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Sharing lifetime's experience to develop new generation of business leaders
At an age when many people have long retired, John Vernon is still passing on the benefit of his business experience to successive generations of Oxfordshire entrepreneurs.
The 72-year-old from Bampton never tires of answering questions and offering advice and mentoring where it is needed, as he has a genuine desire to give something back after a long career working both at home and abroad for a variety of businesses.
His working life stretches back to 1965 when he started out as a market researcher with International Telephone & Telegraph.
The company was evolving as an industrial conglomerate and he became responsible for the European end of its acquisition policy.
That was followed in the early 1970s by consultancy work, during which time he learned accountancy before he joined multi-national engineering firm Babcock and Wilcox as a corporate planner and troubleshooter.
He spent 14 years at the company until he was suddenly made redundant, along with thousands of other staff and management, in 1987, an event that was to have a profound influence on his life and career.
Mr Vernon said: “Lord King sold the business without telling any of the directors.
“They then came in and made 7,000 people redundant.
“Not even the managing director knew it was going to happen. The whole thing was totally hostile and a case of asset-stripping.
“I thought this was the worst aspect of capitalism. “People were irrelevant. But I believe if there are no people, then there can be no business.
“Business is about making the most of people and welding them together in one direction.”
As it happened, Mr Vernon quickly fell on his feet and landed a position with TTL Electronics, where he found himself working for a company with a completely different philosophy.
“It was buying up engineering businesses and putting them back together again.”
Mr Vernon spent 10 years as a divisional director with the company and was based in the US for five years. He looked after businesses in a swathe of the world, ranging from Zimbabwe to Singapore.
“There was a lot of travelling and it was challenging but great fun.”
During this time with TTL, he built up a knowledge of differing business cultures, for example in the United States.
“In the UK we are so used to being slapped down and looking for someone to blame but in the US you have to be very positive, even if something is a disaster.”
Shortly after leaving TTL in 1997, Mr Vernon suffered a major bout of ill health and decided he wanted a complete change, to work with start-up companies.
“I asked myself ‘What skills do I have to offer?’ I have wide-ranging experience, particularly in strategy and planning and I’m a good analyst.”
He built up a small number of clients for whom he acted as a business mentor and was then introduced to Banbury-based Oxfordshire Business Enterprises (OBE), which offers advice to people thinking of starting their own firms where he acts as an unpaid volunteer. Over the past eight years he has worked with more than 500 of its clients.
He added: “When I was younger, it was always useful to have someone older and wiser to spend some time with. Inevitably I will come up with something a client has not thought of.”
Earlier this year, his work encouraging entrepreneurs was recognised when he was honoured with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion.
At the end of the day, the common denominator for Mr Vernon is people.
“I have worked in businesses where people are viewed as dispensable, which is very short-sighted. “I enjoy meeting people and giving something back. “
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