Sir Nigel Rudd, DL


Nigel Rudd was born in Derby in 1946. His early years were ones of genteel poverty and - surprisingly for those who know him now - great shyness.

He was considered Oxbridge material, but his father insisted he follow his elder brother into accountancy. Sometimes he regrets that he didn't go to university. Five years later he qualified as Britain's youngest chartered accountant.

He met his wife Lesley at a barbecue. They were married in 1969 and have three children. According to Lesley 'He is easy to live with because when he comes home at the weekends he doesn't interfere. He has always been hopeless around the house.' He has stayed close to his roots - with a home in the Peak district and an office overlooking the Derbyshire cricket ground - and he and Lesley have kept many of their old friends.

His career is often presented as the four ages of Rudd.

In his first age the newly qualified Nigel worked as a trouble-shooter.

In his second age he became an entrepreneur, buying a small house-building company for £10,000 and making a £600,000 fortune from property deals by the time he was 36. Instead of opting for the easy life, he and his partner bought Williams. He made his name - and a tremendous fortune - by aggressively building Williams into a conglomerate during the 80s.

His third age began in 1991 when Williams' last big hostile bid failed. Acquisitive conglomerates were heading quickly out of fashion. 'We had to reinvent ourselves,' he says.!

His presence in boardrooms became a reassurance for City analysts concerned about poor management. In 1994 he became chairman of East Midlands Electricity, where he is credited as the architect of the dramatic culture change. In 1995 he became non-executive chairman of Pilkington, the world famous glass company.

He was knighted in 1996.

The fourth age of Rudd - the current one - is one where shareholder value will be delivered at Williams. But he retains a large portfolio of directorships.

What his colleagues value is his ability to get straight to the heart of the matter. He is not distracted by peripheral issues. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to generate - and share - his vision. He leaves the implementation to others.

But not everything he has touched has turned to gold. The purchase of the Smallbone luxury kitchens business by Williams, on the eve of the 1987 crash, was neither visionary nor profitable. Sir Nigel admits it was not his finest hour: 'We couldn't have bought at a worse time,'

What he values is his ability to understand structure and - perhaps even more importantly - to understand people. 'I'm very good with people,' he says, 'As a chairman you wander round and you just know how someone is reactingÉ' 'People tell me things.'!

Perhaps one of the reasons why people tell him things is because his approach is 'Éthoroughly unpompous, immensely practical. He wants people to have as much fun doing business as he does.' Even the most jaundiced analysts look forward to lunch with Sir Nigel. 'At least you can expect a few jokes.'

He has never been a workaholic. In the old days he would spend summer afternoons watching cricket from the office. Now he enjoys golf in Derbyshire and Portugal and plays off an enviable handicap of 6.

He works out three times a week. When his most recent visit to Loughborough was being organised, and he was planning visits to departments, top of his list was a visit to the Department of Physical Education, Sports Science and Recreation Management for a fitness test.

There are many references to his sense of humour, but he is wary of smiling for photographers because, he says, 'When things go wrong they always print the photograph of the chairman smiling.'.

Perhaps he can indulge himself now as - Mr Chancellor - I ask you to confer upon Sir Nigel Rudd, the degree of Doctor of Technology Honoris Causa.


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J.Allen2@lboro.ac.uk, December 1998.
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