Controversial tycoon `Tiny' Rowland dies

Mr Tiny Rowland, who headed the Lonhro conglomerate and was one of Britain's most controversial businessmen, has died aged 80…

Mr Tiny Rowland, who headed the Lonhro conglomerate and was one of Britain's most controversial businessmen, has died aged 80. Mr Rowland was taken to hospital while on holiday in the Mediterranean with his family. He was transferred to a London clinic where he died on Saturday. Mr Rowland was married with four children.

Tiny Rowland, who made his fortune through the Lonhro mining conglomerate, was also well known for the bitter battle for control of the Harrods department store that he waged with the London store's current owner, Mr Mohamed al-Fayed.

Born in India in 1917 of a German father and an English mother, Rowland Walter Furhop emigrated to Britain before the second World War with his family and changed his name in 1939.

He made his reputation in Africa, taking over the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company - Lonhro - in 1961. He transformed it from a struggling business into a formidable multinational operation active in more than 60 countries, with interests in mining, textiles, hotels, printing and publishing, oil and gas.


It was in Africa that he picked up his ironic nickname "Tiny": he was 6 ft 4 in tall, and it was there that he forged sometimes controversial friendships with leaders such as Col Gadafy of Libya and Zaire's former dictator, Mobutu, but also with Mr Nelson Mandela, now President of South Africa.

In 1973, the then British Conservative prime minister, Mr Edward Heath, described the activities of the entrepreneur, who amassed a personal fortune of £150 million, as the "unacceptable face of capitalism".

In the City of London he earned a reputation as an unorthodox and independent-minded businessman. In 1978 he published a list of companies breaking the sanctions in force against Rhodesia after himself being accused of sanctions-busting, provoking both admiration and contempt.

He bought the Observer in 1981, fulfilling a long-held ambition to become a press baron, but he was heavily criticised by its editors, who struggled to maintain the Sunday paper's independence from the Lonhro group.

Things came to a head in 1984 when Mr Rowland disputed the accuracy of the paper's investigation into atrocities carried out by Zimbabwean soldiers in the province of Matabeleland. Lonrho had important mining interests there.

Mr Rowland also used the paper as a weapon against his long-time rival Mohamed al-Fayed, whom he lost out to in the struggle for Harrods in 1984.

He sold the Observer in 1993, and in 1995 was forced out as head of Lonrho.