U.K. Search Pioneer Dies at 80

May 19, 2015 – Anthony Saxton, a pioneer in the field of headhunting for the educational and charitable sectors, after a first career in advertising, has died at the age of 80. Mr. Saxton and his business partner, Stephen Bampfylde, founded Saxton Bampfylde International in 1986 and built a practice that applied “executive search” skills honed in the business world to finding university vice chancellors, charity chiefs, leaders of arts companies and public officials. They also handled corporate assignments. Mr. Saxton recruited the first female chief executive of a FTSE 100 company: (Dame) Marjorie Scardino, who became head of publishing group Pearson in 1997.

Mr. Saxton built strong relationships of trust with clients, and was credited with raising ethical standards across the sector as the first European chairman of the worldwide Association of Executive Search Consultants. He was also a founder and co-chairman of Amrop Hever, an international network of search firms, which gives an annual ‘Anthony Saxton Award’ to the member who makes the highest number of cross-border search assignment referrals.

Messrs. Saxton and Bampfylde, who had worked together in another firm, shared a deep religious faith. Their first action after agreeing to go into partnership on September 8 1986 — the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – was to receive communion at Westminster Abbey. Later both became oblates of the Anglican Benedictine community at Alton Abbey in Hampshire. The whole company attends an annual communion service to mark its anniversary.

Anthony Nicholas Scott Saxton was born in Suffolk on July 23, 1934. His father, Harold, was an instructor commander in the Navy — and later a parish priest at West Farleigh in Kent, where he was noted, according to one account, for “a poetic and creative instinct that didn’t necessarily conform to Church teachings.” Mr. Saxton’s prep school, St Peter’s Court, was evacuated from Broadstairs during the war to a country house in Devon, where a fire on the night of January 23, 1945 caused the deaths of three boys and a matron. Mr. Saxton escaped by climbing down from his first-floor dormitory on a makeshift rope of bedclothes — which broke, sending him crashing to the snowy ground in his bare feet. Though otherwise uninjured he suffered long-term lung damage from smoke inhalation.

His best — and lifelong — friend at St Peter’s was the future SAS soldier Peter (later General Sir Peter) de la Billière, who recalled that they were “almost as close as brothers.” Both went on to Harrow, and after leaving school they embarked from the de la Billière home in Shropshire “on a crazy spree, hitchhiking deep into North Wales dressed in pyjamas and dressing gowns,” during which they had to persuade local police that they were not escaped lunatics. Another Harrow friend was Prince Hussein of Jordan, who arrived to the elite boarding school as a 16-year-old, having been taken out of school in Egypt because of security fears. He was put under Mr. Saxton’s care as a house prefect. Prince Hussein had a precocious taste for fast cars and he and Mr. Saxton were taking one for a spin on the A4 near Heathrow when they realized the brakes had been tampered with, in what may have been one of the first of many assassination attempts on the Prince. Fortunately the straight road allowed them to roll to a halt.

Mr. Saxton’s ambition was to become a doctor, but he dropped out of St Mary’s Hospital medical school, having contracted penicillin poisoning after an infection. He completed National Service in naval intelligence before finding his first job in the business world as a cosmetics salesman. He advanced to become sales director for G-Plan furniture then moved into advertising as an account executive with Papert Koenig Lois, one of a new breed of agencies that brought the “Mad Men” ambience of Madison Avenue to London. Mr. Saxton acquired a reputation as a brilliant and mercurial ad-man. He combined creative flair and a sartorial style that reminded one colleague of Major John Steed in The Avengers with a commercial drive that earned him the nickname “Sax the Axe” for his restructuring skills. Among his projects was the transformation in 1967 of the top floor of Harrods into Way In – a “swinging mega-boutique” epitomizing the spirit of the era.

Mr. Saxton worked for other agencies but his interest at heart was in people, and in 1979 he moved into headhunting with John Stork, another former ad-man whom he had met in the Navy. After retiring from Saxton Bampfylde in 2000, Mr. Saxton chaired another specialist search firm, Moloney. He was also a director of Kingstream, an Australian iron ore mining business which developed a joint venture in North Korea — where Mr. Saxton built such warm relationships with officials of the usually unreachable regime that one message of condolence spoke of him being “loved in Pyongyang.”

Anthony Saxton was a lover of classical music and enjoyed waterskiing, windsurfing and boating, latterly in Normandy. He married Jill Lauderdale in 1971. She survives him with their two daughters, and two daughters of an earlier marriage. A son from the first marriage predeceased him.

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted in condensed form from The Telegraph (May 17, 2015)

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