Obituary for Sir Philip Foreman

It is with sadness that the death is announced of Sir Philip Foreman, who was the 100th President of the Institution.

It is with sadness that we announce the death on 23 February 2013 of Sir Philip Foreman, who, in 1985 became the 100th President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Sir Philip was not from Northern Ireland but he was to spend most of his life here. His contribution to making Shorts aircraft company in Belfast one of the world’s respected aerospace companies and a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland economy, was immense.

Sir Philip Foreman was born in Exning, Suffolk, in 1923. While he was a young boy, his father became tractor driver on a farm in Cambridgeshire. He was also responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of all the farm machinery, and this early experience awoke a keen interest in mechanics in the young Foreman.

He attended the local elementary school, and Soham Grammar School, from which he won a British Empire Open Scholarship to Loughborough College. He graduated from Loughborough in 1943 with a First Class Honours Diploma in mechanical engineering.

After graduation, Foreman wanted to join the Royal Navy, but was turned down due to his colour blindness. Instead he joined the Royal Naval Scientific Service, which was a department of the Civil Service, working at the Admiralty Research Laboratory at Teddington. He remained at Teddington until 1958, when he resigned in order to join the guided weapon team at Short Brothers and Harland Ltd, where he was responsible for all shipborne and depot equipment associated with the Seacat missile weapon system.

In 1961, he became Chief Engineer of the guided weapon division, and in 1964 was appointed Company Chief Engineer, in which position he assumed responsibility for all the Company’s engineering activities including aircraft design. He was elected to the Broad in 1965 as Deputy Managing Director and became Managing Director in 1967. In 1983 he became Chairman and Managing Director.

Sir Philip had a reputation for being a straight-talking leader who set high standards but who was highly respected by both his staff and his business competitors. The late journalist Bob Rodwell, who had joined Shorts as public relations manager in the late 1960s, recalled how a mix-up had led to an advertisement appearing in the press which announced that the company had again won a Queen’s Award for Industry. Unfortunately, it turned out that the company had surprisingly missed out on the award that particularly year. On the morning the ad appeared, Bob would recount how he was having breakfast when his boss telephoned. The conversation was short and to the point: “Rodwell, you’re fired” was all Sir Philip said before he rang off.

The industrial correspondent Eric Waugh once noted that when Foreman took over the firm it had accumulated debts of some £12m at a time when a weekly household bill was only about £7. The fact that the company had become a "saleable, surviving entity" prior to the Bombardier acquisition "was a tribute to the team and to Sir Phil Foreman's leadership of it."

At Short Brothers, Sir Philip concentrated particularly on the export market, and in 1972 was awarded the CBE for services to export. He was knighted in 1981, and in 1985, he became the 100th President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Sir Philip retired as Chairman and Managing Director of Shorts in 1988. He remained active in his retirement. As well as setting up an engineering consultancy firm, Foreman Associates, he also served as chairman of the British Standards Institution from 1988 to 1991 and was the organisation’s President from 1994 to 1998.

He had a long standing involvement with the British Standards Institution, serving as Chairman from 1988 to 1991, and President from 1994 to 1998.

He was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1980 and he was awarded an honorary DSc from Queen's University in 1976. He was a Belfast Harbour Commissioner from 1974-79 and also a member of the Senate of Queen's University (1993-2002).

Sir Philip passed away at a nursing home in Holywood, County Down in Northern Ireland on 23 February, only weeks before his 90th birthday. He is survived by his wife, Lady Margaret, and son Grahame.

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