Sir Geoffrey Chandler, who died on April 7 aged 88, was a director of the Shell oil company, the director-general of the National Economic Development Office, and a pioneering campaigner for ethical business practices.
“Doing right because it is right needs to be the foundation of business,” was Chandler’s credo. “To suggest that doing right needs to be justified by its economic reward is amoral.” It was highly unusual in the 1960s and 1970s to hear such views propounded by an oil company executive with hands-on experience of the potential conflicts between morality and profit, rather than by anti-capitalist campaigners, a breed for whom Chandler himself had little regard.
Chandler’s industrial career began in the economics division of Shell in 1957, after an earlier phase as a journalist, first with the BBC foreign news service and then as a leader writer and features editor on the Financial Times.
He was posted to West Africa and as managing director in Trinidad before returning to become Shell’s public affairs coordinator in London. He joined the parent-company board in 1976, and wrote the group’s first “statement of general business principles” – setting high goals of social and environmental responsibility long before such pledges became de rigueur in the corporate world.
In 1978 Chandler was asked by the prime minister, James Callaghan, to become director-general of the National Economic Development Office, known as Neddy and very much a creature of the pre-Thatcherite era of state interventionism and centralised planning. Although Neddy’s influence declined after the 1979 election, Chandler remained in post until 1983 and applied both diplomacy and tenacity in seeking common ground between employers, unions and ministers at a time of constant industrial strife.
Thereafter he found new platforms for his energies through the Royal Society of Arts, for which he was industry adviser until 1992, and as a leading figure in Amnesty International UK, chairing its work on the interaction of business and human rights until 2001.
Geoffrey Chandler was born on November 15 1922, the son of a physician at Bart’s hospital in London. He was educated at Sherborne and read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, until his studies were interrupted by war service. Commissioned in the 60th Rifles in 1942, he was promoted captain before being assigned to Force 133 in the SOE.
He was parachuted into the mountains of western Macedonia to work as a saboteur with the Greek resistance against the German occupation, and remained in Greece until 1946 as a press officer with the Anglo-Greek Information Service. He later published an account of these experiences, The Divided Land: An Anglo-Greek Tragedy (1959), in which he was highly critical of the British failure to support more moderate Greek elements and help avert the bloody civil war which followed the German defeat.
Returning to Cambridge in 1947, he captained the university tennis team. During his time at the FT, he also spent a year at Columbia University in New York as a Commonwealth Fund Scholar.
Chandler was president of the Institute of Petroleum from 1972 to 1974, and was later chairman of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, president of the Association for Management and Business Education, an adviser to the BBC and a trustee of a number of charities.
He wrote extensively on themes of corporate responsibility, particularly in relation to multinational companies, and was also the author of an authoritative guide to the butterflies of Trinidad. He loved music, kept a beautiful, rambling garden at his home in Surrey, and listed among his interests “working in woodland”.
Geoffrey Chandler was appointed CBE in 1976 and knighted in 1983.
He married, in 1955, Lucy Buxton, a Quaker, who survives him with their four daughters.
© Daily Telegraph 27th April 2011