Brian Cookson, who died on 17 September, was Company Secretary and Legal Adviser to British Aircraft Corporation and British Aerospace from 1967 to 1992, a period which saw the largest changes in the industry from being nationalised (1977), partly privatised (1981) and privatised (1985). In his role, Cookson was at the centre of all the relevant negotiations with the government. His work was much admired and respected particularly by his BAC boss, Sir George Edwards, who was Managing Director and later Chairman.
Brian Cookson was quietly efficient, generous and understanding, with intellect and dedication. But he will probably be best remembered by all those who served with the two companies for setting up one of the leading pension schemes in the country.
Brian Cookson was born in North London on 30 September 1931. His parents were Hetty and Joel Cookson and he had two brothers and a sister. He attended Tottenham Grammar School where he was captain of cricket and played rugby. He went on to read law at the London School of Economics. After serving as a national serviceman in the Army in which he rose to the rank of Captain, he joined the legal firm Linklaters and Paines who represented the newly formed British Aircraft Corporation. He soon came to the notice of the company and in 1962 he was appointed Assistant Company Secretary.
In 1967 he became Company Secretary and eventually joined the Board as Director of Contracts. As such he took a leading role in the detail discussions with the Labour government over the terms of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act of 1977 which saw the nationalisation of the aircraft industry and the merger of BAC, Hawker Siddeley Aviation, Hawker Siddeley Dynamics and Scottish Aviation to form British Aerospace.
Cookson was invited to become the new Company Secretary and Legal Adviser and was again at the centre of the negotiations which led to the partial privatisation of the company in 1981 when the Conservative government sold off over 50% of its shares. Four years later in 1985 the company was fully privatised when the government floated their remaining shares on the Stock Exchange, retaining one golden share, which was able to out vote all other shares in certain circumstances. This allowed the government to veto foreign control of the Board of the Company.
During his BAC career Brian Cookson was responsible for Industrial Property Rights and Insurance and set up an insurance broking subsidiary. He was involved with the establishment of a joint company with Lloyds Bank for the leasing of BAC One-Eleven aircraft. He was also a long-time director of BAC’s US subsidiary.
With the formation of British Aerospace plc, Cookson found himself at the legal centre of the large acquisitions programme including Royal Ordnance, Sperry and then the controversial acquisitions initiated by the Chairman, Professor Roland Smith, including Rover cars and the Arlington properties company.
It was at this time that he reformed the company’s pension scheme which has been much admired in the industry and appreciated by the recipients. He was instrumental in bringing representatives of the workforce on to the Board of Trustees and for introducing one of the country’s first Employee Share Schemes.
In 1990 he was appointed to the Board of British Aerospace as Legal Director. He retired in June 1992.
Brain Cookson was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1981. He was also Secretary to the Trustees of Brooklands Museum.
In retirement he was involved in Masonic affairs. He enjoyed travelling, golf, bowls and spending time with his family. He is survived by his widow Sheila who he married in 1958, a son and a daughter and three grandchildren.