John Harvey-Jones

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Sir John Harvey-Jones
Born16 April 1924
Hackney, London, England, UK
Died9 January 2008(2008-01-09) (aged 83)
Hereford, Herefordshire, England, UK
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service1937–1956
Battles/warsWorld War II
Cold War
Other workCompany director, television presenter, author and university chancellor

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

Early life[edit]

John Henry Harvey-Jones[1] was born in Hackney, London, but spent most of his early childhood in Dhar, India, where his father, Mervyn Stockton Harvey-Jones (né Harvey), a former Captain in the Indian Army and bank employee,[1] was guardian and tutor to a teenage maharajah.[2][3] He was shipped back to Britain at age six to attend a prep school at Deal, Kent. He entered Dartmouth Royal Naval College at age 13.[3]

Royal Navy career[edit]

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 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 learn Russian in six months and joined Naval Intelligence as an interpreter. He married Mary Evelyn ("Betty") Bignell Atcheson in 1947, and they had one daughter.[4][5] He commanded the Russian intelligence section under the guise of the "British Baltic Fishery Protection Service", which used two ex-German E-boats 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, although his citation stated that the award was for "fishery protection duties in the Baltic".[6]

Commercial career[edit]

Imperial Chemical Industries[edit]

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 (ICI) 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, only the second split-career man and non-chemist to reach the top. Mentored in part by John Adair,[7] Harvey-Jones saw his responsibilities to both stockholders and employees as "making a profit out of the markets where the market is".[citation needed]

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 30 months in the job, having cut the UK workforce by one third, he had doubled the price of ICI shares and made ICI the first British company to make a profit of more than £1 billion.[8][9]

Media career[edit]

According to one newspaper, it was the BBC's Troubleshooter series, first broadcast in 1990, that made Harvey-Jones the most famous industrialist since Isambard Kingdom Brunel.[8][10] It ran to five series and several specials in the 1990s and also won him a BAFTA award. His advice was at times controversial—in particular he was critical of the Morgan Motor Company. Morgan ignored his advice and is still trading successfully.[11]

Other positions[edit]

In 1989, he became chairman of The Economist,[12] was a non-executive director of Grand Metropolitan plc (now part of Diageo), and honorary vice-president of the Institute of Marketing.

Harvey-Jones was chairman of the Burns-Anderson Group plc, a conglomerate spanning merchant banking (Burns-Anderson Trade Finance), financial services (Kelland & Partners Ltd headed by Steve Kelland), recruitment (Premiere Recruitment headed by Dorian Marks), marketing and business services (Ultimate Response headed by Eric Baskind) and stockbroking (W.H. Ireland Stephens & Co Ltd).[citation needed]

Between 1986 and 1991, Harvey-Jones served as the second Chancellor of the University of Bradford. A commemorative painting exists in the University of Bradford collection,[13] and Harvey-Jones also agreed to sit for sculptor Jon Edgar for a terracotta portrait at Clyro in July 2004.[14]

He was 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.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Described by The Guardian as one of the best-known British advocates of Transcendental Meditation, Harvey-Jones said, "I don't make a drama out of a crisis. If I gave it up now, my wife would leave me."[16] Having lived most of his post-retirement period in Ross-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
  • He was knighted for services to industry in 1985
  • In 1986, 1987 and 1988, 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


  • All Together Now (1994), Heinemann (ISBN 0-7493-1960-7)
  • Getting It Together: Memoirs of a trouble shooter (1991), Heinemann (ISBN 0-434-31377-7)
  • Making It Happen: Reflections on leadership (1988), HarperCollins (ISBN 1-86197-691-7)
  • Managing To Survive (1993), Heinemann (ISBN 0-7493-1502-4)
  • Troubleshooter (1991), BBC Books
  • Troubleshooter 2 (1992), BBC Books
  • Troubleshooter Returns (1995), BBC Books


  1. ^ a b Owen, Geoffrey (2012). "Jones, Sir John Henry Harvey- (1924–2008)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/99963. Retrieved 17 November 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)(subscription required)
  2. ^ Erlichman, James (11 January 2008). "Sir John Harvey-Jones: Successful, outspoken industrialist who became a television troubleshooter". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Sir John Harvey-Jones: Ebullient business leader who chaired ICI and found fame as the BBC's 'Troubleshooter'". The Independent. 14 January 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  4. ^ "Sir John Harvey-Jones". Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  5. ^ "From bullying to the top of industry". WalesOnline. 12 January 2008. Archived from the original on 18 January 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  6. ^ Elliott, Geoffrey; Shukman, Harold2 (2002). Secret Classrooms: An Untold Story of the Cold War. Samovar. p. 23. ISBN 1-903608-13-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Adair, John (2006). How to Grow Leaders: The Seven Key Principles of Effective Leadership Development. Kogan Page Publishers. p. 64. ISBN 0-7494-4363-4.
  8. ^ a b "Obituary: Sir John Harvey-Jones". BBC News. 11 January 2008. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Sir John Harvey Jones". The Times. 14 August 2023. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  10. ^ Laws, Roz (10 April 2014). "Former city lawyer Digby Jones debuts as BBC's Troubleshooter". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
  11. ^ "Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha, Harvey-Jones". The Independent. 22 September 1995. Retrieved 14 August 2023.
  12. ^ "Obituary: John Harvey-Jones". The Economist. 19 January 2008. p. 94.(subscription required)
  13. ^ University of Bradford portraits at Cornucopia
  14. ^ Picture of bust at Jon Edgar web site
  15. ^ "Sir John Harvey-Jones 1924–2008". MS Trust. February 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  16. ^ Honigsbaum, Mark (15 August 2005). "All you need is love and peace". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 February 2014.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Bradford
Succeeded by