An appreciation by Bruce Mann

WILLIAM (Bill) Mann, C.B.E ., who has died aged 85, was a Glasgow accountant-turned-businessman-turned-philanthropist who devoted most of his life to good causes. These included charities and the arts, and in particular the sports sector, where he ran a successful campaign to abolish rates on sport facilities.

He was born in Dalmuir in November 1934 to Thomas, a draper’s shop owner, and Helen, a former home economics teacher. He and his siblings were evacuated during the war to Garelochhead. After the war the family moved to Glasgow’s West End. He was educated at the Glasgow Academy, and he enthusiastically played cricket in the summer and, at Glasgow Academicals, rugby in the winter.

After leaving Glasgow Academy Bill decided to study accountancy. On the first day of term at university the Professor told the students, who were sitting at tables of three, that only one in three would graduate. Bill sat beside Jim Goold (later Lord Goold) and Jim’s future wife, Sheena. All three graduated. He later worked at the accountancy firm of Alexander Sloan, interrupted by a short spell in Essex for National Service, followed by a posting to Malaysia.

Upon return to civilian life Bill eventually became the Scottish representative of the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation (ICFC). In 1970, with £250,000 in unsecured loans which he had sought from ICFC, he established W. M. Mann & Co. (Investments) Ltd, which for nearly 50 years has provided commercial finance to Scottish-based companies. Its sister organisations have been active in the commercial and residential property sectors for almost as long. The company became a licensed deposit taker in 1981.

The undoubted success of the W. M. Mann Group enabled Bill to step away from daily business duties at a relatively young age and focus on more interesting activities. He played, in particular, a crucial role in saving Glasgow’s Western Baths (of which he became a member in 1943, and Secretary in 1977), which at one time had faced demise; his alma mater, the Academy, where he served as a governor and then as chairman, also benefited substantially from his acumen.

Bill Mann’s charity work took shape in 1988 when he and his wife Aileen decided to establish the W. M. Mann Foundation. Funded entirely by the W. M. Mann Group the Foundation has disbursed in excess of £3 million.

Bill was particularly proud of this and was always pleased to see his name, or Aileen’s, on the sides of buildings and within organisations which had profited from his generosity. Five years ago the Herald interviewed Bill next to the bronze bust that had been commissioned in his honour and placed in a prominent position in the Western Baths. The Baths, the paper observed, “would have crumbled without both his energy and his wisdom, particularly regarding matters of cash”.

In the 1980s Bill and Alex Kilgour, a rugby enthusiast from Kirkcaldy, teamed up to challenge the Conservative Government of the day on the matter of rates relief for sport clubs.

Up until that point clubs had been assessed on rates on the entire footprint of the club. Bill and Alex believed that sport facilities should be exempt from rates which should only be levied on the social facilities such as bars and pavilions. The campaign was a long one and entailed many trips to London to meet with MPs and Government officials. On one such day, Bill had meetings lined up with the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock; he took with him two ties -- one blue and one red -- to wear at the appropriate encounter.

He had tried and failed to meet Jeffrey Archer, then a Conservative government Minister. However, following Bill’s meeting with Mrs Thatcher, she picked up the phone to call Archer and tell him Bill was on his way round, and would he find time to meet him? The campaign was successful and it is estimated that sports clubs have saved in excess of £3 billion over the years, leading one commentator to describe Bill as “the biggest indirect funder of sport in the UK”.

A subsequent battle to abolish VAT on subscriptions to clubs was also won. The campaigns especially benefited small amateur clubs, a cause close to Bill’s heart. In 2017 he was awarded a CBE for services to sport, charity and the arts.

Bill Mann had married Aileen in April 1964 after knowing her for only six weeks. He needed to ask her four times because his first three proposals were refused. Aileen’s father took her to one side and advised her, “You will never find a better man than Bill Mann”.

A long marriage ended only with Aileen’s death in 1996. Bill is survived by his three children Ainsley, Sarah and Bruce.

After his wife’s death Bill met Kina, who provided love and companionship until her own untimely death in 2004. In later years Bill enjoyed seeing his eight grandchildren grow and was keen to support their interests.