2nd March 2000

Driving BP and a Lagonda


Denys Milne, CBE, colonial administrator and BP Oil executive, was born on January 12, 1926. He died on February 9 aged 74.

For nearly thirty years, Denys "Tiny" Milne worked for BP in Africa and in Britain. But he also had a pleasing variety of other involvements, which ranged from chairing the council of Epsom College and the Horder Centre for Arthritis to serving as a trustee of the Centre for Southern Africa Studies at York University and of the National Motor Museum. (Nicknamed "Mr Toad" by his family, he also took great pleasure in driving his Porsche, Bristol and vintage Lagonda.)

Professionally, perhaps his biggest challenge came in 1975, when, somewhat against his wishes, he was recalled to London from South Africa to head the team that was splitting the assets of Shell-Mex and BP.

After that he was appointed managing director and chief executive of the new BP Oil. It was a difficult time of lower than forecast oil and petrol consumption in the UK, and he was faced with refinery over-capacity, a network of filling stations needing substantial investment and a total of some 13,000 employees when the market leader, Esso, had fewer than 8,000. Milne travelled tirelessly, talking to managers and tanker-drivers alike, explaining the necessity of reducing the workforce. It is a tribute to his warm personality and style of leadership that, with considerable goodwill from employees, the company was gradually put on to a more competitive footing.

Denys Gordon Milne was born in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. At Epsom College, being 6ft 6in, he inevitably acquired the nickname "Tiny". In 1943 he left to serve for three years as an officer in the RAFVR before going to Oxford to read modern history at Brasenose. He won Blues for lacrosse and athletics, and represented Scotland in the latter. On graduating he joined the Colonial Administration Service.

In 1951, he was posted as assistant district officer to Maiduguri in Nigeria. It was from there, with his young wife Pamela, that he first journeyed on horseback into the bush to be greeted by district headmen, to settle disputes and undertake the first population census.

In 1955, while on leave from Maiduguri, he was recruited by BP (with which he would remain until his retirement in 1982), only to find himself posted back to Nigeria, where his knowledge of the Hausa culture was much valued.

On returning to London he maintained his links with West Africa as marketing co-ordinator, his territory also including North Africa and the Middle East. He was also appointed a director of Shell-Mex and BP, and regional co-ordinator for the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

His final African appointment was to Cape Town, where, as the first chairman and managing director of BP Southern Oil, he oversaw the asset-splitting of Shell and BP, which had worked as a consolidated company. At the same time he took BP into ambitious mineral and chemical acquisitions. It was from there that he returned to London in 1975.

Denys Milne was appointed CBE in 1982. After retiring that year, he honed his sailing skills, taking his 39ft sloop to the Mediterranean, where he cruised with friends along the Dalmatian coast and through the Greek Islands. He is survived by his wife and by their two sons and a daughter.

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