Sir John Harvey-Jones, was a flamboyant chairman of ICI who later turned himself into a television celebrity as "The Troubleshooter", dispensing pungent advice on the art of management.Harvey-Jones''s unconventional screen persona was quite unexpected in a former captain of industry in the days before Donald Trump and Sir Alan Sugar appeared before the cameras in their respective versions of The Apprentice, and Dragons'' Den won a devoted following on BBC 2.But Troubleshooter was the first "how-to" business documentary to have caught the imagination of the viewing public: in a Gallup poll in 1992, one in five respondents named Harvey-Jones as the person they would most like to see in No 10 Downing Street in place of John Major.Harvey-Jones''s trademarks were his shoulder-length hair, his dizzying selection of abstract ties and an approach which combined blokeish bonhomie with penetrative and often unpalatable home-truths. "This strategic plan is a load of bloody cobblers," he told the South Yorkshire police force in one episode, to the evident discomfort of the chief constable. At Norton Motorcycles he recommended liquidation.In one of the rare episodes where he was shown to have been wrong, the Morgan sports car company publicly rejected his advice to double production and market their wares only to the very rich, claiming that he had fundamentally misunderstood the ethos of their business."Everyone thinks I''m a smart arse who can solve any bloody problem," he observed, "I''m not. I''m just a very old businessman and a very experienced businessman who made every mistake in the book and can recognise one when I see one." He believed that successful corporate leaders were resented rather than admired in Britain, and set out consciously to fill what he perceived to be a need for "management heroes".
Troubleshooter, watched by an audience of more than three million, won a Bafta award for originality. Part of its success lay in the communication of Harvey-Jones''s genuine love of factories and manufacturing processes, and his patriotism - he claimed to wear Union Flag underpants. His belief in the vital importance of a healthy industrial base (the subject of his 1985 Dimbleby lecture) placed him radically at odds with Thatcherite thinking: he once described the then prime minister as "British industry''s greatest handicap".He had in fact been a founder member of the SDP, and proudly pointed out that he had been made to wait longer for his knighthood than any previous chairman of ICI.His tenure in that chair, from 1982 to 1987, had itself been marked by controversy. He was voted Britain''s most admired industrialist several years running and was credited with turning the company around from its first ever quarterly loss - in 1982, at the bottom of the industrial cycle - to profits of more than ?1 billion; "a legendary feat", according to the publisher of his memoirs. But many of his former colleagues felt that the credit should have been more widely shared - in particular with his unassuming predecessor, Sir Maurice Hodgson, who had already faced the most difficult task of cutting the workforce by one third.Nevertheless, other extensive reforms of the giant chemical group were clearly Harvey-Jones''s own handiwork. He took the company out of oil and greatly expanded its speciality chemicals businesses. He set out "to make mindless conformity difficult", cutting several layers of bureaucracy, encouraging complaints and suggestions and achieving the kind of direct communication with the shopfloor which was an essential part of the creed he later preached on television.But fellow directors of a more conventional hue tended to resent his outspoken public profile, and often found him difficult to work with. The former cabinet minister Cecil (now Lord) Parkinson once observed that the best way to cause a silence at the ICI lunch was to say something nice about Harvey-Jones.
Sensitive to criticism and prone to self-analysis, Harvey-Jones attributed the uncomfortable edges of his personality to an unhappy childhood, in which he strove in vain to win the approval of a cold Victorian father, and was bullied mercilessly at school. He felt himself to be much misunderstood."People say I create an impression of being rather overbearing - just the sort of person I don''t like. I think I''m a lovable slob but I come across as being much more arrogantly self-conscious," he said. "I''m a pussycat, actually."John Henry Harvey-Jones was born at Hackney on April 16 1924. His father was guardian and minister of state to an Indian princeling, the Maharajah of Dhar, and the first years of John''s life were spent in a world of palaces and tiger-shoots, surrounded by servants and complete with his own caparisoned elephant for state occasions.At six, however, he was dispatched to a bleak prep school at Deal, Kent, where he was so miserable that he considered suicide. He conceived an ambition to be a lawyer, but his father told John bluntly that he would not support him financially for long enough to enable him to qualify. Instead he opted for the Navy, entering Dartmouth as a cadet in 1937.Life at the naval college was more congenial, despite its rigid discipline. In 1940, still only 16, Harvey-Jones went to war as a midshipman in the light cruiser Diomede. His next two ships, the destroyers Ithuriel and Quentin, were sunk by enemy action, but he went on to specialise in submarines, receiving his first command at the age of 24.
After the war Harvey-Jones qualified as a Russian interpreter and worked in naval intelligence, rising to lieutenant-commander. In later years he remained reticent about the precise nature of his intelligence duties, but admitted to having been several times in Russia. He was seconded to the Cabinet Office, and awarded a military MBE in 1952.The sensitivity of his work during this period made it too dangerous for him afterwards to travel to the Soviet Union on ICI business. He would have stayed in the Navy, but his only daughter had contracted polio, and in 1956 he resigned his commission in order to be able to spend more time with her.
He joined ICI on Teesside as a work study officer, and rose through the management ranks of the heavy organic chemicals division, becoming commercial director in 1967. He became chairman of the petrochemicals division in 1970 and joined the main board in 1973.The mixed feelings with which Harvey-Jones was regarded by his ICI peers came to the surface when he announced his intention to write his memoirs. After lengthy negotiation with former colleagues "with whom I thought I had worked amicably and with mutual respect", he agreed not to make any of them identifiable in his text, a condition which he considered hurtful and unnecessary.Despite this handicap - and a literary style redolent of inter-departmental memos - both Making it Happen (1988) and the frankly self-revelatory Getting it Together (1991), reached the top of the bestseller lists. They were followed by Managing to Survive (1993). In 1994 he published All Together Now and the following year Troubleshooter Returns, based on the series of the same name. In 2000 he returned to the screen in Troubleshooter: Back in Business.
Besides writing and broadcasting Harvey-Jones took on a multiplicity of directorships and charitable projects in his retirement years - by 1990 he claimed to have 32 different jobs and to be working a 120-hour week. Some of these roles brought him back into controversy: Burns-Anderson, a financial services group of which he was chairman, expanded aggressively but ended in bankruptcy; GPA, the aircraft leasing business of which he was one of a number of prominent non-executive directors, was forced to withdraw its proposed stock exchange listing and later struggled to survive; at Nimbus Records, Sir John''s directorship lasted only a few months.
He had happier experiences, however, as a director of Grand Metropolitan and chairman of The Economist, where he was said to have tap-danced on the boardroom table to enliven a dull dinner. He was chancellor of Bradford University, and his other unpaid appointments ranged from the chairmanship of the Wildfowl Trust to the presidency of the Ross-on-Wye town band. He was a patron of the Society of Turnaround Professionals and the Professional Contractors'' Group (both 2000-2006) and picked up a dozen honorary degrees. He was knighted in 1985.
John Harvey-Jones married, in 1947, Mary Evelyn ("Betty") Atcheson. Their daughter Gabrielle became her father''s secretary and business partner. The family home, a Tudor manor in Herefordshire, was shared with a menagerie of geese, donkeys, cats and retired Alsatian guide-dogs.
- Oil on Canvas
- 58 x 58 cm. 22.83 x 22.83 in.