Tiny Rowland

Roland Walter "Tiny" Rowland (27 November 1917 – 25 July 1998) was a controversial high-profile British businessman, corporate raider and chief executive of the Lonrho conglomerate from 1962 to 1994. He gained fame from a number of high-profile takeover bids, in particular his bid to take control of Harrods. He was known for his complex business interests in Africa, his closeness to a number of African leaders, and his rumoured co-operation with MI6 regarding post-colonial British foreign policy in Africa.

Tiny Rowland
Roland Walter Fuhrhop

(1917-11-27)27 November 1917
Died25 July 1998(1998-07-25) (aged 80)
London, England
EducationChurcher's College
OccupationBusinessman, takeover specialist
Known forCorporate raider
RelativesPlum Sykes (daughter-in-law)

Early life

Rowland was born Roland Walter Fuhrhop on 27 November 1917 during World War I in a British internment camp for aliens outside Calcutta, India. His mother was Anglo-Dutch and his father, Wilhelm Fuhrhop, was a German export-import trader in Calcutta. Having been born in British India, Roland acquired automatic British citizenship by the custom of jus soli. But his parents remained "enemy aliens" for the duration of the First World War, and after the war the Fuhrhops were refused entry into the United Kingdom. They settled in Hamburg, Germany. He was said to have been nicknamed "Tiny" by his nanny because he was a large child. In the 1930s, he was briefly sucked into the Hitler Youth, though his father was firmly opposed to Hitler and would move his family to Britain in 1937 to escape Nazi Germany.[1]

Emigration to England

Roland was sent to England where he attended Churcher's College in Hampshire, where he acquired an upper-class British accent and mannerisms. His family settled in England in 1937.[2][3]

Rowland then worked for his uncle's shipping business in the City of London. He took his uncle's surname, Rowland, shortly after the outbreak of World War II.[4] He was conscripted into the British Army, where he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. As enemy aliens, his parents were interned on the Isle of Man, where his mother died. He himself was interned as an enemy alien after trying to arrange for the release of his father.[1]


In 1948 Tiny Rowland emigrated to Southern Rhodesia, where he subsequently managed a tobacco farm at Eiffel Flats, Mashonaland West province. From 1952 to 1963 he lived with Irene Smith, wife of a business partner.[5]

Rowland was recruited to the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company, later Lonrho, as chief executive in 1962. Under his leadership, the firm expanded beyond mining and became a conglomerate, dealing in newspapers, hotels, distribution, textiles and many other lines of business. During 1973, Rowland's position was the subject of a High Court case in which eight Lonrho directors sought Rowland's dismissal, due to both his temperament and to claims he had concealed financial information from the board.[6] Rowland failed in his legal attempt to block the move[7] but was subsequently backed by shareholders and retained his position.[8] British Prime Minister Edward Heath, referring to the case, criticised the company in the House of Commons and described events there as "the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism".[9]

In 1983, Rowland took over The Observer newspaper and became its chairman. He also campaigned to gain control of Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, but was defeated by Egyptian-born Mohamed Al-Fayed.[10]

A December 1993 Financial Times article revealed that Hemar Enterprises, makers of documentary film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie was owned by Metropole Hotels, controlled by Rowland. The film stated that Libya had no responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Shortly after the indictment of Libya in the Pan Am Flight 103 incident, Rowland had sold a percentage of his interests to the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico), controlled by the government of Libya. For this reason, Susan and Daniel Cohen, parents of Pan Am Flight 103 victim Theodora Cohen, claimed that Libya had backed the film.[11]

In a boardroom coup engineered by the German tycoon Dieter Bock in October 1993, Rowland was forced to step down as chairman of Lonrho. He was succeeded by former diplomat Sir John Leahy. In March 1995 he was dismissed by the board.[12] The Cohens' conjecture regarding Rowland's association with Muammar al-Gaddafi, the leader of Libya, and the film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie contributed to the decision to dismiss Rowland.[13]

In 1996 President Nelson Mandela awarded Rowland the Order of Good Hope, the highest South African honour.[1]

Rowland died from cancer in London on 25 July 1998.

Media references

Rowland is prominently featured in the second part of the documentary The Mayfair Set by Adam Curtis, where he is profiled as a ruthless businessman, jetting through Africa to take over British companies in former colonies.[citation needed]

He was also said to have served as the model for the fictitious ruthless British businessman Sir Edward Matheson played by Stewart Granger in the 1978 film The Wild Geese.[citation needed]

The satirical magazine Private Eye frequently referred to him as "tiny but perfect", not because of any shortness in stature, but because he was always impeccably groomed.[citation needed]

In Australia, a champion racehorse, Lonhro, was named after him (with an intentional misspelling). As a foal, the horse was described as "tiny but perfect".[citation needed]

See also


  • Tom Bower: Tiny Rowland. A Rebel Tycoon. London, Heinemann, 1993. ISBN 0-434-07339-3
  • Richard Hall: My life with Tiny. A biography of Tiny Rowland. London, Faber & Faber, 1987. ISBN 0-571-14737-2


  1. "Tiny in name, not in nature". BBC Online. 26 July 1998.
  2. "Nick Davies — Tiny Rowland – portrait of the bastard as a rebel". www.nickdavies.net. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  3. Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Britain – Biographies. Helicon Publishing. March 2005.
  4. "No. 34718". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 October 1939. p. 7230.
  5. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  6. Andrew Goodrick-Clarke (9 May 1973). "Lonrho chief deceived board and concealed information, court told". The Times.
  7. Andrew Goodrick-Clarke (15 May 1973). "Lonrho chief fails in court, but shareholders will decide his future". The Times.
  8. Andrew Wilson (1 June 1973). "Huge Lonrho vote gives Mr Rowland sweeping victory and eight opponents are dismissed". The Times.
  9. "Mr Heath calls Lonrho affair 'the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism'". The Times. 15 May 1973.
  10. Kim Sengupta (14 August 2002). "Police were right to suspect Fayed of theft, rules judge". The Independent.
  11. Cohen, Susan and Daniel. "Chapter 16." Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals, and a Bereaved Family's Search for Justice. New American Library. 2000. pp. 230–229
  12. William Kay (3 March 1995). "He just could not go quietly". The Independent.
  13. Cohen, Susan and Daniel. "Chapter 16." Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals, and a Bereaved Family's Search for Justice. New American Library. 2000. p. 235