"In style and manner, Haslam was a world apart from the abrasive MacGregor. A self-effacing, soft-spoken man with a distaste for pretension, Haslam seemed the ideal person to sweet-talk politicians and heal the wounds left by the 1984-5 miners' strike. But if the National Union of Mineworkers thought that he would be a soft touch, they were mistaken. For Haslam was not an appeaser or compromiser. He adhered to hard-headed business principles and had a knack of getting his own way. The first day Arthur Scargill came to see Haslam, the NUM leader brought his own Thermos flask so as not to sully his palate with refreshment from the enemy. Haslam, though, had the measure of his adversary; his approach was to allow Scargill to talk himself out and then to try to negotiate. Scargill eventually accepted the boss's tea and the two men established some kind of dialogue. Meanwhile, Haslam succeeded in carrying out one of the most far-reaching rationalisation programmes the industry had ever seen. The 1984 coal strike had been called over the proposed closure of just six pits. Yet, between 1986 and 1990, when he stood down as chairman, Haslam cut the number of pits from 170 to 70. By that time the industry was set to make a profit of £100 million, the first bottom-line surplus for 13 years, and was well on the way to privatisation.
"An only child, Robert Haslam was born at Bolton, Lancashire, on February 4 1923. Young Robert pushed the handcart for his father, who ran his own painting and decorating business. But his father was determined that his son should go on to better things and encouraged his academic interests... Sitting gloomily in a pub one evening, he struck up a conversation with a stranger who suggested Haslam should apply for a job at ICI. For the next 10 years, Haslam worked as a mining engineer with ICI's Nobel explosives division.... As chairman of ICI's fibres division in the early 1970s, Haslam pushed through a major retrenchment involving 7,000 redundancies across Europe; when he left the job in 1974, his colleagues conjured up a mock coat of arms for him featuring an axe. As personnel director in the mid-1970s, he created a model job assessment scheme for white collar workers, which was widely copied by other companies. "In 1980 Haslam was appointed deputy chairman alongside William Duncan and John Harvey-Jones. A year later Harvey-Jones got the job of chairman, and Haslam began to look around for something else to do.
"He was Mrs Thatcher's first choice to replace Sir Derek (later Lord) Ezra as National Coal Board chairman in 1982, but a brain haemorrhage ruled him out for a year, and Sir Ian MacGregor got the job. In 1983 he was headhunted for the top job at Tate & Lyle, a part-time appointment, and, later that year, was appointed part-time chairman of the British Steel Corporation, at the end of MacGregor's term there. Haslam oversaw the rationalisation of the steel industry, closing plants and reducing manpower through a process of patient negotiation. He impressed his management and workforce (and his political masters) with his resolution during the miners' strike. Unlike other nationalised industry chairmen who kept their heads below the parapet, Haslam spoke out against the NUM leadership, warning that they were attempting to forge a "suicide pact" with the steel unions. Out of fear or loyalty, the steelmen crossed the picket lines and stayed at work... When Haslam's term at British Coal came to an end in 1990, the then energy secretary, John (now Lord) Wakeham, tried to persuade him to stay on a little longer, but he declined. After being given a life peerage on his retirement, he took his place on the Conservative benches of the House of Lords. From 1990 to 1999, he was chairman of the British arm of the American merchant bank Wasserstein Perella.... He married first, in 1947, Joyce Quin, with whom he had two sons. She died in 1995, and he married secondly, in 1996, Elizabeth Sieff, the widow of Michael Sieff; she survives him."
Resources and articles
- telegraph Lord Haslam, organizational web page, accessed June 29, 2012.