Simon of Highbury, Lord


Simon of Highbury, Lord
▪ 1998

      When the Labour Party returned to power in Great Britain in May 1997, one of the most surprising and significant appointments to the new government was that of David Simon as the minister for trade and competitiveness in Europe. As chairman of British Petroleum (BP), Simon was one of Britain's leading industrialists. He had never been a politician, nor had he expressed any sympathy for a political party, and his only declared political passion was for the unity of Europe. In a country where it was rare for nonpoliticians to become ministers, Simon's appointment sent a clear message that the new Labour government would be more sympathetic to the European Union (EU) than the previous Conservative administration. Upon his appointment, Simon was immediately made a life peer, taking the title Lord Simon of Highbury, so that he could be a minister in the House of Lords.

      David Alec Gwyn Simon was born in London on July 24, 1939. Until he joined Prime Minister Tony Blair (Blair, Tony )'s (q.v.) government, his life story had been that of a conventional high-flying business executive. After graduating (1961) from the University of Cambridge (where he had studied modern languages), he joined BP as a management trainee and spent the next three decades climbing steadily through the company's ranks. His career was interrupted only by his time at INSEAD, the European Institute of Business Administration at Fontainebleau, near Paris. Simon's linguistic skills and European connections made him one of BP's leading figures in its strategy of expanding into Europe. He was promoted to chief executive of BP Oil International in 1982 and to BP Group managing director in 1986. Simon's devotion to the cause of European unity set him apart from the prevailing anti-European mood of those close to Margaret Thatcher, then Britain's prime minister. Despite his position as one of the country's leading industrialists, he was excluded from the informal network of business leaders close to Thatcher.

      In 1992 Simon became BP's chief executive. His slogan for running the company—"Purpose, Process, People"—reflected a belief that effective management should be inclusive rather than autocratic, persuading staff to work for a common cause rather than simply issuing orders and expecting them to be blindly obeyed. Simon's approach, which was similar to the co-determination philosophy of modern German business management, reflected his experience serving on the advisory boards of the Deutsche Bank and Allianz Group insurance company in Frankfurt. He also advised Jacques Santer, the president of the European Commission, on competitiveness policy. Through the early and mid-1990s, Simon was one of Britain's most outspoken advocates of European integration, including the EU's controversial plans to establish a single currency. He was made a CBE in 1991 and was knighted in 1995. His appointment as "minister for Europe" (the widely used contraction of his full title) made him one of the key players in Blair's strategy of transforming Britain's relations with the rest of Europe.

PETER KELLNER

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Universalium. 2010.

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