Birmingham businessman and former Aston Villa director Harry Cressman has died at the age of 81.
Mr Cressman, who founded Bristol Street Motors in the late 1940s, passed away at home in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cancer.
The father-of-three, who had six grandchildren, was described as “one of the last true great entrepreneurs” by a former colleague at the business, which was acquired by Vertu Motors plc in March 2007.
Vertu’s non-executive chairman Paul Williams, who was chief executive of Bristol Street Group Limited until its acquisition, worked with Mr Cressman at the start of his career.
Describing his former boss as a “marvellous man”, he said: “I worked with him for 10 years. He was one of the greatest entrepreneurs this country has ever had.
“He and his family set up Bristol Street Motors just after the war but it was really Harry who took charge of it. He started off with his one dealership in Bristol Street in Birmingham to having something in the region of 25 dealerships.
“He was one of the founding fathers of the car dealer group businesses and was the first one to have more than one dealership. He was a great entrepreneur and great man and a big servant of the Midlands who will be very sorely missed.
“He was a major employer in Birmingham for many years and lived in Solihull, in Eastcote Paddocks in Hampton-In-Arden.
“His family was American and they were posted over here. He and his brother Albert founded the business in the late 1940s. They were one of the Midlands families of the time and he was one of those guys where everybody stood up if he walked into the room because he had such an incredible aura.
“He was also at one stage a director of Aston Villa Football Club and was also the chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce for a while. Again, that was going nowhere until he went in and then there was a queue of people wanting to join.
“I was only a young man at the time and he took me under his wing. He would make you feel part of the company and help you and that was the same for most people.
“I myself bought Bristol Street Motors 10 years ago. He was a tremendous influence on me and also on a good number of people too.”
Mr Cressman came to Birmingham in 1948 to join his brother developing the business. Between them, they helped revolutionise car selling in this country, bringing a US-style emphasis on big showrooms and multi-car dealerships. An American ‘can do’ attitude to life and business established him as one of the region’s best-known businessman and a deep-seated regard for his adopted area resulted in him joining the board of Aston Villa.
According to his son Rick, one of his proudest achievements was the campaigning part he played, along with racing hero Jackie Stewart, in making the wearing of seat belts compulsory.
“He felt pleased and proud that he could do something to prevent people being killed and seriously injured. It was a big part of the reason he was offered a knighthood.”
Mr Cressman, however, was unable to accept the title because he wanted to retain his American nationality.
Tragedy struck the family eight years ago when Mr Cressman’s youngest son Tom was murdered by his jealous lover Jane Andrews, a former royal aide to the Duchess of York. Ms Andrews was eventually convicted of the crime, but not before a lurid and high-profile trial.
Rick, who owns Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire, described his father as someone who always saw the positive in life.
“He was a real get-up-and-go make-it-happen kind of person. He always wanted people to make the most of their ability whether it was his own family or people who worked for him.
“My grandfather was a very entrepreneurial character who had a wide range of businesses and was an amazing businessman. Dad grew up with that get-up-and-go culture.”