City remembers Prime Minister who lit the spark for the Big Bang

Elizabeth Fournier
MANY of the UK’s top City and business leaders last night hailed the effect Baroness Thatcher’s entrepreneurial spirit and liberalisation of the markets had on their lives.

“She was our finest postwar PM,” said Michael Spencer, who founded Intercapital Private Group – now Icap – after leaving now-defunct investment bank Drexel Burnham.

“She was bold, visionary and single minded, and her actions in the early 1980s set the stage for Britain’s economic recovery and return to global competitiveness that extended for 25 years.”

Icap’s birth in 1986 coincided with Thatcher’s revolutionary deregulation of the stock markets – dubbed the Big Bang – which saw London catapulted onto the global financial map and started an inflow of capital to the City as trading was taken off the floor and onto screens.

“She helped turn share owning into a real thing for the man on the street,” said Brian Winterflood, the chairman of Winterflood Securities who began his City career at Greener Dreyfus & Co in 1953, the same year Thatcher qualified as a barrister. “She opened up the City up to all sorts of people and the City came alive again.”

Howard Leigh, who left the safety of Deloitte’s M&A practice in 1988 to set up boutique adviser Cavendish Corporate Finance, said he never would have made the leap had it not been for Thatcher’s “vision and inspiration”. He added: “She propelled budding entrepreneurs to take that chance by creating a climate that encouraged business people to see an opportunity and realise it even if it involved a significant risk.”

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson praised her championing of his then-fledgling airline.

“She and MP Malcolm Rifkind stuck their necks out against British Airways in allowing Virgin Atlantic to fly from Heathrow. If we hadn’t been admitted, I don’t think we would have survived.”

Labour peer Lord Sugar, whose electronics firm Amstrad doubled its profit and market valuation every year in the 1980s, praised her democratic view of business: “Baroness Thatcher... kick started the entrepreneurial revolution that allowed chirpy chappies to succeed and not just the elite.”

But not all City pioneers were so impressed by Thatcher’s legacy. Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment and a champion of women in the boardroom, tweeted: “In all her years in power Thatcher only appointed one other woman to the Cabinet. Today is about broader advancement for many women.”