Businessman who turned crisis-hit Compass into the largest catering company in the world

Born: March 29, 1959;

Died: December 31, 2017

RICHARD Cousins, who has died in a plane crash aged 58 along with his fiancee and two sons, was an influential businessman known for rescuing the catering company Compass from crisis and turning it into the largest food service company in the world.

When he took over at Compass, the company was battling to restore its reputation in the City after a profits warning caused by weaker margins on school dinners and poor summer trading in Europe which had wiped off a quarter of the value of its shares. The company had also been criticised by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for serving Turkey Twizzlers to pupils. Mr Cousins banned the Twizzlers, got rid of layers of management, focused on the core business and transformed Compass into a success again. At the start of his 11-year tenure, the share price was 236p; at the end of last year, it was nearly £16.

Mr Cousins's strategy was familiar to anyone who worked with him: he concentrated on the core business and got rid of anything that he saw as peripheral. The strategy had served him well as chief executive of British Plaster Board and he applied it again at Compass. The company had been operating in some 100 countries, but Mr Cousins cut it to half that. It was still a huge operation though: the company serves some five billion meals a year, in prisons, army bases and oil rigs as well as at prestigious events such as Wimbledon.

By the end of last year, Mr Cousins's work at Compass had led to him being named as one of 2017's 100 Best Performing CEOs in the World by Harvard Business Review. At one point he was also tipped to become chairman of Tesco, but had been due to step down from Compass in March after more than a decade.

Born in Leeds and educated at the local comprehensive in Bracknell, Mr Cousins took a degree in mathematics at Sheffield University and a masters in operational research at Lancaster. He began his career in business in 1981 at Cadbury-Schweppes in the group operational research department before moving to BTR Industries in a similar role.

He then moved to BPB plc, the manufacturer of plasterboard, where he became president of the Canadian section in the 1990s and then chief executive in 2000. He took the company out of under-performing areas and concentrated on the core business of making plasterboard, which proved highly lucrative for shareholders. From a mid-sized operation, BPB became the industry leader and the world's largest plasterboard manufacturer.

Mr Cousins's move to Compass came in 2006 when the company was in a most unpromising state. There had been a series of profits warnings, a number of difficult lawsuits and the company was dealing with the criticism from Jamie Oliver, which Mr Cousins saw as unfair and unreflective of the majority of the business. Nevertheless, he banned Turkey Twizzlers and always emphasised local sourcing and healthy ingredients. He also focused on leading markets and brands and in his 11 years at the top, the company consistently outperformed the FTSE 100. In November, it reported profits of £1.6billion for the year to September.

He was well paid for his efforts of course. When he left BPB, he took a £5million pay-off with him and at Compass in 2016, he earned a total of £5.8million in salary, bonuses, share options and pension rights.

Described by Compass chairman Paul Walsh as "having a no-nonsense style that transformed Compass into one of Britain's leading companies", Mr Cousins also served as a senior independent director of Tesco, although he left after disagreements over the company's take-over of the wholesaler Booker. He was also a former non-executive director of P&O, HBOS and Reckitt Benckiser.

Away from Compass, Mr Cousins was a campaigner against Brexit. His son William Cousins, who also died in the crash, was head of press for Open Britain, which campaigns against a hard Brexit.

Mr Cousins and his family had been on holiday in Sydney and died in the seaplane crash alongside his fiancee Emma Bowden, 48, her 11-year-old daughter Heather Bowden, and his two sons William, 25, and Edward, 23, who had just graduated from St Andrews University. The sixth person who died was pilot Gareth Morgan, 44, who worked for tour company Sydney Seaplanes. The plane came down off Jerusalem Bay near Cowan, 25 miles north of Sydney.

Mr Cousins, who had a holiday home in Scotland, was a great lover of cricket; Caroline Thorpe, whom he married in 1982, died of cancer in 2015.

Because of his death, Dominic Blakemore, who was due to take over at Compass in March, begins as chief executive with immediate effect.