Sir Richard V. Giordano KBE, 1934-2022
American business leader, Knight of the British Empire
Last updated 1/23/2023 at 5:38pm
Sir Richard V. Giordano KBE, an iconic American business leader who led a transformation of British corporate culture, creator of the BOC Challenge sailing race and Knight Commander of the British Empire for his contributions to British industry, died on December 27, 2022 at 88 years of age at his home in Lake Wales, Florida, surrounded by his family.
Born on March 24, 1934, in the Bronx, New York, Giordano was the youngest son of Italian immigrants. A proud product of New York City Public Schools, he graduated from Stuyvesant High School followed by Harvard College in 1956 and Columbia Law School in 1959. Despite having rheumatic fever as a child, Giordano developed into a tall and athletic young man, discovering sailing and playing football in high school. These talents earned him a scholarship at Harvard College to continue his studies following the death of his father at the end his freshman year.
After working as a lawyer at Shearman & Sterling in New York City, Giordano took a job with a client, Airco, a then Fortune 500 firm, being named President by the age of 37. Overseas competitor BOC (British Oxygen Corp) launched a hostile takeover for Airco in 1978, and won. Instead of losing his job, he was invited to London to run the merged companies and became Britain's highest paid executive. This earned him notoriety in the British press long after his salary was surpassed by others and he transitioned to non-executive Chairman in 1994. He never lost his affection for the medical gases industry, taking pride in the innovative anesthetics his company developed, and quizzing family members facing surgery on their anesthetists' choice of sedation.
During his time at BOC, Giordano launched a new sailing race, the BOC Challenge "Around Alone", the longest single-handed event in the world and the first round the world race to start and finish in the USA. BOC sponsored the race in 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994. To him, the sailors in the race embodied the values of courage, perseverance and resourcefulness that he admired both in business and in life.
Giordano retired from his full-time leadership role at the BOC Group in 1990 and received an honorary knighthood -- Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire -- in 1989. This reflected not only his contributions to British industry but also leadership on the UK Central Electricity Generating Board and as Non-executive director of National Power.
In 1994, Giordano joined British Gas as Non-Executive Chairman some years after it had been very successfully marketed, privatized by the British Government and was in serious difficulty. Its share price was at an all -time low and the many members of the public who added the shares to their retirement portfolios, were likely wondering how they might actually retire. A traditional corporate leader would most likely decide on a strategy to make the company bigger. But Giordano, after study and consultation, concluded that he saw three different companies in British Gas: a gas marketing company - Centrica, a utility - Lattice and an exploration and development company - BG PLC. He spun off the different companies to the British Gas shareholders, thereby creating three much smaller but more focused companies. When he joined British Gas its market value was roughly £12 billion. When he left the three companies that he created were collectively worth at least 9 times that, if not more. Giordano opted out of owning any British Gas stock, explaining that to enrich himself thus would have been a conflict of interest. But for the millions of public shareholders who had bought British Gas shares on its privatization, they were glad that they did.
In 1999, Giordano joined the board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 2009 until 2013. He also served on the boards of Georgia-Pacific, Rio Tinto, Reuters, and Grand Metropolitan.
In 2005, Giordano was appointed Chairman of CC Energy, an oil and gas exploration and production company based in London. After over fifteen years leading CC Energy, he announced his intention to retire in 2024 when he would have been 90!
In contrast to tremendous success in business, he was unsuccessful at retirement. His first retirement was after leaving BOC, when he enjoyed time sailing in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Another short-lived retirement period followed his departure from British Gas. In his leisure time, he greatly loved cooking for and entertaining his large family and many friends. Sailing and shooting sports also brought him great joy.
In 2002, Giordano was granted British citizenship, which he holds with his US citizenship, and was appointed an additional Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Now formally Sir Richard he was the first American to be honored in this way. Also, in 2002, the Italian government conferred on him the title of "Commendatore".
Sir Richard is survived by his wife Marguerite, his brother Joseph, his children with former wife Barbara: Susan Giordano and her husband Walter Sass, daughter Anita Ustjanauskas and her husband Richard Ustjanauskas, their children Jessica and Jacob, son Richard Giordano Jr. and his wife Renee and their children Nicholas and Tessa. He will also be missed by his stepchildren with Marguerite, Katherine and Rule. He is predeceased by his wives Barbara and Susan and his sister Lola Boyd.
Sir Richard always had a steady hand at the helm and it will be missed by his family and friends whether at sea, in the kitchen or in the boardroom.