Sir John Ritblat (OH 45) - Originality
19/07/2017
Spend an hour with Sir John Ritblat and you can’t help but be overwhelmed and impressed by his energy and sparkle. A very youthful 81 years old, he apologised for interrupting our meeting to speak to his climbing guide in the Alps to make arrangements for the following week!

Sir John joined the Hall Junior School in September 1942 having spent much of the war moving around primary schools in the West Country (Bridport, Warminster, Moretonhampstead). Like many young children of his era, he was used to being brave and independent from a very early age.

He was initially a boarder at The Hall and remembers beds in the basement and being pushed into the air-raid shelter half way through the night as the bombs rained down. When his mother returned to live in Hampstead, he became a day boy and at the age of 7 was cycling from Hendon Way down the Finchley Road to The Hall each day. Easy on the way there but not so good up the hill on the way home!

He left The Hall aged 10 in 1945 to take up a boarding scholarship at Dulwich College. On his record card, he is described by Gerard Wathen as ‘Bright and self-assertive’ so already showing the characteristics which would contribute to his future success.

Sir John’s meteoric career has been well documented. Aged 17, he was articled to a firm of West End Surveyors, Edward Erdman, as an office boy earning £2,10 shillings a week. He learnt fast and in 1959 had founded an estate agency, Conrad Ritblat with associate Neville Conrad. They subsequently took over his former employer. He became Managing Director of Union Property Holdings Ltd in 1969 which then became British Land after he purchased the company in 1970. Under his leadership, British Land has become the megalith of the British property industry. Sir John stepped down as Chairman in 2006 but continues as Honorary President of the British Land Company PLC. Far from retiring from business, he now focuses his energies at the family company Delancey.

So what does he believe have been the biggest contributors to his success?

He has always enjoyed his life and never begrudged the ‘graft’. Friends comment that he is a self-confessed workaholic, often putting in 18-hour days and getting papers delivered to his home at midnight. But he is also hugely sociable and has always taken and valued long holidays.

He recognises that he has been lucky; Lucky to be born with great energy, fitness and health - he continues to enjoy real tennis, skiing and mountains; Lucky to have an aptitude for what he does and to have had a good training; Lucky with his timing........most of the time. But it is very clear that in this case, he has made his own luck.

And he has always shared his success. He gains great pleasure in helping others make their fortunes and his philanthropic interests have been as important to him as building his companies.

His list of voluntary appointments is long and varied: Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wallace Collection, Chairman of the Board of Governors of London Business School, Vice President & Fellow of The Royal Institution; member of the Board of The British Library; Vice President of the Tennis & Rackets Association and President of British Ski & Snowsport. Deputy Chairman of the Royal Academy of Music. Governor of Dulwich College.
It was one of many acts of generosity that earned Sir John his knighthood. He donated the Anthony Gormley sculpture that graces the British Library's piazza and founded The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery also at the British Library. At the Wallace Collection there are rooms that also bear his name as well as the Science & Media Centre at the Royal Institution and at Imperial College.

Education remains one of Sir John’s many passions and despite being Chairman of the Alpha Plus group, Britain’s second largest operator of private schools, Sir John has always remained loyal to The Hall. His sons Nick (OH 74) and Jamie (OH 80) both attended the school as did his Grandsons Joe (OH 2010) and Sam (OH 2014) and he served as a Governor alongside Julian Wathen for over 25 years. During that time, he used his knowledge and expertise in property to create the secure basis from which the school operates to this day. He was instrumental in planning for the future and oversaw the purchase of freehold for the Junior and Senior school buildings and managing the development and finance for the Centenary buildings and the Middle school.

Sir John was very involved with raising the funds for the Centenary Campaign back in 1987 and as we start to make plans for the Development of the Senior school, we will bear in mind one of his key business strategies which is to ‘line up the money first’.

He also has good advice for our leaving boys,
‘Be happy and make sure you look forward to your next school with a love of learning’

Sir John’s son Nick continues to serve on the governing body of The Hall and we hope that the whole family will always remain closely associated with the school.
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