George William Barlow was born on 8 June 1924 in Oldham. He was the son of Albert Edward Barlow and his wife Annice. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School, then studied electrical engineering at Manchester University. He graduated in 1944 with a first in electrical engineering.
From 1944 to 1947 Barlow served with the Royal Navy. He then joined the English Electric Company, where he served in a number of roles, some in England and some overseas. He worked in Spain from 1952 to 1955, and in Canada from 1958 to 1962. In Canada he was manager of English Electric’s operations in Canada, which included hydro-electric projects and turbines for the St Lawrence Seaway, a series of waterways linking the Atlantic Ocean with the North Atlantic Great Lakes.
In 1962 he returned to the UK to became Managing Director of English Electric’s Liverpool operations. Here he was responsible for 14,000 employees working in a number of fields. These included steam and water turbines, aero engines, electric power equipment and domestic appliance manufacture.
He entered the computer industry in 1968, becoming Managing Director of English Electric Computers. He felt that Britain’s computing companies should amalgamate, rather than complete with each other. This resulted in the formation of International Computers Limited, ICL, which existed until it was renamed Fujitsu Services Limited. He resigned from English Electric in 1968, after 21 years service, in protest against the merger of English Electric and GEC, which took place a few weeks after the formation of ICL.
He was asked by the Government to oversee the merger of three British strategic bearing companies to form the new company Ransome Hoffman Pollard Limited. He served as Chairman of this company from 1971 to 1977.
In 1977 he became Chairman and Chief Executive of the Post Office. At this time, the Post Office also operated the telecommunications network, and Barlow realised that the two functions were so different that they should be separated. The Labour government at the time did not agree with his proposal to split the Post Office, but with the election of a Conservative Government in 1979, Barlow received the go-ahead. He organized the division in 12 months, and would have been Chairman of the privatized BT, but the Government then refused to privatize BT. In 1980, Barlow refused the appointment and returned to work in the private sector. His first job was to oversee the merger of Thorn and EMI, and he served as Chairman of Thorn EMI Engineering Group from 1980 to 1984. He has been involved with numerous other companies since, including Ericsson, BICC, Vodafone and SKF (UK). He was knighted for services to industry in 1977.
He has been always been active in the engineering profession, serving on the Council of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE, now the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)) from 1969 to 1972, as Vice-President from 1978-1980 and Deputy President from 1983-1984. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the IEE in 1990. He served on the Council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1971 to 1974, and was made an Honorary Fellow in 1993. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1991.
He was President of the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association from 1986 to 1987, Chairman of the Design Council from 1980 to 1986, and the Engineering Council from 1988-1990. He has many honorary degrees, including Doctorates from Cranfield, Bath, Aston, City and UMIST.
He married Elaine Mary Atherton, née Adamson, in 1948. They have one daughter and one son.
He died on the 19 May 2012, aged 88.