The death of John Foulston, killed late on Tuesday in a 150mph crash at the Silverstone racing circuit, has robbed the UK computer industry of one of its most charismatic characters. Outspoken and controversial, he frequently upset rivals to his Atlantic Computers Plc with his comments and agressive business approach. Just 10 days ago, he told Computergram International that Meridian, the new Inspectorate International-owned leasing group formed from CPS Computer Group Plc and United Leasing Plc, was all PR and not much action and that fellow competitor, IBL Plc, appeared to have dropped dead in the UK. Foulston did not, however, confine himself to sounding off about fellow lessors. He reserved especial contempt for IBL's stockbroker Rowe and Pitman. Convinced that IBL's financial structure made it a dangerous proposition, Foulston publicly stated that the company was not ready to be floated and accused Rowe and Pitman of failing to understand the leasing business. Subsequently, he said that Rowe and Pitman had been guilty of a brazen example of hype at a time when you could float a rubber duck. Such comments and the residual value accounting policies of Atlantic brought Foulston into regular conflict with the City. Ironically, he died just as communications between the two were beginning to improve dramatically. Helped by acquisitions and, importantly, by Atlantic's adoption of a more conservative approach to residuals, the company's share price stood at 740p before Foulston death was announced, a tripling of the price of nine moths ago. John Foulston started his career at the ill- fated Itel Corp before moving on to become one of the most successful salesmen at Memorex in the early 1970s. He founded Atlantic back in 1975 with the help of a UKP50,000 bank loan, building into the biggest independent leasing company in Europe with expected pre-tax profits this year of over UKP40m. As a result of its success, he was able to afford to indulge his passion for motor sport. He rescued the decaying Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Snetterton racing circuits in a UKP5m deal last year and set about restoring them to their former glory. Ironically, he died testing an old Indianopolis McLaren at Silverstone, a track he did not own. His death comes just a year after IBL chairman Phil Coussens lost his family in a helicopter accident. John Foulston's biggest legacy is to leave a company well geared to further expansion. Contrary to popular belief, Atlantic was not a one man band, Foulston having taken great care to build up a strong management team at all levels. Tough, decisive and entertaining, especially at others' expense, Foulston will be missed not least by his new found friends in the City. They wiped 50p off the share price on the news of his death yesterday morning, a sign of how much they had come to respect him.
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