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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 11:14 GMT
A man who means business
He was chairman of industrial giant ICI, but Sir John Harvey-Jones is perhaps best-known for his TV series Troubleshooter, where he dispensed advice to small businesses.

But he's also one of that rare breed - a businessman who is actually quite interesting.

That's hardly surprising, given his upbringing.

His father was the guardian of a young maharajah in India, when Sir John lived a childhood of "ludicrous" luxury.

"My whole life has been the wrong way round - I started at the top and it's been downhill ever since," he laughs.

"My sixth birthday the state band paraded outside my window at the palace, my elephant was paraded - it's never happened since."


Indeed, a year later he was in a prep school in Kent being beaten. Joining the Navy saved him, he says.

Adam talks to Sir John
He was torpedoed twice while still in his teens, and went on to see wartime service as a submariner.

After the war, he moved into business, working his way up to the top.

"When I took over as chairman of ICI, we were in deep trouble," he recalls. " We'd just made a loss and our share price was rubbish."

Fearing a takeover, the company decided that both it and its chairman needed to adopt a higher profile.

Clearly, Sir John did something right, as he transformed ICI into a world-beater with profits of 1bn in just three years.

Personal style

No mean effort by a man who says he only joined the company after his naval career so he could get home in the evenings!

But his business strategy and his personal style are closely linked.

"I never hesitated to tell the truth, I couldn't be bothered playing politics, I just got on with doing the job," he says.

"It's very easy to get sucked into the minutiae of business."

"Really to be a good businessman you have to have a much broader view and you can only have a broader view by being interested in people and other things."

But it was really Troubleshooter which brought him to public attention. It was his idea and he was amazed that it got taken up by the BBC.


"I had an invariable rule," he explains.

"The first thing I did was to interview the boss then I went straight on to the shopfloor.

"The problems the boss thought he had were never the problems that the shopfloor thought they had."

What does he think of British management on the whole?

"I think management has been increasingly concerned with stock value and decreasingly concerned with managing and developing people," he says.

"At the end of the day the success of a business depends on people."


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