George Harris

George Harris (b. 1896) joined Rowntrees in 1923, and was Chairman from 1941 to 1952.  Although related to the Rowntrees by his marriage to Frieda Rowntree, he was the first non-family member who rose to the level of high management, eventually elected to the Group Board in 1936 and to become Chairman in 1941-52.

Initially, his multiple requests to join the board were rejected, but he was eventually elected to a reorganised York Board in 1931. Rowntree’s was failing in the 1920s because of the poor economic climate and in the face of competition from Cadbury’s. It also had a poor product range, and an unsystematic reactive approach to product development.

In 1925, Harris made a study of American scientific approaches to marketing. Harris undertook a comprehensive market survey to establish what his customers really wanted. By force of his personality and commanding leadership and the evident success of his strategy, he committed the sometimes reluctant company to a modern and sophisticated brands marketing approach.  The result was an enormous upsurge and growth in the company, so important to York’s economy, and the lasting appearance of such products as Black Magic, Smarties, Aero, and above all KitKat, today recognised as a successful global brand. Harris is today seen as the key player behind the mid 20th century fortunes of the Rowntree company.


For an account of George Harris’s vital role in the Rowntree company in the development of Brands Management, see the lecture given by Dr Ralph Kaner in 2011

The published book can now be purchased via The University of York, Borthwick Institute for Archives