British entrepreneur, financier, and newspaper proprietor. Rowland emigrated to Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe), in 1947. He was co-chief executive and managing director of Lonrho (originally the London and Rhodesia Mining and Land Company) from 1961 to 1994, and transformed it from a small mining company into a huge international conglomerate. Rowland was later the owner of The Observer Sunday newspaper from 1981 to 1993.
Rowland's approach to running Lonrho was famously referred to as the ‘unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism’ by former UK prime minister Edward Heath. His latter career was marked by a series of quarrels, often conducted in The Observer – most notably with former Lonrho director Mohamed al-Fayed who had taken control of department store Harrods following Rowland's unsuccessful bid. In November 1994, following a long-running power struggle with his joint-chief executive, Rowland provoked the Lonrho board into dismissing him as managing director.
Rowland was born in Simla, India, where his father, Wilhelm Fuhrhop, a German, and his Anglo-Dutch mother, Muriel Kauenhoven, were detained during World War I. Refused entry into the UK after the war, the family moved to Germany but Rowland was sent to Churchers College boarding school in Hampshire, England. He worked for a shipping company in the City of London (and changed his name to Rowland) before serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II. His family, who came to England from Germany as refugees, were interned on the Isle of Man, where his mother died.
Rowland held a variety of jobs after the war before emigrating, first to South Africa and then to what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1947. There he acquired a farm, mining interests, and a Mercedes motor dealership. He exchanged part of the business (Shepton Estates) for 1.5 million Lonrho shares in 1961 and was appointed its joint managing director (and chief executive in 1963).
By the 1970s, when Rowland had returned to the UK, Lonrho's rapid expansion had caused one of many cash crises – his merchant bank resigned over his controversial accounting methods – and Lonrho executives in South Africa were accused of fraud (although the charges were dropped). Rowland had also made various transactions involving options and payments to senior executives without the board's authority. He was obliged to bring in non-executive directors, a faction of which, led by UK executive Basil Smallpiece of Cunard, tried to unseat him in 1973, saying he was unfit to run a public company. Although Rowland's shareholders ultimately supported him, he had alienated members of the City and a subsequent Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) report censored Lonrho for breaking the sanctions embargo against Rhodesia (later Zambia and Zimbabwe).
In 1978 Rowland bought Scottish & Universal Trusts (SUITS), the family company of Scottish executive Hugh Fraser, which held 29% of House of Fraser (the owners of Harrods). When Lonrho's subsequent bid for control of House of Fraser failed, having been ruled to be against the public interest, Rowland sold part of the stake (intended only as a temporary arrangement) in 1984 to Mohamed al-Fayed. The company was then taken over by al-Fayed himself. Rowland responded by launching a public campaign against al-Fayed. In 1989 he published a unique midweek edition of The Observer, leaking extracts of a DTI report into the takeover which concluded that al-Fayed had persistently lied about his wealth and background. An apparent truce in 1993 was broken when Rowland later accused al-Fayed of breaking into his Harrods safety deposit box. Al-Fayed later settled the dispute with Rowland's widow Josephine, although he did not admit liability.
By the 1990s Lonrho was under-performing. Rowland turned for investment to Alan Bond, who then went bankrupt when he tried to take over the company; he also sold The Observer to the Guardian Group in 1993 and, more controversially (following accusations of Libyan involvement in the Lockerbie bombing of 1988), sold a £177 million stake in Metropole Hotels to the Libyan government. Having sold part of his personal 15% holding in Lonrho to German businessman Dieter Bock in 1992, Rowland was removed from the board after a power struggle with Bock in 1994.