Fighting Fire with Latin Flair; Sir Harry Wilmot Claims He's No Entrepreneur despite Navigating the Rough Corporate Terrain of Latin America and Blazing a Trail with a Teesside Fire Protection Firm. JEZ DAVISON Met Him

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Byline: JEZ DAVISON

IF you ask Sir Harry Wilmot why he's been successful in business, he'll meet the question with a quizzical stare.

The label of business big-hitter doesn't sit easily with the reticent entrepreneur, even though he has quadrupled revenues at Middlesbrough fire protection specialist H E Woolley since leading a management buy-out of the firm 10 years ago.

His impressive CV reveals he has also run successful ventures in the unpredictable trading environment of Latin America.

But Sir Harry - whose lofty title fell into his lap after an eighth generation relative was recognised for his work as a doctor - claims he's just been in the right place at the right time.

There's more than mere modesty behind his words; his South American adventure was made possible only by a chance meeting at his grandparents' 50th anniversary bash.

But behind the humility lies a shrewd commercial brain and a steely inner strength borne from the devastation of learning, at the age of seven, of his father's death in a hit and run accident.

Trying to recall his feelings back then, he says: "As a child you are far more accepting, somehow. It's only later on in life that you tend to miss people like that."

Born in London but raised in Fife, Harry moved to Wiltshire after the tragedy before returning to Scotland to study engineering at Edinburgh University.

After graduating in 1990, he landed a job fitting electrical cabling in tunnels for engineering and development consultancy Mott MacDonald.

Being catapulted from the cosy haven of academia into the frenetic world of heavy industry was a real eye-opener.

"It was proper hard graft. Tunnels in London were built by hand with a jack hammer."

His career took a radical change of direction after he met the late Charles Crosland, former MD of Middlesbrough engineering firm Parson & Crosland (P&C), at a family get-together.

Mr Crosland was looking for someone to help power P&C's hydro-electric turbine building operation in Peru and Harry, with his engineering experience, fitted the bill.

After two years enjoying the humble friendliness of Peruvian culture, he moved to Argentina in 1994 to launch a venture selling robots to the automotive and electronics industries.

The venture became a part of P&C's aircraft sales firm, Avietsa, and mushroomed into a pounds 300,000-a-year operation with seven staff under the stewardship of Harry and his Argentine business partner.

The London boy admits he enjoyed the colourful metropolis of Buenos Aires as much as the work. …