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I thought I had made a mistake asking Gordon Black CBE to be the speaker at our Masterclass in Leeds yesterday, as the numbers were down and I realised Peter Black Holdings PLC may have been relatively unknown to the audience.

But I should not have worried. Gordon was a good speaker with a great sense of humour some of which I will try to share with you. And was much appreciated by those who attended.

The Book and the History

Gordon has written a book about his business career “From Bags to Blenders: The Journey of a Yorkshire Businessman” which is an interesting read.

One of the interesting stories in the book is about Gordon’s father, the eponymous Peter Black. Born into a successful German business family and brought up in Frankfurt, Peter and his mother Else, realising the up and coming threats to Jews in Germany emigrated to London in 1935, penniless. They lived in London and Peter got a job for the firm of leather goods manufacturers that he had worked for in Frankfurt.

With the arrival of war, Peter was asked to find a location for a small production unit outside London to manufacture army webbing and after a long search found a vacant floor in an old textile mill in Keighley.

The rest is history. After the war Peter bought the unit and used the webbing material to make shopping bags and his first customers were M&S and Boots. By the time of Peter’s death in 1977 the turnover was £2m. By the time Gordon and his brother Thomas finally sold the business in 2007 sales exceeded £300m.

The Lessons

There were lots of lessons.

Price is only one component of value, quality, delivery, design and integrity are also important.

Good Product or Service is key Good marketing, posh premises, up to date equipment-they count for nothing if the product or service you are offering is not top class.

Teams are everything, the gifted, driven loner can only get so far. Creating an atmosphere where people work for each other is key.

The Quality of Tenacity. Gordon said about himself that he is too insecure to be complacent. Don’t be in a rush, stick at it.

Arrogance is a cardinal sin. Business is a journey with ups and downs. Be flexible, step back after a success and think.

Delegation is key.

Acquisitions – proceed with extreme caution.

A small share of a big pot is better than a big share of a small pot; by the time Gordon and his brother sold they only had 15% of the equity.


Nick Butler