Alumnus of the Month: January 2023
John Sparrow is our Verulam School Alumnus of the Month for January 2023. John Sparrow left Verulam School (what was then St Albans Grammar School for Boys) in July 1966 and is now a self-employed automotive consultant.
From school I went to University of Wales at Swansea. That was mainly because our Economics Master, Gavin Thomas, persuaded me and three others to go to Swansea where he had graduated with an Economics degree. I graduated in July 1969 with a BSc Econ (hons) degree in Economics and in September 1969 I joined British Leyland one of the world’s largest automotive companies at that time. I progressed through a number of management positions within the sales division and in 1983 joined the newly created Land Rover Ltd as UK Sales Manager. By 1989 I had been promoted to Director UK Sales and was directly involved in launching the first Land Rover Discovery that year. In 1990 I was promoted to be Director UK Operations in Land Rover Ltd. In 1992 I was promoted to Director Business Development for the Rover Group (Rover, Land Rover & MG brands). Following the company’s acquisition by BMW in 1994 I became Director, International Business Development in the BMW Group. I left in 1997 to join the board of a large international automotive consultancy and in 2000 joined Honda Motor Europe as Head of Business Development for the EMEA Region. In 2010 I retired early to establish “Autoconsult” my own automotive consultancy. I continue with my consultancy today, mainly on a part time basis, offering training courses marketed by the Institute of the Motor Industry.
What are some of your proudest achievements since leaving Verulam School?
As a small boy I was fascinated by motor cars. I was fortunate to spend the whole of my working life in the international motor industry. In the late 1980s I was responsible for developing a totally exclusive Land Rover dealer network in the UK. A major achievement involving much negotiation with car dealers to secure the large financial investments required. In the early 1990s I was the senior UK Land Rover Director responsible with the local USA management for establishing a new Land Rover dealer network in the USA. This was a major achievement and a key factor in significantly growing Land Rover’s business worldwide. I was proud to have identified two graduates who joined my Land Rover UK team and whom I encouraged to become my Land Rover Director successors, which in time they did. Outside work I was proud to win the BMW International Pro-Am Golf tournament in 1995 in Munich, Germany, golf being a sport I continue to play and enjoy.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow a similar career path?
It was very important for me to go to university and get a university degree as I knew this would be necessary to obtain a good job with a major motor manufacturer. That meant working hard at school to obtain the required GCE “A” level grades. So in my opinion working hard at being successful at school provides a firm foundation for most careers. Be as clear as you can be about the business, industry or activity you want to work in and be very passionate about that. Being passionate about a possible career means you are much more likely to enjoy your work, as I did. It could be you have special skills or an aptitude that you know you would like to use in your working life. Some skills and aptitudes could lend themselves to running your own business.
I knew from an early age I wanted to work with motor cars, but as I gradually developed as a manager and director my work increasingly meant working to recruit and develop individuals and teams of people. So bear that in mind if you have ambitions to be a manager, because that automatically means you are going to need to be a good manager of people.
How have your experiences at Verulam School contributed to your life and successes since leaving school?
The school’s focus was in getting as many as possible to university and there was very strict discipline at the core of what we did in all our school work. Being personally disciplined certainly helped me in my career. At school I was asked to do a project on a local industry and at that time Roses Lime Juice was the biggest in St Albans. In view of my strong interest in the motor industry, and with some strong persuasion from me, it was agreed I could do a project on Vauxhall Motors at Luton. This project reinforced my interest in this industry and my wish to work in it. At university I only applied to join British Leyland, Ford, and Vauxhall because no other industry appealed to me. Having completed a university thesis on “economic costs in the motor industry” I was able to use this in my job interviews to demonstrate my knowledge, commitment and passion for the motor industry. I am sure all this helped as I was offered a job as a graduate trainee in the sales division by British Leyland – my first choice. So in any job interview be well prepared to explain why they should recruit you.
What House were you in at Verulam School and can you describe one of your fondest memories?
I was in Hamilton House. I know I represented the House at Cricket, Cross Country and Basketball. I can remember playing for the school 2nd X1 cricket team for the first time. I opened the batting and batted for around two and a half hour for 28 runs not out. I was determined they would not get me out. We were all out for 61 runs I think. The other team were about 50 for 5 at the close. So it was a draw. I was very pleased to have batted through the innings. However our umpire that day, the legendary Geography Master, Mr E J Alexander (known to all of us as “Bullet”) strongly reprimanded me for my very defensive batting and told me he never wanted to see me bat like that again. A fond memory and I can remember it still today!
If no more work comes my way that’s fine. I don’t need to work anymore. I’m past normal retirement age so I’m now spending more time with my family, golf with my golfing friends, gardening and holidays. I am also close to finishing the book I’m writing about my 50 years life and time in the motor industry. There are not many alive today who have worked at the highest level in wholly owned British (Land Rover & Rover), German (BMW) and Japanese (Honda) motor manufacturers. Once finished I think getting the book published may not be easy, as the content is largely based around the many things I experienced and remembered, rather than it being a detailed analysis of the industry.
We love hearing what our alumni have been doing since leaving Verulam School. Each month, we are inviting a member of our alumni community to share their story of life after Verulam. If you’re and alumnus who would like to take part, or you’d like to volunteer an alumnus that you know, then please drop us an email.