Financial world is full warlike language. There are boardroom coups and bid battles. But, however dramatic they may sound, these are only martial metaphors.

Simon Murray is a different story. The veteran businessman, who has served on a string of boards in the UK and Hong Kong, is not just another pin-striped desk warrior – he is the real thing.

His autobiography, Nobody will Shoot You if You Make Them Laugh sounds like a whimsical business book title in the vein Who Moved My Cheese. But it is based upon a real event in the life of the 81 year-old polar explorer and former soldier in France’s Foreign Legion.

From soldier to tycoon: Veteran businessman Simon Murray has served on a string of boards in the UK and Hong Kong

Simon Murray is a veteran businessman who has served on many boards in the UK, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Many executives are proud of their triathlons or mountain biking.

Murray can take it all. He’s climbed the Atlas Mountains (Kilimanjaro), trekked up Everest, ran the 150-mile Marathon des Sables, completed the Marathon des Sables in Morocco at 60, and abseiled down Shard at age 72.

His book opens in Botswana where he was taken hostage by gunmen and tried to trick his captor by performing magic tricks to make a penny disappear. The man’s wife asked whether, since Murray was a conjurer, he could make her husband vanish?

‘Yes,’ replied our hero, ‘but it will be very difficult to bring him back.’

Cue general hilarity and Murray’s release. There are many more stories like this about Murray’s unlikely ascent to the top in the business world. His CV reads like a Dickens novel.

Soldier: Murray served in the French Foreign Legion

Soldier: Murray served in France Foreign Legion

A large part of his childhood was spent at an orphanage. Then he went to a brutal boarding school and then found some relief in the Foreign Legion.

He was 63 years old when he reached the South Pole. Pen Hadow, an explorer, was also there. They each pulled a sledge that weighed 23 stone uphill, for eight hours each day.

He spent the majority of his career in Hong Kong, and he served 14 years at Jardine Matheson as its boss. ‘There is a lot of loyalty in the Foreign Legion,’ he says, ‘but at Jardine Matheson, well, there was a lot of backstabbing.’

Murray, who created Orange’s mobile phone brand, is still active today. He also serves on the advisory board for Huawei, the Chinese telecoms company.

He says that despite his long career, his 54-year-old marriage and his three children are his greatest successes. This is no doubt due to his own broken childhood.

His father, Patrick Murray was the scion from a wealthy family. His mother Maxine King was the daughter of a publican in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. 

After a brief romance, they met at lunchtime at the Berkeley Hotel in Mayfair in 1937.

The marriage was in good shape three years after Simon was born.

His father was bankrupt and abandoned his family, leaving his mother without a job.

In desperation, she handed Murray and his brother Anthony into the care of ‘what was effectively an orphanage’, a nurses’ training school outside Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Record breaker: At the age of 63, Murray became the oldest man to reach the South Pole

Record breaking: Murray, aged 63 became the oldest man to reach South Pole at the age of 65

He says he feels ‘nothing, zero’ about his father, who he met only once, by chance, when he was 27.

‘I was travelling in Sweden after I had been in the Foreign Legion. I was using poste restaurante [where a post office holds mail until the recipient calls for it]I received a letter from him.

‘I went to see him, and we went to the pub.’

It was the first and last encounter – his father died shortly after.

Murray never asked his mother why she had placed him in an orphanage. ‘She was a single parent and it was wartime,’ he says. ‘Bombs were raining down and she must have thought we would be safer there.’

The brothers were evacuated to Montgomeryshire then lived for a while with their maternal grandparents in the slums of Worksop before his father’s family paid for them to go to boarding school. 

He is most well-known in the UK as the former chairman of Glencore, a commodities giant. He was fired after a dispute over sexism.

The iceman cometh: Murray was joined on his South Pole expedition by explorer Pen Haddow, each pulling a sledge weighing about 150 kilos uphill for 8 hours a day

The iceman is here: Murray was joined by Pen Haddow, an explorer. They each pulled a sledge about 150 kilos uphill for eight hours a day.

Women, he said, were not as ambitious as men because they preferred bringing up their children, and he wouldn’t rush out to hire a female director who is ‘going to go off for nine months’.

He is unrepentant and the idea that he is a sexist granny is confounded by the fact that his wife Jennifer of 54 years sounds more than a match. At 60, she became the first woman to fly solo around the world in a helicopter, earning the headline, ‘Chopper granny rounds globe’ in the Guardian.

‘My wife knows the score. The idea I don’t like women on boards is rubbish. What I was saying is I don’t want them just because they are women, as tokens.’

He is unlikely to be disturbed by the woke lobby in any case, given his many encounters with real danger and violence, including an episode when he saw a fellow Legionnaire murder three deserters during the Algerian War of Independence. He was then instructed to bring two of the heads back home to base to identify the victims.

He says that the Legionnaires were anaesthetized and made to suffer terrible horrors. ‘But they were and are fine soldiers. I learned esprit du corps, which was very useful in my business. You couldn’t have the French Foreign Legion doing Work From Home.

‘WFH is sad, you are missing out on all the camaraderie and the pride.’

This old soldier is pessimistic about the future. ‘Someone said: “When goods don’t cross frontiers, armies will.” We are all at one another’s throats.’

  • Nobody Will Shoot You If You Make Them Laugh by Simon Murray, Unicorn Publishing, £25.

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