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Norfolk's dougle-glazing tycoon George Williams dies

09:15 08 January 2010

Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

Double-glazing tycoon George Williams, who died yesterday aged 81, started the country's biggest window empire in his Norwich garage.

When he retired as chairman of Anglian Windows in 1990, it employed 4,000 staff and was the country's fastest growing business of its kind with a £140m turnover.

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Michael Pollitt, obituaries editor

Double-glazing tycoon George Williams, who died yesterday aged 81, started the country's biggest window empire in his Norwich garage.

When he retired as chairman of Anglian Windows in 1990, it employed 4,000 staff and was the country's fastest growing business of its kind with a £140m turnover.

After failing to find someone to double-glaze his home in Park Close, Old Catton, he apparently decided at 2am one night in May 1966 that he could do better.

He started Anglian Windows with £450 capital. Eighteen years later, the business was acquired for £33m by industrial conglomerate BET (British Electric Traction), which also owned Norwich-based Boulton & Paul.

It was a remarkable success story, driven by his energy, but he admitted that for the first three years on the new venture, he worked sexing poultry for Norfolk's turkey king, Bernard Matthews, because “I didn't know how it would go.”

Earlier, after RAF service and then office work and 17 years sexing chickens, he saw an idea for windows in the United States. He adapted the concept and his business prospered.

A turning point was the decision to open a high street showroom in Ipswich in 1969 and the network grew rapidly to 118 showroom branches nationwide. It brought in the orders and, as secondary window sales followed double glazing, Mr Williams was soon employing hundreds of staff and Norwich even became known as the “city of windows”.

In September 1984, BET bought 80pc of Anglian Windows for £26.8m and Mr Williams sold his 74pc shareholding for £8.8m cash, £10m in loan notes and £6m in BET shares. It then had six factories, employing 1,460 staff and 1,400 sales and installation agents.

In that financial year, it made £7.1m profit on £81.5m turnover.

Under his leadership, Anglian Windows became an even greater force in the industry until he had to retire, aged 62. By then, he had the trappings of wealth with an estate at Old Hall, Weston Longville, complete with nine-hole golf course over his 80 acres.

As the owner of a helicopter, plane and 70ft cruiser, later donated to an American conservation charity, it was no surprise that he was in the Sunday Times list of Britain's richest 100 people with a fortune estimated at between £30m and £35m in the 1990s.

But aged 65, Mr Williams decided in 1992 to return to making windows having bought a controlling stake in a company in New Jersey, USA, two years earlier.

When he became chairman of Aspen Windows, then based at Lenwade, it was quickly on the expansion path. By February 1993, a new factory in Heigham Street, Norwich, had been opened and 150 staff were employed.

He did have a legal spat, dubbed “window wars” with his former company about alleged poaching of staff but by 1998, he had finally quit the window business.

His whirlwind and spectacular courtship of his Chilean wife, Alex, after an almost fairytale romance was typical of his zest for life.

He saw her in a London boutique, modelling clothes. Then, after 18 months, he had tracked her down, proposed and they were married in a church wedding on the Caribbean island of Necker in August 1986 - and a near neighour, friend and former employer Bernard Matthews was a witness.

His fleet of cars, with distinctive GW plates, were just part of his enthusiastic lifestyle but a fall at his home last summer left him severely disabled. However, he did make a partial recovery.

He is survived by Alex. His first two marriages, to Carole and to Sybil, ended in divorce. He has a daughter, Jane, and sons Carl, Simon and Ben.

A private funeral will be held followed by a memorial service, to be announced.

Michael Pollitt

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