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Honorary Degree Orations


Sir Keith Mills

Public Orator, Lord Sebastian Coe presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 23 July at 10.30am

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Honorary Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen and Granduands . . .

In 1988 the man it is my honour to introduce to you, had a brainwave. And it came over a late supper at his kitchen table with his wife Maureen.

He had already spent twenty years in marketing, at The Economist and, subsequently The Financial Times.

He then moved into the advertising industry, working at a number of London agencies. In 1981, he led the buyout of the London office of a New York agency, Nadler & Larimer. Then his life changed.

His brainwave was born of two words which are very close to his heart: customers and loyalty.

His idea launched what became the Air Miles programme, something I am sure many of us today have been thankful for.

He entered into a joint venture with British Airways, but realising from the outset the international appeal of the project, he kept BA to just the UK market and took the concept to North America and throughout Europe. Here he launched other, and very successful, customer loyalty programmes.

I knew of Sir Keith during this period, as many did. The leading light in a new type of industry. He was the ideal man to drive the Olympic project, as International President and CEO of London 2012, as we entered the great race to win the right to stage the Olympic Games in this country for the first time in 64 years.

Sir Keith’s task was like leading a team of athletes into a Games: he had over 100 professionals working for him, from an extraordinarily wide range of disciplines. His job was to meld these talents, professional and voluntary, in pursuit of one single aim: The delivery of a successful bid for the nation.

He achieved this with flair, doggedness and the street smarts, which have always been his hall mark.

But that was not all. Sir Keith also had the role of helping me, and others, to persuade that demanding and esoteric group, of 115 members of the International Olympic Committee, that London really was the place to be in 2012.

It was a task which took us across all five continents in two years and no amount of Air Miles - had they been available – made some of these journeys anything other than challenging, but Sir Keith was composed and great company throughout.

Even when upon arrival to lobby the Oceania vote in Palau in the South Pacific – he was asked to wear a skirt. Without hesitation, he obliged. Recognising that there is, of course, no threshold of embarrassment when chasing votes. Even when forced to sing solo at the closing dinner.

On behalf of us all, I thank him wholeheartedly for what he has brought to the 2012 Olympic project and continues to bring in his role as Deputy Chairman. A man of sound judgement and at all times wise counsel.

Keith Mills is married with two children and lives near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. He is a keen amateur sailor and in 1999 was a crew member that won the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. In 2005, Keith was made Master Entrepreneur of the Year, Chief Executive of the Year and Sports Industry Business Man of the Year. He was Knighted in 2006. He will be leading the British challenge in the 33rd and 34th editions of the Americas Cup.

He is a man of many parts, and above all, a true winner and therefore Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you, and to the University, Sir Keith Mills, for the Degree of Doctor of Technology, Honoris Causa.”


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