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Mr John Bloor –Doctor of Laws - Owner of Bloor Holdings, leading Midlands housebuilder with numerous subsidiary interests, including Triumph

Oration by Prof GR Campbell

John Bloor is an entrepreneur, perhaps the purest embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit ever to have been honoured by this university. You could be forgiven for assuming that his surname was Bloor Homes, perhaps with a hyphen, because his name has become synonymous with his product, or at least the first of his two products.

Some entrepreneurs are given a head start in business and in life with expensive educations and readily accessible capital. John Bloor had no such head start, and whereas other successful businessmen succeeded in an endeavour that they have chosen or inherited, John Bloor has quietly built two successful empires. His father was a Derbyshire miner; John did not enjoy good health, and prolonged absences from school cost him much of his formal education. He left school at 15 and became a plasterer. He soon became an independent plasterer, and then built his first house. 35 years later, his company is one of the largest privately-owned house building companies in the UK, completing more than 2,000 homes a year, ranging from apartments to seven-bedroom luxury properties. This business has contributed significantly to the regeneration of the East Midlands.

Business has been good, thanks to the skills and energy and determination of Mr Bloor, and he has become wealthy. Some of the small group of entrepreneurs who are worth hundreds of millions of pounds are content to rest on their laurels, on the not unreasonable grounds that they will be able to pay the gas bill at the end of the month. Not so John Bloor, who as well as being a housebuilder is the man who revived the UK motor-cycle manufacturing industry, transforming it from a small, specialist cottage industry into a major export manufacturer.

The brand on which this revival was centred is Triumph Motorcycles. Triumph was once thought to be as cool as Harley Davidson, only faster. Steve McQueen rode one in The Great Escape, and Brando in The Wild One. In the 1970s, competition from the Far East saw the decline of this great company onto an oily scrapheap. The Meriden factory closed its doors early in 1983. The cash had simply run out and liquidation followed along with the sale of the company assets; the Meriden site was bulldozed into rubble in 1984 and houses built, though not by Mr Bloor. It seemed like the end of Triumph and, with it, the British motorcycle industry. Within months John Bloor bought the marque and rights from the receiver. Initially he licensed the Devon-based firm Racing Spares (which had previously made parts for Triumph) to build the final version of the Bonneville, which had been a central product since its launch in 1959. The purpose of this arrangement was to keep the Triumph marque alive, and this characteristically shrewd short-term measure gave John Bloor time to build a new factory and plan Triumph’s return to the world stage. The Triumph factory at Hinckley is now a major local employer, and in collaboration with factories overseas, manufactures more than 45,000 motorcycles a year. In spite of a fire that stopped production for six months, Triumph, in particular the Rocket, is back where it belongs. The Rocket III has been described by The Independent as the 'Sophie Dahl' of bikes. With the slogan 'Go your own way' and the advertising catchline, 'It wouldn't be so bad if it was another woman, at least I could compete', Triumph's build quality, brand and products are all now skilfully aligned. Honours include the naming of Triumph as British Brand of the Year and the award of an OBE to Mr Bloor for services to the motorcycle industry.

John Bloor has found ways of running profitable businesses that have benefits for the public. He has, for example, made it possible for many first-time buyers to own houses that could not be afforded with conventional finance. His most imaginative scheme is a deferred purchase arrangement which gives ownership (not shared equity) of 70 per cent of the price; the remainder can be paid when the property is sold. That is the sort of scheme that sells houses, and allows young graduates to buy houses. The same innovative thinking goes into the motorcycle business. A combination of efficient manufacturing (including parts commonality) and economies of scale has enabled Triumph to undercut the competition to the extent that one American review of the Speed Four (a reworked version of the TT600) described the price as ‘ridiculously low’ and the performance as sufficient to obliterate the budget blasters from the Far East. All of this is due to the skills of John Bloor, and we are proud that this University will hereafter be associated with him.

Life at the top of a business empire is not easy, especially when the business is centred in construction and manufacturing. Bloor Holdings continues to climb the rankings in the UK's top 100 companies, but times are hard, and in the latest year for which figures are available, none of Triumph’s directors, including John Bloor, drew a salary. As Triumph only exists because of John Bloor’s imaginative initiative, perhaps those who love the motorbikes should assist the company by buying a Bloor Home.

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of Senate and Council, I present to you John Bloor, that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.

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