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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 14:45 GMT
How the troubleshooter's firms fared
Sir John Harvey-Jones
Sir John was always happy to admit he had made mistakes in business
The late Sir John Harvey-Jones was the business world's original reality TV star.

More than a decade before Dragons' Den and the Apprentice took to the airwaves, Sir John's Troubleshooter show was a must-see on BBC2.

Visiting struggling small firms and other organisations around the UK to offer them his advice on how best to turn around their fortunes, the show ran for five series in the 1990s.

But how did the firms he visited benefit from his advice?


Churchill China in Stoke-on-Trent was one of the first companies that Sir John went to visit.

"We were pretty scared," says chief executive Andrew Roper.

He was a great man. It is very sad to hear of his death
Andrew Roper,
Churchill China

"But in came Sir John with his big grin, and we were instantly at ease.

"His people skills would be the thing I remember him most for - he always liked a bit of a laugh.

"He was also very perceptive. We were a good business when he first came, but we only had one person in our design department.

"Sir John blew his top about this, and then said 'come on lads, let's go for a pie and a pint' [and talk about it].

"We've got 22 in our design department now, so he must have been right.

"He was a great man. It is very sad news to hear of his death."


Unfortunately for Sir John, the best remembered Troubleshooter show is the one where classic sportscar maker Morgan Motor Company turned down his advice - and went on to prosper.

On visiting the Morgan Motor Company in Worcestershire, he was aghast to see that the sportscar maker was still making its vehicles by hand, and even continuing to use a large proportion of wood in their construction.

Sir John's advice was simple - modernise, greatly increase production and ramp up your prices. Morgan completely refused on all counts.

Sir John's visit to Morgan
Carmaker Morgan turned down Sir John's advice

The carmaker happily admits that that particular show "caused quite a stir".

"Sir John's conclusions were significantly at odds with the views held by the Morgan family, who said so," says the company.

"Even today, many conversations start with reference to the programme, which has entered British folklore."

Despite turning down Sir John's advice, Morgan admits that his visit did have a very positive impact. Hundreds of orders came in.

"Ironically, it is one of the principal reasons behind the extensive waiting list."

With Morgan continuing to make just nine cars a week, the waiting lists for its various models can be up to a year.

Always down to earth, Sir John said he was very pleased to have been proven wrong in Morgan's case.

Describing himself as "a very old businessman", he insisted he had already made every mistake in the book.


Upon visiting motorcycle maker Norton, Sir John's advice was that that company was in such dire straits, it should simply go into administration.

It subsequently went into liquidation in 1992.

The brandname was subsequently sold off, and while Norton motorcycles are still being made today, they have no connection to the original company.


Sir John told the Bolton-based engineering company that it needed to replace its outdated workshop machinery.

Company boss Alex Kitchen agreed, and the firm has continued to be successful.

Sir John was also impressed enough with one of Velden's products, an electric golf buggy, that he bought one for his daughter.


It is much harder to judge whether a public organisation has benefited from Sir John's advice.

South Yorkshire Police is worth mentioning for what Sir John told them.

"This strategic plan is a load of bloody cobblers," he happily said to its then chief constable.

Sir John believed that the failings of any business or organisation should always be blamed on the people at the top.

"When you know something's wrong, nine times out of 10 it's the management - in truth, because people aren't being led right," he once said.

"And bad leaders invariably blame the people."

Yet despite his occasional harsh truths, Sir John always insisted he was a world away from the often aggressive business advice offered on Dragons' Den or the Apprentice.

"It is not your job to exploit your position of power," he said. "It's easy [to do that]."

"My experience of life is that you get the best out of people by encouraging their self belief."

A look at the varied career of Sir John Harvey-Jones

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