Laing, longtime chair of United Biscuits, dies

by Josh Sosland
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BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, ENGLAND — Lord Laing of Dunphail, the former chairman of United Biscuits (Holdings) P.L.C, died June 21 in Buckinghamshire northwest of London. Born Hector Laing, he was 87.
Lord Laing spent 44 years in the U.K. cookie business, retiring in 1990. During the last 16 of those years, United Biscuits owned The Keebler Co. in the United States.

In 1976, Lord Laing came to Kansas City as a participant in the Bicentennial Event for Breadstuffs, sponsored by Milling & Baking News. In an address to leaders of the U.S. grain, milling and baking industries, Lord Laing discussed the rationale behind the Keebler acquisition completed two years earlier.

Lord Laing’s career began in 1947 after a distinguished five-year army career with the Armored 3rd Battalion Scots Guards. He was awarded the Bronze Star by the United States. Following demobilization, he joined McVitie & Price Ltd., his family’s cookie business. It was the merger of McVitie with four other businesses that formed United Biscuits. He became a director of the company in 1953, was named managing director in 1964 and chairman in 1972.

Early in his career, Lord Laing distinguished himself in production technology, and his commitment to automation helped reduce the number of production lines at the company’s plants to fewer than a dozen from more than 300.

During his tenure at U.B., the company became the leading cookie and snack producer in the United Kingdom. During the years it was owned by U.B., Keebler ranked as the second largest producer of cookies and crackers in the United States.

Keebler was acquired from U.B. in 1995 by a consortium that included Flowers Industries, Inc. Today Keebler is owned by Kellogg Co. U.B. itself was acquired in 2006 from the private equity Blackstone Group, having shed most of its businesses worldwide in transactions completed over the previous decade.
Knighted in 1978, Sir Hector was made a life peer in 1991.

Lord Laing was a leader of U.K. food industry, serving as chairman of the Food and Drink Industries Council in 1977-79 and chairman of the Scottish Business in the Community for several years beginning in 1982. He was treasurer of Britain’s Conservative Party from 1988 to 1993 and was a close friend of Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister.

He was a member of the Court of the Bank of England from 1973 to 1991 and also served as a director of Exxon Corp.

Survivors include his wife, Marian, and three sons, Mark, Robert and Anthony Laing.

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