Obituary: Tony Deakin

From: The Times, Thursday 24 April 2003

TONY DEAKIN was a 35-year veteran of British Petroleum, who was appointed to lead BP Southern Africa (BPSA) during the transition to the new South African Government under Nelson Mandela. A charismatic and politically astute leader, Deakin forged contacts with the new administration at the highest level and after regular breakfast meetings with the outgoing President, F. W. de Klerk, he quickly became known throughout the South African business world as “the Afrikaans-speaking Englishman”.

While chairman and chief executive of BPSA, Deakin led the group through a period of external political transformation and was responsible for the selection of a multiracial management team to take the helm of BPSA on his departure.It was as chairman of BPSA that he achieved his greatest business successes, helping to consolidate BP’s position as the major refiner and marketer in the sub-Sahara. He believed deeply that firm leadership at all levels of operations was a key feature of success, and strove to motivate all the ethnic groups in his employment.

But it was in the mid-1980s, as managing director of BP Africa, that he developed a deep understanding of the complex issues involved in multiracial Africa. In this post he travelled extensively in 40 African countries. Tribal leaders were always somewhat taken aback that he only had one wife to accompany him.

Throughout his career he held many senior executive appointments, as BP grew from a nationalised company to the largest British entry on the FTSE 100. An Englishman by birth, he spent the vast majority of his career in overseas postings. He mastered the Afrikaans language in order to be able to relate to the Afrikaner people. An avid reader of the leading Afrikaans paper Die Burger, he was appointed to the board of governors of the University of Cape Town. He and his wife, Daphne, developed a wide circle of South African friends from all walks of life, and across all ethnic divides.

In 1995, on his retirement from BP and his departure from South Africa, he was called on by Nelson Mandela to discuss the achievements of his directorship and the future prospects for British oil interests. He was subsequently appointed CBE for services to British commercial interests in Southern Africa.

George Anthony Hartley Deakin was born in Pershore, Worcestershire, the son of a fruit farmer who was the National Farmers’ Union wartime leader. His father was killed in a car accident in 1943, leaving his mother to raise him after the family firm went bust during the war.

Through trust funds, George was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, Sherborne School and Trinity College, Oxford. As a National Service cavalry officer in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars (Queen Mary’s Own), he was deployed on border-patrol duties in northern West Germany and completed the Arctic warfare officers’ course in Norway in 1956. At Oxford he read law, and he subsequently qualified as a barrister at Gray’s Inn. He helped to pay his way through university by working on the Trans-Canada pipeline as a navvy during vacations.

After marrying Daphne in 1962, Deakin took his first job with BP in its supply department, where he worked primarily on oil logistics and contracts. In 1966 his talent was recognised and he was sponsored by BP to study for an MBA at Insead, the European business school. He returned to BP and several overseas postings, including that of president of BP Belgium. In the United States, while president of BP North America Trading, he had to declare force majeure to his US customers when BP assets in Nigeria were nationalised because of Margaret Thatcher’s perceived intransigence over Zimbabwe.

On retirement in 1995 he returned to his home in Cambridge and was appointed chairman of Addenbrooke’s NHS Trust. He relished the new challenge of a public service role and was able to give the hospital his many years of business expertise.

As a keen dinghy sailor he was a driving force behind the South African Laser World Championship in Cape Town in 1996, and became vice-commodore at the Overy Staithe sailing club in Norfolk. He was a helmsman in the Laser Master Class at the World Championship in Tenerife in 1998, and won sailing cups all over the North Norfolk coast. A passionate ski tourer he completed the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt in appalling weather at the age of 63.

He died falling into a crevasse above Saas-Fee, Switzerland while ski-touring.

He is survived by his wife Daphne, and by two sons and two daughters.

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