Michael Sobell, son of Lewis and Esther Sobell was born in Austria on 1st November 1892. The family migrated to England before the turn of the century and young Michael was educated at the Central London Foundation School. He started in business by trading in leather goods, but soon moved into the electrical business as a small importer of refrigerators and other (at the time) novel domestic appliances from the USA.
As demand for Sobell’s electrical equipment rose sharply during the 1930’s, he raised finance to start manufacturing of refrigerators, radios and radiograms at Stonebridge Park, North London. In the late 1930’s, due to extreme economic depression, many of Sobell’s employees originated from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales. During the Second World War, bombing prompted him to move production of electronic equipment for the armed forces to Amersham, Buckinghamshire. After the war, he opened a large factory in the Rhondda Valley manufacturing radios and televisions, employing up to 3,000 people. His company, Sobell Industries, was sold to EMI in 1954.
In 1961, Sobell’s company was bought by GEC through a reverse takeover, a tie-up which netted Sobell a substantial sum which would form the foundation of his charitable trusts. The Sobell Foundation was formed in 1962.
Sir Michael was President of the National Society for Cancer Relief and played an active personal role in the Sobell Foundation’s charitable work, dispensing millions of pounds to a range of causes such as cancer relief and research, Anglo- Jewish charities, Sobell sports centres in South Wales and Islington and the London Zoo’s pavilions for apes and monkeys, built in 1973. He also endowed the department of neurophysiology at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases and the gastro- intestinal unit at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough. Funds from the Sobell Foundation enabled the opening of Michael Sobell Hospice in 1977.
Sir Michael was a great follower of the turf, and bought his first racehorse in 1957 in partnership with Arnold Weinstock. They were advised by the great jockey and trainer, Sir Gordon Richards, who later became their racing manager. They had a string of winners including the Derby winner Troy, whose earnings for 1979 were a record to that date for any horse trained in the UK.
Sir Michael was knighted for his charitable activities in the New Year’s Honours List of 1972. He was a man with many friends, a good employer with an impulsive generosity despite his unflagging drive and tough commercial attitudes. He was full of curiosity all his life, with a strong sense of public and religious duty. He was a freeman of the Carmen Company, a Livery Company of the City of London and was an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.
Sir Michael's wife Anne died in 1988. Sir Michael died in 1993, aged 100. He was survived by his two daughters, Lady Weinstock and Mrs Hilda Rubin, who performed the opening ceremony at the opening of the Michael Sobell Centre on 21 September 2005.