When we first approached Sir Peter Vardy to ask if he would speak at one of our business lunch events, to be very honest, we expected a polite refusal. Having had the good fortune to meet Sir Peter on several occasions since, we now understand that is not his way and it was our absolute pleasure to have him join us as guest speaker for the January lunch event.
Most of the guests gathered in the room on Monday 28th January would be familiar with the story behind the huge success of Reg Vardy cars. Sir Peter was open and honest as he recounted taking on the business from his father, parting ways with his brothers as business partners and going on to float the company in 1986.
Sir Peter told a textbook perfect lesson in how to achieve financial success, demonstrate a duty of care for your workforce and grow a business. Hearing Sir Peter tell the story of his ambitious growth of Reg Vardy made it all seem very simple, his advice:
Sir Peter may make it sound easy, the reality is that he has a natural entrepreneurial talent and is a very astute, ethical, considerate and successful businessman.
Whilst still at the peak of success with Reg Vardy the business was sold, with refreshing honesty Sir Peter told us he felt he had taken the business as far as he could without compromise, the sale of Reg Vardy was the biggest deal ever completed in the motor industry.
The business story neatly concluded, interviewer Gary Lumby turned the questions to education and Sir Peters connections with Emmanuel College Gateshead. An approach from then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was the catalyst for Sir Peter’s involvement in the world of failing educational establishments.
Mrs Thatcher’s challenge to Sir Peter was to turn around one of the most underperforming schools in the country. Applying his business skills to education, Sir Peter took the business roles away from the teachers, employed experts in IT, HR & finance and let Head Teachers and their academic staff focus on the teaching. Employing inspiring teachers improved pupil engagement and this failing school moved up the league tables and eventually achieved a 100% success rate for pupils going into higher education.
Involvement in education and specifically, seeing first hand the challenges faced by children from problem homes became the impetus for the Vardy Foundation. Sir Peter spoke with very genuine passion about the importance of the work undertaken by the Vardy Foundation and the charities it supports. The Safe Families UK project inspired by a similar scheme in Chicago has been hugely impactful, helping families in the most challenging circumstances. Volunteers support families with difficulties, they teach them how to parent, how to be a family and how to care as these skills were very often missing in their own childhood. Offering support most especially to Mothers breaks the cycle of neglect and admission into care homes that many of these children would otherwise face.
Working closely with the prison service and young offender institutions has become a complimentary project to the Safe Families scheme. Sir Peter told us the hard stats:
Understanding that keeping children out of care can keep them out of prison. Sir Peter has been instrumental in driving change, providing next step programs to give homes, care and voluntary work with a sense of purpose after release helps turn around the lives of these young people. More support is needed from employers and individuals to understand the challenges these young people have faced and show compassion and support for them when they have a genuine desire to start again.
Turning these stats around, getting employers on board and the offenders themselves on the journey is not an easy task and Sir Peter spoke openly about the extent of the drug problem in our prisons, one can only admire how much the Vardy Foundation & Sir Peter individually are doing to drive change.
Gary Lumby posed the perfect questions to Sir Peter to tease out the projects and passions that are close to his heart. Sir Peter said he was most proud of the team he built and the ethos of the business, his next challenge is to provide a better outcome for children coming out of care.
Sir Peter was an honest and open interviewee, everyone in the room certainly left feeling they had got to know him and I am feeling very much in awe.
Our grateful thanks to Sir Peter Vardy for giving his time freely and for being so inspirational.
Next Newcastle event – Monday 25th February – Speaker, Michael Owen – Always Wear Red
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