Obituary: Tony Cowling | News
UK – Tony Cowling, one of the founders of Taylor Nelson, died on March 14th, 2020 after a short illness.
Tony Cowling was one of the founders of a start-up research company which under his leadership grew to become the second largest in the world. He was born in 1936 and grew up in Kent. As a young man he was an accomplished sportsman and had football trials with Chelsea F C.
In 1962 he married Renée who is French. Her Gallic charm and vibrancy was a counterpoint to his outwardly modest and understated manner. They set up home in Epsom and had two children, Didier and Danielle, and five grandchildren
He joined the market research industry in the early 60’s and in 1965 along with Liz Nelson and Hugh Stammers created Taylor Nelson. He remained with the company for over 40 years.
Taylor Nelson became an established and respected feature of the UK research scene and in 1992 acquired the UK interests of AGB Research. Tony was very much the driving force behind this move which provided scale and created a platform from which the company could grow. Tony identified the structural change needed to meet the opportunities offered by the globalisation of many client industries.
In 1997 he successfully negotiated a merger with Sofres the leading company in France. As chief executive of the combined business Tony was well on the way to fulfilling his vision of creating a genuinely global research company. When he stood down as chairman in 2006 TNS had operating subsidiaries in more than 80 countries and employed 15,000 people.
Among Tony’s enduring characteristics were his stamina and his tireless capacity for work. A story is told of a short visit to India with a colleague to pursue a potential joint venture deal. Tony was well into his 60’s, the colleague significantly younger. After a seemingly endless flight they arrived at what was then Bombay airport. They waited for their bags to be delivered in the baggage hall, but Tony’s failed to arrive. His only clothes were the ones he was wearing. They set off for their hotel and arrived with just over half an hour to spare before the first meeting
After a quick wash and brush-up Tony appeared, bright-eyed and keen to get down to business. He then explained that the deal would need to be concluded that day. His bewildered and exhausted companion asked why. The plan had been to be in Bombay for three days.
Tony had received a call to say that he was urgently needed in Bulgaria! He was making arrangements to fly to Sofia that evening. The hotel had arranged for a tailor to come and measure him for a change of clothes which would be available later in the day. The deal was concluded, and he departed having had no sleep for more than 24 hours. The visit to Bulgaria resulted in another deal, this time an acquisition. History does not tell when or whether he managed to get any sleep.
As a manager Tony was very much hands-on, able to absorb and recall an extraordinary amount of detail. In any discussion he always seemed better informed than anyone else. He was admired and respected by colleagues who found his style highly motivational. He could make them positively want to do what he wanted them to do.
But most of all people liked working for him. He was shrewd but at the same time sociable. He enjoyed the company of friends and colleagues. He was equally comfortable in the pub chatting with a beer in one hand as he was talking to investors or merchant bankers. In recent years, he frequently invited family, friends and former colleagues to Stamford Bridge where he had season tickets to watch his beloved Chelsea FC.
After retiring as chairman of TNS in 2006 Tony became life president. Throughout his life he was an enthusiastic representative of the market research industry. At different times he was chairman of the Association of Market Survey Organisations (AMSO) and president of Gallup International Association. In 2006 Tony was awarded the MRS Gold Medal. He died on 14th March after a short illness.