Sir David Samworth CBE DL (Doctor of Laws)

Wednesday 11 July, 11am

David Samworth

Sir David Samworth is a hugely successful business man who has always believed that looking after the people in his organisation, and the communities in which they live is the key to both business success and personal satisfaction.

David was born in Birmingham to a family steeped in business.  His father Frank ran the family firm dealing in pigs, and from their earliest days David and his brothers absorbed the arts of business at the dining table and spent parts of their school holidays touring the shops learning about all parts of the meat products trade.  Childhood was a happy time for David as he excelled in sports and music alongside his academic work, but it was always clear to him that a life of business was his destiny.  First however, there was National Service with the Leicestershire regiment, where he was posted to the Sudan, and formed a life-long love for Africa which is still with him to this very day.

The family business had been completely disrupted by the food policies of the Second World War, so Frank had to start again, and in 1950 he had acquired a business in Nottingham making a range of pies.  All three sons joined the new business as they left the forces, and continued to learn their trade from the bottom up through practical butchery, baking and service in the shops.  Starting with just three shops the business grew rapidly as the increasingly affluent population of the fifties enjoyed release from the tribulations of wartime rationing.  The key to success was always quality, with Frank personally tasting the products made each day, another value which has driven David throughout his subsequent career.  David soon found, however, that his best talents lay in strategic management.  He saw that just selling products in their own shops limited the business, and it was he who oversaw the development of sales to other shops, the harbinger of huge success in the future.   This was an early example of his exceptional strategic vision and his understanding that the business had to generate profits to support future development.  Thus he defined the third part of the troika of values: People, Quality and Profit which underpinned massive future success.

David soon realised that the business world was changing and new skills would be required, so he took himself off to the Harvard Business School, where he learned the latest thinking.  When he returned, his father stood back from the business, leaving David and his brothers to drive it forward.  Growth was rapid and as Chairman and Chief Executive, David oversaw the progressive acquisition of a range of other businesses, so that by the early seventies the, now publically quoted firm was a major national player in the food business, building large state-of-the-art factories to produce products sold both through their own shops and increasingly own-brand products for major supermarkets.  David found however that life in a large PLC was not really for him, and in 1978 he and his brothers sold up.  At the same time David and his wife Rosemary directed funds into a charitable trust that was to become a major part of David’s life and enable him to support both communities in which he worked and major work back in Africa.  David was soon asked to chair the Government Meat & Livestock Commission, a role he discharged with great distinction, being awarded CBE in recognition.  He spent a few years as a non-executive director of other companies, but never lost his connections with the family business and soon returned.

David’s brother John had acquired Ginsters, then a small Cornish firm making pasties, but now a brand virtually everyone in the country will recognise.  In the mid eighties John decided to step back and David became Chairman of the overarching company - Samworth Brothers, the firm which exists today.  As Chairman he oversaw a massive growth, acquiring Walkers, manufacturers of meat products in Leicester, and produced an ever widening range of products for most major retailers.  David has in fact lived in Leicestershire for over 40 years, and he became a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County, and then in 1997 High Sherriff for a year.  Samworth Brothers is now a huge concern, employing 9000 staff in Leicestershire and Cornwall, with a turnover of £800 million. Still a private company, its success remains rooted in the values of people, quality and profit.

David has also devoted much of his energy to charitable work.  He had always been interested in education, and had continued an association with his old school, but he became increasingly aware of the importance of education for less advantaged communities.  Working with the Bishop of Leicester he helped to set up the first ‘Samworth Academy’, replacing a failed state school in a deprived part of Leicester.  Importing the Samworth values, and with careful choice of staff the Academy has been a great success, which has been followed by the establishment of two further Academies in Nottingham and Mansfield.  David’s charity work has also extended into a wider range of projects in the communities from which his staff are drawn.  He has not however forgotten Africa, where he supports a range of activities, including the ‘Mango Tree’ project which looks after a large number of AIDS orphans.  His youngest daughter was a Christian missionary in Africa and works closely with his charity.  David was knighted in 2009 in recognition of his contribution to charity.

David Samworth’s success, and his huge contribution to society is firmly rooted in an immutable set of values which pervades his very being – a clear message to us all that if we hold true to our values all is possible.

Mr Vice Chancellor, on the recommendation of Senate and Council I present to you Sir David Samworth, that you may confer upon him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Written and delivered by Professor Stewart Petersen.

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