The newest Honorary Doctor to join LBSU Business School is David Longbottom, honoured for eminence in business and his services to the university as Pro Chancellor, board member and Chair of the Board of Governors. Before joining LSBU David enjoyed both a successful academic career and business life that culminated in directorship of a FTSE 100 company.
"Humble beginnings and childhood asthma shaped the person I am today. I grew up on a council estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and was the first in my family to go to university. My brother left school at 16 and my father worked on market stalls and in retail. I was a grammar school boy who won a place at Imperial to study maths. What set me apart as a child was my asthma; there was no treatment in those days so I spent a lot of time struggling for breath. It gave me a determination to grab hold of life and seize every opportunity.
An impressive career
"After a brief stint at ICI after graduation I moved into teaching and management training. At 23 I was offered a place on a government teaching fellowship at Durham University, which led to my becoming Director of Studies on the Durham MBA. After 10 happy years I wanted to try other things. At 33 I helped set up a new management training centre for British Gas, where I was Director of Studies. I went on to run an executive training centre for Courtaulds, then I was headhunted by Lloyds of London. I introduced the Lloyd’s Test, which is still in use, to ensure the brokers and underwriters were up to the job and not there simply because of the old boy’s network.
"When I moved to Dixon Stores Group (DSG), the serious part of my career really began. After a couple of years providing training for senior executives and becoming Training and Development Director, I was unexpectedly offered an operational role as Divisional Manager responsible for 300 stores. It was hard work but I loved it and my division consistently came first in a highly competitive environment. Within two years I was Sales Director for all 1000 stores. A reorganisation saw me later become Deputy MD of Currys but I retained some functional responsibilities across the Group as a whole.
"I’ve tried (and taught) every management technique going, but Transcendental Meditation (TM) and self-affirmation worked best for me. They were a bit ‘out there’ for the DSG Board but I taught the techniques successfully to regional managers and I still use TM myself when I want to refocus and re-energise.
Being a leader
"I was seen as ruthless because I had no qualms about moving people out of their roles. Making tough decisions comes with the territory. Although it’s never pleasant to tell someone they are being let go, I always treated people with respect and dignity. In the long run, if someone is not up to the job it’s better to speak out and help them move on rather than leave them to struggle on.
"I don’t think I became a good leader until I was in my forties. By that time I’d enjoyed some success and realised that I could step up to the plate – there was no need for me to be shy and retiring. I have a good voice that carries and have no fear of public speaking. Although I’m not physically imposing, I was highly visible within DSG because I was seen communicating with and influencing people. I wasn’t afraid of the performance element of leadership.
Pride in LSBU
"I joined the LSBU Board in 2008, at a particularly challenging and exciting time. It was vital that we ensured the long-term sustainability of the University, which we did by making changes at executive level, reorganising support to the academic side and reviewing the old four-school structure. We also introduced performance indicators and a traffic light system for the administration and worked through an ambitious building programme. Controlling costs was absolutely critical.
"I’m particularly proud of the Student Centre and the Clarence Centre. They were both constructed while I was chairing the Board and for me they are the physical manifestations of two concepts I wanted to bring into play: a much improved service to our students and a focus on entrepreneurship. My vision for LSBU was as a community university that strongly supports its students and reaches outwards to Southwark and the world beyond through its enterprise activities.
In another life
"In a parallel universe I’d like to have had Michael Parkinson’s career. He started as a journalist and later moved into TV – it was all about communicating with people and being able to deliver a performance. I also share his passion for football, although not for Barnsley. Huddersfield Town is my team and I support them heart and soul. I’d also have written my novel by now. They say we all have one inside us, but I’m still waiting for mine to come out!
"Corporate careers like mine are rarer now, but I see a great deal of entrepreneurship in today’s graduates. Whether you join a company or strike out on your own, don’t be afraid to try different things and take risks. Your first move needn’t tie you into something if it’s not right, but it’s important always to do the best you can in whatever job you have and to accept responsibility when it’s offered. Always say yes and, if you see a gap, fill it. In that way you can grow your job to match your ambitions."