David Parkin on Sir Gary Verity and getting shirty

David Parkin on Sir Gary Verity and getting shirty

THERE is no getting away from the big news of the last seven days.

It all surrounded a larger than life figure with many fans, a good number of detractors and an ability to attract a huge amount of publicity and also some controversy.

Most of us were shocked, some were upset, others verging on the celebratory at the news.

And I know I can’t avoid writing about it.

Yes, the launch of Marmite Peanut Butter.

Who would have thought we were missing that from our lives?

Anyway, the other news was the shock departure of Sir Gary Verity from tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire.

It was announced last Friday evening that the man behind the audacious and outrageously successful bid to bring the Grand Départ of the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014 had resigned on health grounds from the role he had held for a decade.

He left after concerns were raised over his behaviour towards staff and his expenses.

An investigation by the board of Welcome to Yorkshire concluded that “Sir Gary made errors of judgement regarding his expenses at a very difficult time for him and his family”.

He lost his younger sister Lindsay in January.

Apparently he has agreed to voluntarily reimburse the organisation for “monies owed” which is said to be a five figure sum.

A story followed in the Sunday Times which claimed to be an “investigation” into the tourism supremo.

However it shed little new light on the claims of bullying against him and appeared more like an opportunity for some to settle old scores.

I’ve known Gary for a dozen years – since before he took office and began his revolution of Yorkshire tourism.

He has a huge ego, is massively driven and, perhaps unrealistically, demands much of those he works with.

Is he a bully?

I’ve never seen it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he went too far.

He would admit that he couldn’t have achieved what he did without an extremely talented team at Welcome to Yorkshire.

They work very hard, they are committed, they deliver in spades, time after time.

Anyone who has come into contact with Welcome to Yorkshire will know that it operates nothing like a sleepy tourist board and more like a fast growing entrepreneurial business.

That is why it has delivered so much.

Some people thrive in such an environment, others don’t.

If Welcome to Yorkshire had been run like a public sector organisation over the last 10 years then it would have achieved about 10% of what it has done under Gary’s leadership.

Think about this region before he transformed the shabby little Yorkshire Tourist Board into Welcome to Yorkshire.

It is difficult to name another individual that has done more.

Compare it to the ragged pathetic bunch of self-interested individuals currently squabbling over Brexit.

Jonny Hick, the headhunter who put Gary into the role, describes him as a “genius” and when you look at his inspiring ideas and achievements, it is hard to disagree.

But as Jonny pointed out in a letter to the Yorkshire Post this week: “With great genius usually comes fundamental flaws (Churchill is one example) and Gary is far from perfect, nor are any of us.”

There is no doubting his achievements at Welcome to Yorkshire.

But at what cost?

He is not a well man.

I found the euphoria of some people at his downfall quite troubling.

If you celebrate and gloat over the downfall of someone else then you clearly are lacking something from your own character.

There are no winners here.

:::

WITH sales of almost £200m and 45 stores, Nick Wheeler’s Charles Tyrwhitt menswear business is a retail success story.

But Wheeler isn’t even the most successful retailer in his own house.

His wife Chrissie Rucker runs The White Company and, speaking at a dinner organised by accountancy firm RSM in Leeds this week, Wheeler admitted her business has the perfect growth story whereas his has faced plenty of challenges.

But he loves his shirt business which he started 32 years ago and calls “my fifth child”.

So much so that he has resisted offers to sell it or take on private equity investors and continues to drive it forward.

Wheeler is a client of RSM tax partner Tim Parr and the two were at the same university together.

“We slept in the same bed,” Wheeler told the audience of 140 clients and contacts of RSM at the dinner at Aspire on Monday.

“If you are putting this in your blog, please can you make sure you say that he doesn’t mean at the same time,” Tim whispered to me while twiddling his bow tie.

I realised that I would be putting this in my blog when I found I was seated on the top table with Nick Wheeler and in between Tim and his wife Claire.

Nick Wheeler told the audience he had been inspired by the Yorkshire-born flamboyant corporate buccaneers, Lords Hanson and White.

