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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 12:07 GMT
Best of British business: Morris

BBC News Online is inviting readers to vote for Britain's greatest business figure. This is the case for William Morris.
You wouldn't know it from his modest house near Henley in Oxfordshire.

William Morris (Lord Nuffield)
But to this day William Morris remains Britains biggest benefactor.

He made his fortune bringing motoring to the masses.

William Morris left school at 14. Nine months after becoming an apprentice, he had his own bicycle shop.

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He began to fix motorcycles, graduating to mending and selling cars.

He was convinced if he bought in all the parts, he could build a better car - and he did.

The bull-nosed Morris Oxford made its debut at his new Cowley factory in 1913.

By the late 1930s, Morris was Europe's most modern car maker - and William Morris had become Lord Nuffield.

Perfectionism

Lord Nuffield married in 1904, but never had children. His bedroom shows how frugal he was.

The story was he had car carpet laid on the floor. He even kept his tools in there.

But what marked him out wasn't so much his engineering skills, but his relentless perfectionism - his ability to see new ways to achieve the desired end result, often through negotiation, takeovers and endless cost cutting.

As he grew older, and with no son and heir, Lord Nuffield devoted his energies to philanthropy, supporting countless hospitals and welfare projects and, notably, endowing Nuffield College Oxford.

But in a class-conscious age, he remained an outsider. He felt he was never quite accepted by the Oxford establishment.

Wouldn't talk to the designer

The Minor is the car Morris is rememberd for. A staggering 1.6 million were produced.

But by the late 1940s, Lord Nuffield had little to do with model development. He hated the Morris Minor car and wouldn't even talk to the designer Alec Issigonis for 11 years.

Yet nothing can detract from Lord Nuffield's legacy.

He was the benevolent outsider who made a fortune transforming car-making. And then gave most of that fortune away to others.


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