LEGENDARY Leeds businessman Victor Watson CBE, heir to the Waddingtons Monopoly empire and famous for taking on Robert Maxwell, has died aged 86.
A former 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers after World War II, Mr Watson joined the Leeds-based company John Waddington Ltd in 1951, and was made chairman in 1977 until his retirement in 1993.
During his time there, he played a major role in helping to develop the board game Monopoly, which his grandfather - also called Victor - had brought to Britain in the 1930s.
Mr Watson also held a wide range of other posts in Leeds, including President and Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Director of Yorkshire Television and Director of the Leeds and Holbeck Building Society.
His brother, John Watson, said today: “He had lots of competitors but no enemies. He put a great store on simple reliability. He was an unusual combination, with a rare judgement of businesses and of people.
“For a while he was probably the best after dinner speaker in Yorkshire. With classic modesty, he though it was because he didn’t charge a fee. He was also an extremely warm family man.”
In his biography, Mr Watson recalled saving Waddingtons from the clutches of predators like Robert Maxwell and turning it into one of the best-loved names in business.
The story began with the dramatic rise of his grandfather, Victor Hugo Watson, whose business acumen transformed the firm from a struggling provincial printer into a market leader. His son, Norman Watson, helped to associate Waddingtons with household names like Cluedo.
Victor Watson’s own time at the helm was turbulent. As the company grew, he had to fight off takeover bids from Robert Maxwell’s British Printing and Communications Corporation.
Mr Watson grew up in Horsforth, near Leeds, and as an apprentice at Waddingtons used to make little wooden houses for board games.
He remained an active member of the business community and was partnership president of Print Yorkshire, a partnership between the British Printing Industries Federation and Yorkshire Forward.
In 2007, Mr Watson received the British Printing Industries’ Federation’s first award for Outstanding Contribution to the Printing Industry.
He was also chairman of governors at Gateways School, a trustee of Martin House Hospice and a former President at the Northern Division of Mencap.
FEW businessmen can boast that they sent Robert Maxwell packing. Victor Watson achieved this feat – not once, but twice.
Mr Watson, who has died age 86, saved Waddingtons of Leeds from the clutches of predators like Maxwell and turned it into one of the best-loved names in Yorkshire business.
He also combined an innate charm and courtesy with a razor sharp business mind. Mr Watson grew up in Horsforth, near Leeds, and as an apprentice at Waddingtons, he used to make little wooden houses for board games. Waddingtons is a name that stirs memories for anyone who got a taste for property by playing Monopoly. Under the guidance of Mr Watson’s family, Waddingtons became famous as the producer of best-selling board games.
The Monopoly concept was first bought from the US by the Watsons, and proved a stunning success. Born on September 26 1928, the son of Norman Victor and Ruby Watson, Victor was educated at Moorlands School, Leeds Bootham School, York and Clare College, Cambridge, where David Attenborough was a contemporary. In 1952 he married Sheila May Bryan, by whom he had two daughters and five grandchildren. He served in the Royal Engineers after World War II, and reaching the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. In 1951, he joined Waddingtons, and was its chairman from 1977 until his retirement in 1993. At its peak, the company was based at Stourton in Leeds, and employed around 1,000 people.
In 1983, Waddingtons endured a takeover approach from the crooked tycoon, Robert Maxwell, who was posing as a white knight.
Years later, Mr Watson told The Yorkshire Post: “He started off very friendly. When we said we are not for sale he then got a bit nasty and started threatening. He was a bully.”
Maxwell ultimately conceded defeat.
“He made a few mistakes,’’ Mr Watson recalled. “It was not a planned approach. He did his planning as he went along. He took too long to get the figures out and offers in, during which time we were improving.”
Maxwell had another tilt at the company the following year, but failed again.
In 2007, Mr Watson received the British Printing Industries’ Federation’s first award for Outstanding Contribution to the Printing Industry. In 2008, around 200 people attended a reception at Leeds Civic Hall to mark the launch of Mr Watson’s book - The Waddingtons Story.
Mr Watson told the audience: “Much of business, more than we appreciate, is based in friendship and trust. On the whole, I was in a better position for trusting people rather than not trusting them.”
Stephen Gilbert, the chief executive of The Printing Charity, described Mr Watson as a titan of the printing industry.
In 2009, Mr Watson received the Individual Award for Excellence at The Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards. He was also the President of Print Yorkshire until his death.
His brother, John Watson, said: “He had lots of competitors but no enemies. He put a great store on simple reliability. He was an unusual combination, with a rare judgement of businesses and of people. For a while he was probably the best after dinner speaker in Yorkshire. With classic modesty, he thought it was because he didn’t charge a fee. He was also an extremely warm family man.”