He said he got the funds to invest in his business by borrowing £17,000 from a bank and adding it to £8,000 he was left by an aunt to buy an Aston Martin DB1 for £25,000.

“I sold it a year later for £100,000 but then lost £75,000 in the shirt business so I was back at square one.”

Wheeler admits his business has been close to the edge on a couple of occasions but he sees himself as a tortoise in business compared to hares like Michael Dell, the computer entrepreneur.

He said they both started at a similar time but Dell’s business is now worth £50bn.

However he says he will get there in the end.

What is important to him is building a business with great, products, great customer service and which is a fun and fulfilling place to work.

Pressure on prices means that Charles Tyrwhitt now sells shirts at a cheaper price than it did three decades ago.

“We want it to be fun to work at Charles Tyrwhitt. We had a staff survey that found that 83% said that it is fun, 13% said they don’t know and three per cent said they disagreed…so we sack three per cent of our people every year!” he joked.

It was an enjoyable evening of good food and wine and a fascinating speaker.

The audience was an interesting mix of successful entrepreneurs, advisers and business executives, many of whom are Tim’s clients.

He even pointed out the managing director of Thomas Crapper, the bathroom business named after the Victorian plumber credited with inventing the flushing toilet.

In fact he didn’t actually invent it, but he added a key piece of equipment that made it work better.

What was it?

Ballcock.

:::

“AH, Mr Parkin, I hope you are doing your stuff tonight on stage,” said entrepreneur and former racing driver Chris Lord on seeing me walk into the drinks reception at the RSM dinner featuring Nick Wheeler.

“Err no, we can’t afford him,” said Tim Parr, tweaking the braces of his very impressive recently acquired suit from Leeds tailor James Michelsberg.

While listening to Tim introduce Nick Wheeler I consoled myself with the fact that he had invested what he saved on my fee in some fine white burgundy and a cheeky claret.

Have a great weekend.

 

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2 Comments

  1. I am one of the ones who was sorry to see Gary Verity’s ignominious departure from an organisation that he had built-up so successfully. Yorkshire owes him a debt of gratitude although the plethora of cyclists now cluttering up the County’s roads that have followed in his wake I could do without. I am certain this inconvenience is outweighed by the profile that Welcome to Yorkshire has given the region to the great benefit of tourism as a whole. Strong leaders often attract controversy and sometimes their bullish manner, which comes naturally to them, does not sit well with those at the receiving end. However, always better to have someone of vision and drive in charge than a pedestrian bureaucrat. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning bullying, it’s a question of when does over-enthusiasm and a desire to achieve cross the line. It’s a difficult judgement.

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  2. Because you know Sir Gary you have written an article about him, to inform people who don’t, that he has various positive qualities. You are, in effect, providing some balance to a story which may otherwise lead to the wider public making judgements in the absence of all the facts. This is fair enough and if it helps people to be more reasonable in their view of a man who has his flaws (as do we all) then that seems ok to me.
    But in the very article you write to try and avoid people making negative generalisations about the man, you refer to a ‘ragged pathetic bunch of self-interested individuals currently squabbling over Brexit’.
    If that isn’t a gross over-simplified generalisation about 650 individuals, many of whom are doing their best with an almost unprecedented political crisis dumped on them by the worst PM and Cabinet I’ve ever known, I don’t what is. I suspect you don’t know many of them at all, nor spoken to more than a few, yet you dismiss them in one sentence which only serves to add, in just a small way, to an increasingly hostile, volatile, intolerant climate in this country.
    It was an easy, lazy jibe to make and many may agree but that doesn’t make it right.
    There’s a lot being written and said about Brexit and our national politics that’s much worse, I admit, but it seemed more than ironic to me that in a piece you wrote to ask people to appreciate another side to Sir Gary, you shoe-horned in a generalisation about a group of 650 people and dismissed their motives and intentions in one soundbite. I would say that your comment may well apply to such as Boris Johnson who can shift his position now that a leadership contest is on the horizon, and there are others like him who aren’t much different but you do a disservice to many, many MPs who are not at all self-interested and are doing their best to find a way forward that serves their constituents’ interests and that of the country.
    I hope you can, on reflection, acknowledge that.

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