The Royal Academy of Engineering learned with regret of the death on 19 May of Sir William Barlow FREng, President of the Academy from 1991 to 1996. Sir William was aged 87.

Sir William may be best known to the public for his role as Chairman of the Post Office where he oversaw its division into two separate corporations, The Post Office and British Telecom (BT). Following his successful career in industry, the Labour government had to work hard to persuade him to become Chairman and Chief Executive in 1977. He soon realised that the two parts of the business were so different that they must be split up. In 1980, he returned to the private sector, helping to organise the merger of Thorn and EMI.

In 1984, he became Executive Chairman of BICC, one of the world’s largest cable companies and its subsidiary, the construction company Balfour Beatty. He was heavily involved in the concept and construction of the Channel Tunnel.

Back in the 1960s, as Managing Director of The English Electric Computer Company Sir William was at the forefront of the computing boom in Britain. He pressed for the amalgamation of Britain’s competing computer companies which led to the formation of ICL in 1968. Within weeks of this, English Electric decided to merge with GEC but Sir William disagreed so strongly with this move that he resigned from English Electric after 21 years’ service. He was not alone – many senior people followed him, including Lord Caldecote, the Academy’s second President.

The government then asked him to combine the three British strategic bearing companies which created RHP. He led a programme of modernisation and rationalisation which created a world-class development and manufacturing company.

Never one to hide his views on the importance of British industry, Sir William used his presidency of the Academy to campaign for investment in transport and environmental infrastructure to support the engineering sector, particularly manufacturing, which he saw as vital to the country’s economic stability. He did much to raise the Academy’s profile within government and industry by promoting engineers’ achievements and also presided over the acquisition of the Academy’s Royal title in 1992.

Sir John Parker, currently President of the Academy, says: “Bill Barlow was a true industrial titan – he epitomised the brave engineering vision that lay behind Britain’s greatest companies and translated this into serious influence-building as President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.”

An obituary published in The Daily Telegraph

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

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Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. Direct tel +44 (0) 20 7766 0636; email: Jane Sutton