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Information pioneer Jan Nasmyth

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Image BP/Argus Media Group

Whether we are in America or Britain we hear endlessly recycled news about a few politicians so it's easy to forget there are millions of other people creating and contributing to our lives in ways that are far more interesting, less harmful and quite probably more important to the general well-being.

Jan Nasmyth, who has just died, was one. He established "one of the world's most trusted business intelligence services".

The Wall Street Journal reports that curiosity drove Nasmyth to create Argus Media, which began as a newsletter published in the dining room of his Hampstead home.

. . .though a product of the British establishment, he remained fiercely mistrustful of institutions. It was that attitude that helped to build up Argus's reputation for independence in a market dominated by powerful oil companies and, later, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Jan Nasmyth was born during a German zeppelin bombing raid in London in 1918. He studied at Oxford, "was one of the walking wounded evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940 and later saw action in the Middle East and Italy".

After the war, he became part of the UK Treasury and then a journalist. An insight propelled him into reporting information that was "notoriously hard to get". He realized

"The only thing we knew about the cost of oil was what the oil companies said it was. And we knew enough to know that that wasn't the whole story."

He was a pioneer, publishing the first reports on oil to stockbrokers and analysts. His information was reliable. His prose was elegant. Eventually he launched the world's first daily oil market report, the Argus Telex.

"It was an immediate success and now has 230 full-time staff". After he retired from day-to-day management, he remained its respected chairman.

Jan Nasmyth never missed a board meeting, nor, I daresay, did he cancel any.

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