James Wyndham John Hughes-Hallett
1949-2019

James Hughes-HallettJames Hughes-Hallett, who died on 12th October, aged 70, was Chairman of John Swire & Sons Limited 2005-2015 – becoming the first non-Swire or Scott family member to lead the Swire group. Prior to this, he was Chairman of Swire Pacific and Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong for five and a half years. His Taipanship encompassed a period of unprecedented growth of the Mainland Chinese market; but also a deepening global recession in the wake of the 'dotcom bubble' and 9/11, as well as, closer to home, the SARS crisis of 2003 – challenges he met with his habitual good humour, patience and pragmatism.

Educated at Eton and at Merton College, Oxford, where he read English, James joined Swire in 1976, after first qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with the London firm of Dixon Wilson. In his application, however, he expressed his hopes of moving away from that discipline, noting that Swire offered '…opportunities which I think represent the kind of work I should now like to undertake. I should not like to work specifically as an accountant for John Swire & Sons…' Indeed, his first posting was to Swire Shipping (Agencies) Limited and shipping was to feature prominently throughout his 40-year career with Swire. His depth of knowledge and experience thus stretched all the way from the complex partnerships that enabled China Navigation to effect the transition from conventional cargo handling to containers, to the sophisticated, self-geared multipurpose vessels that would become its trademark in the Pacific.

James rapidly climbed the corporate ladder, with spells in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan – including a stint as Cathay Pacific country manager. In 1989, he was posted to Sydney, as Managing Director of John Swire & Sons Pty and right-hand to Edward Scott, Chairman of the Australian portfolio, which was then rapidly growing its cold storage and agricultural businesses and which also controlled a broad range of interests in Papua New Guinea. He returned to Hong Kong in 1993, when he was appointed Chairman and Managing Director of the China Navigation Company, overseeing, inter alia, the arrival into the fleet of the company's first Capesize bulk carrier, Erradale, one of the largest – and also one of the last – deep-sea merchant vessels built by a UK shipyard. He took over the Taipan's role on 1st June 1999.

James Hughes-Hallett was born in London in 1949. From an early age, he embraced life with both hands. Growing up in the 1960s on the Oxfordshire country estate where his father was land agent, he was an audacious horseman; in adulthood, he transferred his affections to motorbikes, which later cost him a lengthy spell in hospital, after a nasty accident in Hong Kong. In his early outport bachelor days, he garnered a reputation amongst his peers as a hard-worker and hard-player – but endeared himself to local staff by taking enormous trouble, during his various postings, to absorb and appreciate local culture and customs. He explored more literally on foot: trekking into the hills behind the cities where he worked – on one occasion, rescuing the new MD of Hong Kong port operator, Modern Terminals, who had collapsed as they hiked the MacLehose Trail.

As Taipan, James carried on the opendoor style of leadership introduced by his predecessor, Peter Sutch. Down-to-earth, with a disarming propensity to self-deprecation, James, like Peter, was an excellent 'people person': 'a great mentor to others', recalled a former colleague. However, his easy affability hid an essentially private man, who possessed a formidable intellect. A true polymath, he took a life-long pleasure in learning for its own sake, reading voraciously and enjoying an almost spiritual connection with art – which he once remarked was 'all about interpreting memory in so many different guises'. In Asia, he indulged this by building a collection of Chinese and Japanese artworks and pursuing a scholarly interest in ceramics – to the extent of taking lessons in the craft from Japanese masters.

Back in London as group Chairman from 2005, he devoted considerable energy outside of work to the mission of engaging young people in art. He was Chairman of both the Courtauld Institute of Art, (where he oversaw a period of expansion of the school's teaching and research roles), and of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, a charity supporting the arts, as well as environmental and social projects that had been established by his maternal great-uncle. He was also Deputy Chairman of the Attingham Trust, which runs courses in fine arts and architectural heritage, a founder of the charity Art History in Schools, and a trustee of the renowned Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Cutting a slightly eccentric figure as he sped around central London between meetings on his bicycle, James was also a governor of the School of Oriental & African Studies and a non-executive director of HSBC (2005-2014). On his retirement from Swire in 2015, he was appointed Chairman of Clarkson's, the shipping and services group.

James was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star of Hong Kong in 2004 and was appointed CMG in 2012. During his lengthy illness, he continued to give his time – and was also a generous benefactor – to the causes he held dear.

James married first, Betsy Hall, (dissolved) and secondly, Katrina Repka, who survive him with his daughters.
James Wyndham John Hughes-Hallett

James Wyndham John Hughes-Hallett
1949-2019

Meeting in Guangzhou

Meeting in Guangzhou

Shanghai forum

Shanghai forum

Senior management appointments

Senior management appointments

150th anniversary in HK

150th anniversary in HK

Empowering young talent

Empowering young talent

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