Name: Sir Hugh Fraser
Life dates: 1936-1987
Occupation: 2nd Baronet
Hugh Fraser was born on 18 December 1936 in Bearsden, Dunbartonshire, the only son and younger child of Hugh Fraser, 1st Baron Fraser of Allander, the chairman and managing director of the House of Fraser, and Kathleen Hutcheon, née Lewis, daughter of Sir Andrew Jopp Williams Lewis, shipbuilder and lord provost of Aberdeen. Fraser was educated at St Mary's School, Melrose, and Kelvinside Academy, Glasgow. He left school at sixteen to go into the family business, joining it on his seventeenth birthday. He started work in the McDonalds store in Buchanan Street, Glasgow.
Fraser worked closely with his father, who made him a director at the age of twenty-one and gave him overall responsibility for the stores in Scotland, to prepare him for the time when he would take over the whole business. He became assistant managing director in 1960. On 26 April 1962, he married Patricia Mary Bowie, radiographer, and daughter of John Bowie, dyer and cleaner, of Milngavie, Dunbartonshire. They had three daughters but the marriage ended in divorce in 1971, and in 1973 Fraser married an international showjumper, Aileen Margaret Ross, daughter of George Paterson Ross. This marriage was dissolved in 1982.
Determined to move away from the old-fashioned image of the group's stores, Fraser converted the original Fraser store in Glasgow into a high-class fashion shop for well-to-do young women, and began to introduce boutiques into other stores. He also converted Simpson Hunters in Glasgow into a Young World shop, devoted to children's wear. In 1965, following his father's heart attack, Fraser was appointed deputy chairman of House of Fraser Ltd, and in 1966, after his father's death, he was elected chairman of House of Fraser Ltd and of Scottish and Universal Investments Ltd, his father's investment company. He was also appointed director of Harrods Ltd, John Barker & Co Ltd and Binns Ltd. In the same year, Fraser renounced his father's peerage but was unable to disclaim the baronetcy.
Fraser embarked on a policy of expansion and modernisation, introducing a more youthful style into existing stores. He resumed his father's policy of acquisiton in 1969, when he bought JJ Allen Ltd, the Bournemouth group of stores. He went on to acquire Guy and Smith of Grimsby in 1969; E Dingle & Co, a group of stores in the south west, in 1971; and James Howell & Co in Cardiff, in 1972. At the same time, he closed some stores, mainly in Scotland, but he also closed Pontings, in London, in 1970. As the supermarket chains began to sell clothing, he pursued a policy of trading up, aiming to make the House of Fraser the best store in every large town in Britain.
Between 1966 and 1973, sales doubled to over £200 million, and profits doubled to over £10 million. Fraser was chosen as the Young Business Man of the Year by the Guardian in 1973, acknowledging how he had restructured and expanded the family business, and the new and exciting style he had brought in to the stores. However, the House of Fraser was fighting against competition from smaller specialist chains such as Laura Ashley and Mothercare, and when the recession began to bite in 1973, Fraser was ready to give up the House of Fraser. He resigned as managing director of the House of Fraser, and when Boots Ltd proposed a merger, Fraser supported the idea, intending to give up the chairmanship of the House of Fraser and concentrate on developing Scottish and Universal Investments Ltd. However, when the Monopolies and Mergers Commission allowed Boots to pull out of the proposed merger in 1974, Fraser decided to stay on.
The failure of the merger with Boots proved the turning point in Fraser's career. The years after 1974 were difficult. He was hampered by the worldwide recession following the rise in oil prices, and by the return of government control, with restrictions on profits, and the decline in consumer demand. In an attempt to cut down his responsibilities, he had given up the chairmanship of Harrods. He continued to buy department stores, including in 1975, the Hide group of thirteen stores, in an effort to strengthen the House of Fraser presence in the south of England. However, he became increasingly addicted to gambling and a stock exchange enquiry in 1976 revealed that he had been selling House of Fraser shares to finance his gambling. In 1976, he was fined £600 under the Companies Act for the misclassification of a loan, and for improper share dealings.
In January 1981, following the involvement of Lonrho, the international trading company, in the fortunes of the House of Fraser, Fraser lost the support of the directors and was removed as chairman. He subsequently resigned from the chairmanship of Harrods, which he had just resumed. He resigned from the board in February 1982.
After 1981, Fraser spent most of his time in Scotland. He built up a chain of menswear shops and held a number of directorships, mainly in Scotland, as well as the chairmanship of Dumbarton Football Club. He also worked hard on behalf of the Hugh Fraser Foundation, the charitable trust set up by his father, to give substantial amounts of money to medical research in Scotland. Through the trust he bought the island of Iona for the National Trust of Scotland as a memorial to his father, and he gave his Mugdock estate near Glasgow to form the Mugdock Country Park. He joined the Scottish National Party in 1974, and served for a time on the Scottish Development Council. In 1985, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Stirling. He died on 5 May 1987.
Who's Who, London 1981
Moss, Michael and Turton, Alison, A Legend of Retailing: House of Fraser, London 1989
Russell, Iain, Fraser, Sir Hugh, second baronet (1936-1987), businessman, Oxford 2004
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