Sir Maxwell Harper Gow, Kt, MBE, businessman; born June 13, 1918, died January 1, 1996

HOWEVER he is described in Who's Who - which is as Sir (Leonard) Maxwell Harper Gow, Kt, MBE - to everyone who knew him and admired him he was ``Max''.

He guided the company of Christian Salvesen through 17 momentous years of change and though he was the grandson of Lord Salvesen, the Court of Session Judge, and great-grandson of the founder, it was not inevitable that he would come to take charge.

I always thought he could have been mistaken for an Army general in mufti, so tall, so upright he was, and if he had stayed in the Army he doubtless would have earned much more than the MBE which was awarded to him for his war services.

He was a Territorial when war interrupted his studies at Cambridge. During officer training he volunteered to join the Commandos (or ``independents'' as they were known then), was appointed an interpreter, and sailed with the group which raided Norway's Lofoten Islands to destroy ships and factories and bring back 200 prisoners and captive quislings.

He went through the North Africa campaign, up to the fall of Tunis, and then joined Lord Lovat as staff captain in the Normandy landings. At war's end he had his MBE and rank of major, and a wife, Lillan, London-born daughter of a Danish family.

When after his demobilisation she told him that she wished he had stayed in the Army, she had good cause. Captain Harold Salvesen, who headed the family company - then a huge whaling concern - clung to the tradition that family should know as much hardship as all others who served the company, and the post he offered Max entailed going to the Antarctic with the whaling expeditions. He did not see his wife and baby son for 17 months.

Much the same interval elapsed on a second expedition before he was given charge of an operation which Captain Harold hoped would prove more profitable than whaling. This was the venture in which the pioneer Fairtry stern trawling factory ships sailed to the Grand Banks to fish and fillet and freeze at sea.

The vessels were copied by the Russians and others, who so overcrowded the grounds that the venture failed. Their end coincided with the withdrawal of Salvesen from the declining whaling industry and with Captain Harold handing over control of the company in 1964 to his young partner Max Harper Gow, and to Gerald (later Sir Gerald) Elliot, another great-grandson of the founder, as deputy.

Captain Harold left a company valued at #25m, built upon dwindling profits from whaling, and a modest merchant fleet which sailed amid a worldwide slump.

As legacy from the Fairtrys, there was a promising cold-storage business which Max himself had started, and a housebuilding business in its infancy into which he had entered without the blessing of the main board.

He built up the cold-storage business into the biggest in the UK, and diversified into transport and distribution. Over two decades he made the housebuilding concern one of the leaders of the field, and with Sir Gerald's help, found new enterprises to exploit, transforming Captain Harold's whaling company into a thrusting concern. By the time he came himself to retire, to be succeeeded by Sir Gerald, the value of the company had increased fourfold.

I came to know him in the last decade of his chairmanship. When he retired and Sir Gerald and the staff invited him to join them in the office restaurant to give him their thanks and bid him their good wishes, the loyalty and the bond with him were so apparent. Over the years since I came to know why and to share their affection for him.

Few knew that his illness was serious, for he made little of it and scorned fuss. His last appearance among the staff and shareholders and friends was at the company's agm. He came in a wheelchair, with a cheerful word for everyone.

Newspaper files tell that he filled many directorships of companies, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, Scottish Widows, and Radio Forth; that he gave his services to many causes; that he had been a vice-president and elected founder fellow of the Council for Development and Industry; that he was a member of the Queen's Bodyguard in Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers; that he was an honorary consul for Norway for 20 years and a Commander of the Order of St Olaf.

He was knighted in 1985. When he died on New Year's Day at his home in Longniddry the world of business in Scotland lost a substantial figure. Many of us also lost a warm-hearted, generous, and loyal friend.