Sir John is a passionate advocate of harnessing the benefits of economic growth to improve quality of life, address society’s challenges, strengthen social cohesion and, critically, to provide the education and training that give young people real opportunity.
Born into a farming family in Northern Ireland. he studied Naval Architecture and Mechanical Engineering at the College of Technology and Queens University, Belfast and joined the ship design team at Harland and Wolff where he progressed into senior management positions.
He was appointed Managing Director of shipbuilders Austin and Pickersgill in Sunderland in 1974 and, following the nationalisation of the shipbuilding industry, he joined the Board of the British Shipbuilders Corporation, later becoming Deputy Chief Executive. He returned to Harland and Wolff in the early 1980s as Chairman and Chief Executive to lead a turnaround in the yard’s fortunes and transfer it into the private sector.
Sir John joined Babcock International plc as CEO in 1993 – later becoming Chairman as well – and again transformed the company. In 1997, he became a Non-executive Director of British Gas which led to his becoming Chairman of the Lattice Group on its demerger from BG Group in 2000. Lattice merged with National Grid in 2002 and Sir John became Chairman of the combined company, National Grid Transco.
He has also held a host of non-executive directorships, including the Industrial Development Board of Northern Ireland, British Coal Corporation, GKN, BG and Brambles Industries.
Elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering as one of its youngest Fellows in 1983, Sir John is also an Elder Brother of Trinity House (2010), a Visiting Fellow of University of Oxford, a member of the General Committee of Lloyds Register of Shipping, Vice President of The Royal Navy and Marines Charity and a governor of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. He is a recipient of honorary doctorates from a number of universities in the UK and Ireland. He has been President of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, an Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Fuellers and the Tallow Chandlers Livery Company and President of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers.
He led National Grid’s Young Offenders into Work programme. He has served government on the Prime Minister’s Business Council for Britain, the Defence Academy Advisory Board, the Asia Task Force and was Deputy Chairman of the White Ensign Association.
1942 Born 8 April in County Down, Northern Ireland. Educated at Newcastle Technical High School, County Down
1958 Joins Harland and Wolff as a student apprentice (Naval Architect)
1958-64 -Naval Architecture and Mechanical Engineering studies College of Technology and Queen’s University, Belfast
1964 Joins ship design team at Harland and Wolf
1974 Appointed Managing Director of Austin and Pickersgill (Sunderland)
1978 Joins Board of British Shipbuilders Corporation, later becoming Deputy Chief Executive
1983 Elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering
1983 Returns to Harland and Wolff as Chairman and Chief Executive
1993 CEO of Babcock International (also Chairman 1994-2000)
1999 Chairman of Firth Rixson
2000-03 Deputy Chairman of P&O Princess Cruises
2000-02 Chairman of Lattice Group
2001 Knighted for services to the defence and shipbuilding industries
2002 Chairman of RMC Group (leads sale to Cernex in 2005)
2002-11 Chairman of National Grid
2004-09 Chairman of Court of the Bank of England
2005 Chairman of P&O – leads sale to DP World in 2006
2006-11 Chancellor of the University of Southampton
2007-09 Joint Chairman of Mondi
2008-09 Chair of BVT Joint Venture
2009 Chairman of Anglo American
2011 President of the Royal Academy of Engineering