Obituary: Sir Gerald Elliot (LI 1937-42)

Sir Gerald Elliot (LI 1937-42), Chairman and Chief Executive of Christian Salvesen, the shipping, trawling and whaling business, died on Sunday 28th January 2018.

Sir Gerald Elliot was born in 1923. His father was a naval surgeon and his mother was the granddaughter of Christian Salvesen, who founded the firm. He went to prep school in Edinburgh before coming to Marlborough College in 1937. After leaving Marlborough, he enlisted in the Indian Army where he learnt to speak Urdu and Punjabi and to play the bagpipes! He rose to the rank of Captain.

When he left the army, he went to New College Oxford, for which he had won a scholarship prior to his time in the army, to read philosophy, politics and economics. It was here that he met his wife Margaret, with whom he would go on to have three children; John (C3/TU 1965-69), Katie and Henry (TU 1970-74).

He was persuaded to join the family company, Christian Salvesen, in 1948 and was made partner in 1955. He was Managing Director from 1973-81 and chairman from 1981 until he retired in 1988. He even spent four seasons on a whaling ship in the seas of South Georgia in his early years at the firm. He worked closely with the International Whaling Commission on conserving whaling stock and with the Soviet authorities on quota agreements in the 1960s. He wrote a book on the history of whaling in which he expressed his passion for the industry citing countries who signed up to quotas but did not stick to them as the cause of its demise.

The company stopped whaling in 1963 and, under his leadership, the company diversified into North Sea drilling, trawlers and refrigeration systems for food storage and delivery. The company became one of the most important in the Scottish economy and Sir Gerald was a significant force in many of the pioneering changes and in the modernisation of the company’s corporate structure. In 1984, they acquired the power generating business, Aggreko.

He maintained his links to South Georgia and unwittingly played a part in the outbreak of the Falklands war when he sold, with UK government approval, two whaling platforms in Leith Port, South Georgia for scrap to an Argentina firm. The scrap metal firm were infiltrated by Argentine marines who then occupied the site, raised the Argentinian flag and invaded both South Georgia and the Falklands within two weeks.
In 1987, Aggreko was sold as a separate public company, against Sir Gerald’s vote, though the family retained interest in it. In 2007, Christian Salvesen was sold to the French logistics company Norbert Dentressangle.

Sir Gerald and his wife gave significant support to the arts in Scotland and were presented with the Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy in 2012. He was the Chairman of Scottish Opera from 1987 to 1993. After his retirement, he continued his passion for languages, adding to his repertoire of Spanish, Norwegian, Urdu and Punjabi by learning Persian and Arabic. He was also a generous benefactor to Marlborough College, his most recent gift supporting the restoration of the Memorial Hall.

Sir Gerald is survived by his wife, Margaret his three children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.