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Sunday, July 26, 1998 Published at 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK


Tiny in name, not in nature

Tiny Rowland sold The Observer in 1994

Tiny Rowland was a larger than life multi-millionaire businessman who built his fortune in the gold mines of Africa

He moved to Britain, bought The Observer newspaper and then transformed Lonrho into one of Britain's largest companies.

However he was perhaps he was best known for losing a long-fought battle with Mohamed al-Fayed to acquire the Harrods department store.

He was born Roland Fuhrhop in India in 1917 in a British detention camp. He was the son of a German trader and English mother.

After World War One the Fuhrhops were refused entry to England and settled in Hamburg, Germany. He was said to have been nicknamed "Tiny" by his nanny because of his size. He briefly joined the Hitler Youth in the 1930s.

His father, who hated Hitler, sent him to boarding school in England.

Interned during World War II

After leaving school at 18 he went to work for his uncle and on his 22nd birthday took his uncle's surname - Rowland.

He was conscripted into the British Army during World War One in a non-combatant post, but spent part of the war in a British PoW camp after repeatedly trying to secure his father's release.

[ image: A tycoon whose business partners often became enemies]
A tycoon whose business partners often became enemies
When he was 30, Tiny Rowland headed off to Rhodesia buying two farms and dealing in mining interests.

He became chief-executive of Lonrho in 1962 and turned the company from mining and farming roots into a multinational conglomerate adding oil pipelines, plantations and motor franchises.

He gained powerful friends, especially among newly-independent African leaders and it was said he had better African contacts than MI5.

However, his powerful personality and unpredictability led to him being seen as a maverick and an outsider, never fully accepted by the establishment.

Tiny Rowland was quoted as saying: "You can never have enough enemies."

And he had some well-publicised clashes:

  • He had a long-running battle with Mohamed al-Fayed over control of Harrods

  • Clashed with British governments over foreign policy

  • Criticised oil companies BP and Shell for sanctions-busting in Rhodesia

  • Destroyed Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond who made a takeover bid for Lonrho

  • Defeated Lonrho directors who sought to wrest control of the company from him in the early 1970s.

  • Lost control of Lonrho in 1993 to German businessman Dieter Bock who outmanoeuvered him.

Loved by shareholders for his ability to generate profits he always loved a good fight.

His falling-out with Mohamed al-Fayed over the control of Harrods was thought to cost him £20m and despite it publicly being resolved in 1993, disputes over a safety deposit box continued right up until his death.

By 1994, in his mid-seventies Tiny Rowland was ousted from Lonrho whose phenomenal growth he had overseen.

Man of 'vision'

DTI inspectors once described him as a man with "vision, negotiating ability, determination and personality in unusual measure with unbounded energy to apply his talents".

And he was widely respected in Africa. In 1996, Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order of Good Hope - South Africa's highest honour.

Despite mixing with the great of good in Britain though, he was never honoured.

He guarded his privacy, with no photograph ever being published of him with his wife Josie and three daughters and son. He had homes in London, Buckinghamshire and Mexico, and a yacht in the Mediterranean.

His personal wealth was huge and estimated at anywhere between £150m and £650m when he died.

A family friend said he died at a London clinic on Saturday morning with his family by his bedside.

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