group
  • Selling Racal Telecom to Global Crossing
  • Selling 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 an accumulated total wealth of £40 million.[1]

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.[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 more successful than his two great competitors in business who both gained enoblement, Lord Weinstock and Lord Hanson.[3]

Personal life

Harrison married Berly 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 a Spanish-style hacienda built on a 15 acres (0.061 km2) estate in Surrey,[4] where he indulged his hobby of growing tropical flowers, including bananas.[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]


External links

  • Obituary at The Daily Telegraph
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