John Harvey-Jones Leadership
John Harvey-Jones (1924-2008)
Successful boss of ICI 1982-7 (pictured right) , the British chemicals company and owner of Dulux paints.
Presenter of the BBC TV series, Troubleshooter, which advised struggling businesses in the late
What are his tips on leadership and business success?
1. People matter
Employees make customer
satisfaction possible, so they should be treated well, valued and pushed to do their best.
So a leader must be kind (i.e. sensitive to employee needs) but tough.
“If you’re too sensitive, you’re all marshmallow and ineffective, yet if you’re not sensitive enough you
can’t do a thing”, he said.
2. Empowerment and common aims
Action should be preceded by:
- a fervent desire to be the best.
- agreeing and understanding common objectives like customer satisfaction.
People should then be given the autonomy (or “headroom”) to carry out these aims with all the
support, information and resources necessary.
People must continually learn and improve their performance.
So honesty, openness and tolerance of people’s
views and mistakes are vital.
4. Accept change
People have a natural fear of change that must be overcome, because a business must change continually to:
- take advantage of new market opportunities.
“The task of leadership is to make the status quo more dangerous than launching into the
unknown”, he said.
Employees who can’t accept change must be sacked but treated with compassion, because unfair treatment will
demotivate the remaining employees.
People can be encouraged to accept change through:
- small actions (like his closure of ICI’s huge headquarters in London).
- “judo management” (i.e. turning the potentially negative into something
But the biggest problem is to get people to change themselves.
“Change is an attitude of mind and the place to start is within ourselves”, he said.
Different situations require different styles of leadership or management.
To be quick and decisive, tell people what to do.
To motivate and empower people, give them the power to make decisions.
Leaders must act quickly to beat competitors.
So Harvey-Jones cut bureaucracy (e.g. reducing the size of ICI’s head office and
halving the size of the board of directors) “to reduce the number of those who can say no and increase the
motivation of those who can say yes”.
Harvey-Jones (pictured right in 1980) constantly tried to develop his talents and “try every day to do a little
8. Go global
He always saw ICI as an international company that needed to be successful in all the
major world markets: America, Europe and Asia.
9. Lead by example
Bad leaders make bad people.
So Harvey-Jones was always visible, openly showing his concern for people’s problems. They were
inspired by his integrity and compassion.
“People want to work for an identifiable person and the values of that person are very, very important”, he
Successful people find the right balance between work and leisure, making them more creative and effective at
So he always kept his weekends work free and gave up his naval career to give more time to his polio stricken
His wife, Betty, was the foundation of his success:
- giving him emotional support.
- looking after their daughter.
- tolerating his commitment to ICI.
She once joked that if you cut him in two, he would have the letters ICI running down him like a stick of
Key quotes on
Bad leaders invariably blame the people.
The task of leadership is to make the status quo more dangerous than launching into the unknown.
Key quote on
Change is an attitude of mind and the place to start is within ourselves.
Key quote on
Problems can only be solved by the people who have them. You have to try and coax them...into seeing ways in
which they can help themselves.
Key quote on
When you know something’s wrong, nine times out of ten it’s the management – in truth because people aren’t
being led right.
Key quote on business
Our companies can only win if the individuals in them are winning.