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Sir John Harvey-Jones
16 April 1924 – 9 January 2008 (aged 83)
Sir john harvey jones.jpg
Place of birth Hackney, London, England
Place of death Hereford, England
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
Years of service 1937-1956
Battles/wars World War II Cold War
Awards MBE
Other work Company director, Television presenter, Author and University Chancellor

Sir John Harvey-Jones MBE (16 April 1924 – 9 January 2008) was chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries from 1982 to 1987. He may have been best-known for his BBC television show, Troubleshooter, in which he advised struggling businesses.


Life and career


Early life

Harvey-Jones was born in Hackney, London; but spent most of his early childhood in Dhar, India, where his father was a guardian to a teenage Maharajah. He was shipped back to Britain at age 6 to attend a prep school at Deal, Kent, where he suffered bullying and was desperately unhappy. He entered Dartmouth Royal Naval College at age 13.

Royal Navy career

Harvey-Jones joined Dartmouth Royal Naval College as a cadet in 1937, and in 1940, at the age of 16, he joined HMS Diomede as a midshipman. The next two ships that he served with, HMS Ithuriel and HMS Quentin were both sunk by enemy action. Harvey-Jones went on to join the submarine service in 1942 and received his first command at age 24.

With the end of World War II, Harvey-Jones went to the University of Cambridge to study Russian in six months and joined Naval Intelligence as an interpreter. He married Mary Bignell in 1947,[1] and he commanded the Russian intelligence section under the guise of the "British Baltic Fishery Protection Service," which used two ex-German Schnellboots for gathering clandestine intelligence on the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, Harvey-Jones was awarded a military MBE in 1952 for his work in Naval Intelligence.

Imperial Chemical Industries

Refused permission by the Royal Navy to spend more time with his wife and daughter Gaby, who had contracted polio, he resigned his commission in 1956 and joined Imperial Chemical Industries on Teesside as a junior training manager. In 1973, at age 49, he was promoted to sit on the main board of directors. In April 1982, he became Chairman of ICI reputedly at the odds of 15-1 against, only the second split-career man and non-chemist to reach the top.

Mentored in part by John Adair,[2] Harvey-Jones saw his responsibilities to both stockholders and employees as "making a profit out of the markets where the market is." He maintained a firm belief in "speed rather than direction", on the assumption that "once travelling a company can veer and tack towards the ultimate objective." Thus, at the business level he cut non-profit making and what he saw as non-core businesses, so that at board level he could concentrate on putting more power in fewer hands "to reduce the number of those who can say 'no' and increase the motivation of those who can say 'yes'", maintaining that "there are no bad troops, only bad leaders". After only thirty months in the job, having cut the UK workforce by one third, he had doubled the price of ICI shares and turned a loss into a one billion pound profit.

Despite his public loathing of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he accepted her offer of a knighthood for services to industry in 1985. He was voted Industrialist of the Year in 1988 for the third consecutive year and also became honorary vice-president of the Institute of Marketing. He served as chairman of The Economist from 1989 to 1994.[3]

Life after ICI

It was the BBC's Troubleshooter series, first broadcast in 1990, that made Harvey-Jones, according to one newspaper, the most famous industrialist since Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It ran to five series and several specials in the 1990s and also won him a BAFTA award.

Having lived most of his post-retirement period in Hay-on-Wye, he died in his sleep after a long illness, aged 83, at the Hereford County Hospital.


  • In 1952 he was awarded a military MBE for his work in Naval Intelligence.
  • In 1985 he was voted Britain’s most impressive industrialist by company directors interviewed for MORI's annual "Captains of Industry" survey.
  • In 1985 he received a knighthood for services to industry.
  • From 1986 to 1988 (three years running) he received the title of "Industrialist of the Year".
  • In 1992 was awarded the title "Motivator of the Year".
  • In 1992 he won a BAFTA for his Troubleshooter series

Portrait of Sir John Harvey Jones

A painting exists in the University of Bradford collection[4] from Harvey-Jones' time as Chancellor there. Harvey-Jones agreed to sit for sculptor Jon Edgar for a terracotta portrait[5] at Clyro in July 2004.


Between 1986 and 1991, Harvey-Jones served as the second Chancellor of the University of Bradford. In 1989 he became Chairman of The Economist. He had also been, amongst other posts, a non-executive Director of Grand Metropolitan plc (now part of Diageo), Chairman of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and member of The Advisory Council of the Prince's Trust. In 2001 he became the president of the MS Trust.[6]


  • All Together Now - (1994), Heineman (ISBN 0749319607)
  • Getting It Together: Memoirs of a trouble shooter - (1991), Heineman (ISBN 0434313777)
  • Making It Happen: Reflections on leadership - (1988), Harpercollins (ISBN 1861976917)
  • Managing To Survive - (1993), Heineman (ISBN 0749315024)
  • Troubleshooter - (1991), BBC Books
  • Troubleshooter 2 - (1992), BBC Books
  • Troubleshooter Returns - (1995), BBC Books


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Wilson of Rievaulx
Chancellor of the University of Bradford
Succeeded by
Trevor Holdsworth


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