Presented by Professor Frank Sanderson
Honourable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Peter Johnson for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.
Peter Johnson is being honoured today for his outstanding contribution to business and to society.
Peter is a Birkenhead-based businessman who started out as a trainee butcher in the family business before becoming a major supplier of Christmas hampers and founding the highly-successful Park Group, the UK's leading multi-redemption gift voucher business.
Throughout his life he has taken a keen interest in football. Originally a Red, he is currently the owner and chairman of Tranmere Rovers, and former chairman of Everton. Peter is also a major benefactor in this region, a generous supporter of many education, medical, youth and sports projects across Merseyside over the last quarter of a century.
Peter Robert Johnson, the son of Walter and Becky Johnson, was born in Liverpool's Upper Parliament Street during the Second World War.
He first attended St Saviour's Primary School in Birkenhead and after passing the 11+ went to Park High Grammar School. He did well enough academically but the attractions of business were irresistible. He left school at 16 to become a trainee butcher earning £3.00 a week with the family business which then consisted of 12 butcher's shops and a processing factory.
Peter Johnson's outstanding success in business has been based on his ability to spot opportunities and single-mindedly bring them to fruition. In 1966, when he had been working for 10 years in the family business, a friend suggested an idea about Christmas savings – people paying half-a-crown a week over 40 weeks for a Christmas turkey. Always alert for new ideas, Peter wasted no time in branching out the family business into a Christmas savings club. The Park Hamper Company was formed in 1967, and Park Foods became a major player in the weekly cash savings business.
The business really caught on and at its peak was selling a million hampers a year. In 1982, the year before the flotation of the company, Park Group gift vouchers were introduced and they are now at the heart of the business through highstreetvouchers.com – the online gift voucher retailer.
In 1993, with his reputation in the business world riding high, he became chairman of Nightfreight GB, the overnight freight and parcels business, when it went public on the London Stock Exchange – he retained this position until 1997.
Under Peter Johnson's leadership, Park has prospered through its willingness to adapt and innovate. The combination of the Love2shop multi-redemption gift voucher and leading position in the Christmas savings and corporate voucher markets, together with the company's shrewd use of the internet have enabled Park to achieve impressive operating profits in the face of significant financial uncertainty and consumer caution.
Particularly encouraging has been the growth in the use of Park Vouchers by businesses as a means of rewarding and incentivising staff. And the latest idea to be launched is the e-money card authorised by the Financial Services Authority in 2010, and already achieving rapid sales growth.
Unlike most football fans, Peter has had several football allegiances during his life. As a young boy growing up in Birkenhead, he was a Tranmere Rovers fan but he became a supporter and season ticket holder of Liverpool FC during the Bill Shankley era. In 1987, Peter returned to his roots to save Tranmere Rovers and restore some much-needed stability. Under his chairmanship, Tranmere secured its place in the Football League in 1987 and were promoted to the old Second Division in 1990.
When a much bigger but struggling local club was looking for investment in 1994, Peter Johnson took over ownership of Everton, quickly presiding over a dramatic escape from relegation with a 3-2 win against Wimbledon at Goodison after being 2-0 down. And he was at the helm in 1995 when Everton beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup, the last time the club won silverware. It was however no surprise when Peter was drawn back to Tranmere Rovers in 1999.
Peter Johnson's benefaction has extended well beyond football, and is primarily channelled through the Johnson Foundation which he established in 1987. As chairman of the trustees, Peter takes great personal pleasure in giving financial support to local youth projects, education, and sport, with special attention being given to the alleviation of poverty and to charities which cannot support their own fund-raising.
And given his long-standing interest in health – he was one of the original non-executive directors of Wirral Hospitals Trust – Peter has also made substantial donations to promote the preservation and protection of health. He is especially proud that The Johnson Foundation has now made donations in excess of £2 million.
Peter Johnson remains the hands-on Executive Chairman of the ever-expanding Park Group, still excited by new business ideas, as focused as ever and with no plans for retirement. His major public achievement has been to turn a reasonably successful family concern into one of the UK's most dynamic businesses – a business still locally based and one which has provided employment for thousands of local people.
And he also deserves much credit for his generosity to local causes through The Johnson Foundation. He has much to be proud of and we are delighted to acknowledge his achievements today.
Thus I have great pleasure in presenting Peter Johnson, this most distinguished son of our city, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.