York schooling was my ‘guiding light’ says top businessman – who condemns today’s greedy bosses

Formative years… Gordon Black (right) as a boy, with his brother Thomas
20 Jun 2017 @ 11.42 am
| Business

One of Yorkshire’s leading businessmen has revealed that his York schooldays were a formative moral influence on his career.

Gordon Black, who was the chairman of the highly successful Peter Black Holdings for 30 years, attended Bootham School from 1956-1960.

It provided him with his ‘moral compass’ – which has left him appalled at the corporate greed and selfish bosses that often make headlines today.

Mr Black was head boy in his final year at Bootham, before winning at place at Cambridge University.

He said: “I had a hugely enjoyable time at Bootham. The Quaker ethos of the school made a major impression on me, both consciously and subliminally, and has been a guiding light throughout my business career.

“I have never forgotten the debt I owe to Bootham.”

Broken the social contract

Guiding light… Bootham School. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

Mr Black’s acclaimed book about business, From Bags To Blenders, has just been published in paperback.

In it, he attacks selfish bosses, rigged markets and dysfunctional businesses, reflecting the brand of compassionate capitalism which he believes is the bedrock of a civilised society.

“I hope my book is a reminder that businesses, both large and small, should not be driven by greed, self-interest and exploitation, but loyalty, co-operation and integrity.

“These latter qualities have been sadly lacking in too many high-profile companies recently – I’m not going to name names, but I suspect we all know who I’m talking about.

“They have broken the social (and moral) contract that allows capitalism to function.”

Win a copy of the book

We have three signed copies of From Bags To Blenders by Gordon Black to give away.

Question: Which York school did Gordon go to?

Email your answer to [email protected] with the words ‘Book competition’ in the subject box.

Three emailers with the correct answer will be chosen at random and win the book.

Return to core values

A company with values: John Lewis and its Vangarde store

The theme running through his book is simple – ‘good behaviour is good business’.

He said: “I cannot abide flash in the pan, egotistical bosses, who feather their own nests at the expense of their employees.

“The so-called gig economy has hastened this trend, with zero-hour contracts, impossible targets and distant, demanding management.

“We need to return to core business values that stress the team not the individual; steady and solid growth; and giving something back to the community.”

And this isn’t an impossible dream, the businessman insists.

John Lewis and Marks and Spencer are but two high-profile companies in the UK today who have made a virtue of looking after their staff, developing a culture of teamwork and inclusivity.

Corporate greed

‘I discovered my moral compass in York’ – Gordon Black

During Mr Black’s time as chairman of Keighley-based Peter Black Holdings between 1977 and 2007, the company achieved annual sales of £300 million and employed more than 3,000 staff.

It was a major supplier of footwear, toiletries, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and logistics to the UK’s leading retailers. And it worked with some good businesses – but also with a few bad ones too.

He said:

All I can say is that the old dictum ‘Do as you would be done by’ is as applicable to business as it is to one’s personal life.

And it is worth adding the salutary warning that poor business practices nearly always catch up with the perpetrators in the end.

There is widespread distaste for corporate greed and excess in the UK at the moment.

It’s much worse now than it was in my schooldays at Bootham, but I am proud that the values which I learned then are more relevant than ever now.

I am also proud to say I discovered my moral compass in York.

The paperback edition of Gordon Black’s autobiographical book From Bags To Blenders is published by Icon Books (£8.99) and is a no-nonsense success guide from one of the UK’s top business leaders. It is available from all good bookshops in York, including the Little Apple Bookshop in High Petergate, and Amazon