Africa-Press – South-Africa. Julian Ogilvie Thompson, former chairperson of De Beers and Anglo American, has died at age 89 in Johannesburg. This followed a period of declining health, according to a family death announcement published in The Telegraph.
Born in Cape Town, Ogilvie Thompson’s father was a former chief justice. He matriculated from Bishops and studied at the University of Oxford.
At age 22, he married Tess Brand, the daughter of an English viscount, and started his career at Anglo American’s London office.
Ogilvie Thompson became personal assistant to mining magnate Harry Oppenheimer in the following year, in 1957.
Oppenheimer’s son Nicky later wrote that his father “put up” with “a very large and very difficult” personal assistant. (Ogilvie Thompson was a very tall man.)
“My father did it because he knew Julian was someone special who, with nurture, would make a real and important contribution to Anglo and De Beers.”
After a stint in Anglo’s financial department, he was appointed Anglo’s finance director in the 1960s and became a director of De Beers, which was run as part of Anglo, at the age of 32.
In 1983, he was appointed chairperson of Minorco, which ran Anglo’s mining operations outside of Africa, and two years later succeeded Harry Oppenheimer as executive chair of De Beers. In 1990, Ogilvie Johnson also became executive chair of Anglo American.
During this time, he – along with other business leaders – met with the newly released Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders, where he hoped to lay “a foundation for a constructive pattern of relationships” after the ANC took power.
In the turbulent run-up to the first democratic election, Ogilvie Thompson visited large international investors abroad to reassure them that the transition will be peaceful and that “logic will prevail”. In an interview with the Independent at the time, he is described as an “aesthetic, intellectual, convinced an appeal to reason will be sufficient to resolve any problem, no matter how emotionally charged”.
In 1996, Ogilvie Johnson oversaw one of South Africa’s first and biggest empowerment deals – the sale of Anglo’s stake in Johnnic to the National Empowerment Consortium.
In the late 1990s, Anglo and De Beers – which was basically run as one company until then – started the process of demerging and Nicky Oppenheimer took over as De Beers’ chair.
Ogilvie Thompson then directed a period of restructuring of the larger group, including the merger of Anglo American with Minorco that formed an international mining behemoth which was listed in London in 1999.
In the early 2000s, Tony Trahar became CEO of the company. Ogilvie Thompson was the last executive chair of a group where he was employed for 46 years.
A passionate supporter of education, Ogilvie Thompson – familiarly known as JOT – was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
He leaves behind his four children, Christopher, Rachel, Anthony and Katharine, 12 grandchildren, and one great-grandson. His wife, Tessa, died in 2020.
Memorial events for Ogilvie Thompson will be held later in the year in the UK and Johannesburg, the family said.