Sir Isaac Wolfson

1897 - 1991

Successful retailer, businessman and patriarch of a family of notable philanthropists. Born in Hospital Street in the Gorbals district of Glasgow, to Polish immigrants, Wolfson was educated at Queen's Park School. He initially followed his father into the wood-working business. But in the mid-1920s he moved to London where he worked as a merchant. In 1931, he joined Great Universal Stores (GUS), which had been founded in Manchester in 1900. He was soon Managing Director, gaining control of the company and bringing about substantial growth. It became the largest mail order business in the UK and Wolfson's empire went well beyond fashion, including construction, finance, furniture, supermarkets and a travel agency. He was an astute businessman who understood the changing tastes of the British public and the importance of consumer credit in promoting affordability. At the time of his death, GUS alone had a stockmarket valuation of £3 billion.

Wolfson's Orthodox Jewish roots brought a strong sense of philanthropy and a wish to improve the lives of others. He is quoted as saying "No man should have more than £100,000. The rest should go to charity". He contributed to Jewish charities and well beyond, establishing the Wolfson Foundation in 1955 which gave generously to support education, science, medical research and entrepreneurialism. He established Wolfson Colleges in both the Universities Oxford and Cambridge; a student hall and medical school at the University of Glasgow; a microelectronics institute at the University of Edinburgh, which was spun out as a successful microchip design company; the Lady Wolfson extension to the John Rylands Library in Manchester; and a host of professorships in the UK and Israel. His foundation also gave generously to the cancer research.

Wolfson was knighted in 1962 and awarded the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in 1971. He died in Israel, where he had significant business interests and maintained a home. His son, Leonard Wolfson, took over as Chair of GUS.

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