THE former head of one of Britain's largest deep-water trawler fleets is set to become the new High Steward of Grimsby.
The town is reviving the ancient office of High Steward and John Ross, who ran the huge Ross trawler fleet in the 1950s and 1960s, has been invited to accept the post.
John is the son of J Carl Ross, for many years the chairman of the Ross Group, the Grimsby-based company which put its name to everything from fish fingers and frozen peas, to trawlers and motorway service stations. In fact Young's Bluecrest, today Britain's largest and most successful seafood producer, is a direct descendant of the Ross Group empire.
Ironically, it was J Carl Ross who last held the office of High Steward before he died 21 years ago. But John has been living in retirement since he retired from active business but has enjoyed an outstanding career in several branches of the fishing industry. He said today that he was very honoured to have been approached.
A trained accountant, it was inevitable that he would go into the fast growing family business in the 1950s. He helped develop the fish merchanting side of the business which gave birth to the subsidiary Rossfish.
Then he took over the trawling division which had bases in Grimsby, Hull, Aberdeen and Fleetwood. Ross trawlers operated around 100 distant, middle and North Sea vessels, fishing in every corner of the northern hemisphere.
In 1956, the company secured twenty of the best skippers through acquisition, and the ensuing building programme of 'Bird' and 'Cat' class North Sea and Middle Water trawlers (eg Ross Hawk and Ross Tiger) was a resounding success. The profitable record of the Ross vessels became renowned and the Group built many more, mostly at the Selby, Yorkshire Cochrane yards which it also owned. At its peak, the Ross Group owned the largest fishing fleet in Europe.
But John Ross was not afraid to experiment and, with the help of his trawler manager Dennis Roberts, they developed a number of revolutionary stern operated new vessels including the Ross Fame and Ross Fortune and the technically more challenging Ross Daring and Ross Delight. He was also involved with the development of the first cross Humber hovercraft service.
In the late 1960s, John Ross decided to send part of his fleet, along with their crews from Grimsby, to a new base in Newfoundland, but many of the fishermen became homesick and the project was eventually abandoned.
While Ross was developing his fish merchanting activities, he recognised that the future of the fishing industry might lie in integrating fish catching, processing, and merchanting. A highly successful frozen food business was later developed on the back of fishing.
John eventually left Ross Group after a board room bust up and went on to head the then fishing supply Great Grimsby Coal Salt and Tanning Company which he changed to a shorter and more modern name - Cosalt. He also floated the company on the London Stock Exchange and set Cosalt in a new and highly successful direction.
His son David Ross is co-founder (with Charles Dunstone) of Britain's most dynamic mobile phone retailer, the Carphone Warehouse Company and David also sits on the board of several other blue chip businesses.
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