UK: MASTERCLASS - YOUNG GUN TO INDUSTRY BIGSHOT. - Sir Roger Hurn, chairman and chief executive of Smiths Industries, is no dilettante gun: he's been regularly shooting since he was 12. Yet, as he tells Jonathan Young, editor of the Field, he never puts

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Sir Roger Hurn, chairman and chief executive of Smiths Industries, is no dilettante gun: he's been regularly shooting since he was 12. Yet, as he tells Jonathan Young, editor of the Field, he never puts sport before work.

The '80s spawned a creature destined to be catalogued in social history as the 'corporate sportsman'. It drove Range Rover Vogues with 'BOSS1' numberplates, wore shooting stockings with embroidered bon mots and despatched vast numbers of low pheasants.

Roger Hurn is the antithesis of this. The 58-year-old chairman and chief executive of Smiths Industries was brought up to shoot. 'I was 12 when I was given a .410 hammergun,' he recalls.

'I had my first lesson with it here, at the Holland & Holland Shooting School, in 1950, when meat was still rationed but rabbits abundant. Having learnt how to hit things, I sneaked off on a dawn raid against the rabbits swarming over the local golf course and came home, jubilant, with a couple.'

Those days of shortage have long gone, though Sir Roger still enjoys rough-shooting. We had planned to share a hide shooting pigeon coming into spring-sown wheat, but the birds had decided to stay snug in the woods, snacking on abundant acorns.

So it's the Shooting School instead, and Hurn is performing very prettily with a Holland & Holland Royal 12-bore built in the '30s, a period regarded by many as the golden era of London gunmaking.

For Hurn, the gun is symbolic of the cream of British craftsmanship, a reminder of his apprentice years with Rolls-Royce before he joined Smiths Industries in 1958. At the time the company was a key manufacturer of car parts, particularly speedometers and mile-ometers, but later diversified into avionics, medical equipment and specialist industrial products. This successful combination made 1995 pre-tax profits of £138 million, a contribution to industry which helped to secure Sir Roger's knighthood last year.

'If I do have a personal management credo,' he says, 'it's to agree strategy and plans with managers and then delegate authority and responsibility to them to perform against the agreed targets. When they turn out to be successful, a significant part of their reward is paid as a bonus.' His philosophy is seen clearest in the shooting field, where he is always the first to congratulate another on a good shot.

Since work is the curse of the shooting classes, he has had to make sacrifices.

'I'm very lucky to be invited to some marvellous shoots,' Hurn says, demolishing a clay pigeon, 'but I never put sport before my work. However, I do try to make sure that I'm at the Lords ground most Saturdays in the season.'

This is not Lords the cricket pitch but an extraordinary shoot in the Cambridgeshire fens. Run by John Humphreys, a country writer and jazz player, Hurn's fellow guns include a journalist, a car dealer, a gundog trainer and a farm manager. Most of them have been in the team for 18 years, steadily improving the habitat for wild game birds by planting new spinneys, controlling predators and letting some areas revert to fen jungle.

These practical conservation measures have resulted in the shoot's annual bag rising from 170 to a peak of 930 birds in 1991, an achievement that was acclaimed by the Prince of Wales in January when he awarded the shoot first prize in the Laurent-Perrier Awards for Wild Game Conservation.

'That was a great moment for all of us, especially for John Humphreys and David Almond, the farm manager,' says Hurn as we move on to try our hand at the Holland & Holland 'high-pheasant' targets. 'It was proof positive that wild game and high-return farming are feasible with a little co-operation. And we have great fun achieving it.'

This is really what makes shooting so attractive for Hurn. 'You know who your friends are when 30 of you - guns, wives, children and dogs - are crammed into a three-bedroomed cottage on the Yorkshire moors for the annual pilgrimage after grouse, the last hot water went three showers ago and a labrador's peed in your boots!'

At this point Andrew Perkins, a senior instructor with Holland & Holland, asks Hurn to put more weight on his right foot and keep the gun's swing straight; the remaining high-pheasant clay becomes dust. 'The most difficult shot for me is always the second bird of a pair - and the most enjoyable is getting it,' smiles Hurn. In fact he achieves it more often than not, as befits a man who has successfully carried off the difficult double of being chief executive and chairman.

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