Charles Gordon Lambert, Irish businessman, senator and art collector, is born on April 9, 1919, in the family home at Highfield Road, Rathmines, Dublin, the youngest of four sons of Robert James Hamilton Lambert, a veterinarian and renowned cricketer, and his wife Nora (née Mitchell). His eldest brother, Noel Hamilton “Ham” Lambert, is a versatile sportsman and noted veterinary practitioner.
Lambert is educated at Sandford Park School, Dublin, and at Rossall School, Lancashire. He is steered by his mother toward a career in accountancy for which he prepares by studying commerce at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Graduating in 1940, he joins the accounting firm Stokes Brothers and Pim, qualifying Associate Chartered Accountant in 1943. In 1944, after auditing biscuit manufacturers W. & R. Jacob and Co. Ltd, one of Ireland’s largest and most prestigious industrial companies, he is offered and accepts a £300 a year job at Jacob’s as assistant accountant.
In 1953, Lambert becomes Jacob’s chief accountant as the management grooms him for an executive career. During 1948–56, Jacob’s suffers from profit and price controls, lack of capital investment and complacency brought about by the absence of competition. The entry of Boland’s Bakery into the Irish biscuit market in 1957 is exploited by Lambert who urges the alarmed board, which has long regarded advertising as vulgar, to market its products more vigorously. This assertiveness yields his advancement to the position of commercial manager in 1958. A year later he becomes the first non-member of the Bewley and Jacob families to be appointed to the board.
Between 1959 and 1970, biscuit consumption in Ireland doubles for which Lambert can claim much credit. Recognising that the advent of self-service stores means that manufacturers can no longer rely on retailers to sell their products, he pioneers advanced promotional techniques in Ireland, particularly the use of marketing surveys and of mass advertising in newspapers, on radio and on the emerging medium of television. To further accord with retailers’ preferences, Jacob’s drives the widespread packaging of biscuits in airtight packets rather than tins, and also introduces a striking red flash logo for its packets. His interest in contemporary art enables him to contribute directly to Jacob’s packaging designs.
Lambert is appointed to the board of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) in 1964, a position he holds until 1977, and serves as president of the National Agricultural and Industrial Development Association (NAIDA) in 1964–65, spearheading a “Buy Irish” campaign. His involvement with NAIDA dates to the mid-1950s and leads to his friendship with Jack Lynch, Minister for Industry and Commerce. This relationship and his admiration for Seán Lemass incline him toward Fianna Fáil. He also believes the party is the one most likely to deliver economic growth.
In 1977, Lambert is appointed to Seanad Éireann by Taoiseach Jack Lynch. He sits as an independent but assures Lynch he will broadly support the government. Dismayed by Ireland’s economic uncompetitiveness, he uses this platform to bemoan the state’s financial profligacy and failure to control inflation, and the indifference of Irish politicians towards the business community, contending that Irish industrialists suffer and need to learn from the expert lobbying of the indigenous agricultural sector and of large multi-national companies based in Ireland. He also articulates his social liberalism, desire for peaceful reconciliation in Northern Ireland and support for cultural and environmental causes. But his commitment to the Seanad wanes as he grasps its irrelevance. When Lynch resigns in December 1979, Lambert joins the Fianna Fáil party in a futile bid to preserve his political influence.
Following Jacob’s takeover of Boland’s Bakery in 1966, Lambert becomes joint managing director of a new entity, Irish Biscuits Ltd, the manufacturing and trading company for the Boland’s and Jacob’s biscuits operations. W. & R. Jacob and Co. Ltd becomes a holding company. In 1968, he becomes the sole managing director. From 1977 he begins withdrawing from the active administration of the company, relinquishing his managing directorship in 1979 to become chairman.
Initially, Lambert views art as a hobby but he comes to see it as a calling, drawing inspiration from Sir William Basil Goulding, his predecessor as Ireland’s leading collector and advocate of modern art. From the late 1970s he serves as head of the Contemporary Irish Art Society (CIAS) and on the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the advisory committee of the Dublin Municipal Gallery, the board of the National Gallery of Ireland, the editorial board of the Irish Arts Review and the international council of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) opens in 1991 and receives through the medium of the Gordon Lambert Trust some 212 works, which form the centerpiece of its collection. Thereafter Lambert gifts another 100 works to IMMA. He sits on IMMA’s board from 1991, and the west wing of the museum is named after him in 1999.
Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1988, Lambert remains relatively active and plays golf into his 80s. In 1999 he receives an honorary LLD from TCD. From 1997, he relies increasingly on Anthony Lyons, an acquaintance of longstanding, to care for him. His last years are overshadowed by the collapse in autumn 2002 of his close but complex relationship with his family. Thereafter he shuns his relations and changes his will, granting Lyons a substantial portion of his estate while curtailing the amount to be received by his family. He dies in a Dublin hospital on January 27, 2005. Relatives challenge his final will in the High Court in 2009 but it is upheld.
(Pictured: Photograph of director of Jacob’s Biscuits, Gordon Lambert, speaking from a podium at the first Jacob’s Television Awards. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, James O’Keefe, is sitting behind Lambert. The awards ceremony takes place at the Bishop Street factory, Dublin.)