Alumni Profiles: Jeremy Leigh Pemberton (MBA’61)

I read Classics at Eton. I did two years national service in which I had the distinction of guarding HM The Queen and Rudolf Hess, though not, as you might imagine, at the same time. My next step was studying at Oxford. I read law at Magdalen College with a job in prospect in a connected family business which in the event did not materialise.

And then my professional life started. My first job was with Liebig’s Extract of Meat Co. Ltd., the parent company of Oxo, Fray Bentos manufacturers of canned meats, soups etc. for which I worked on the European side. My then boss was about to take himself off to Harvard on a management course when the information about INSEAD fell on his desk; INSEAD was completely unknown at that time in the UK (and elsewhere) which was early 1960.

After some thought I agreed to apply and I only wonder in retrospect why I even hesitated! I was interviewed by Professor Kenneth Most who was to come to Fontainebleau later to give a course in management accounting.

In the 1960s INSEAD required that students could speak and write in three languages: English, French and German. My French was passable in those days, but my German was non-existent so I spent August at the Berlitz school in Paris along with future colleagues working on English, French or German. We all went through a form of language test at the end of the month, but in retrospect I imagine that the school was keen for us to enrol – so we all passed!

After a short time in the Hotel d’Albe I was moved to Avon where I shared a room with Michel Gauthier (who very sadly passed away very recently).

Although companionship was strong among the “participants” it was not an easy time. Accommodation was relatively temporary and led to some complaints, the food at Avon was not always well prepared, but most of all there was a feeling that the “direction” had insufficient experience in the form of teaching, the “case study” method resulting in heavy workloads and inconclusive discussions. For the French contingent, particularly, and naturally by far the largest element, the case study method and the lack of a single conclusion to a discussion was very unsettling. I was among a small number who approached a visiting Swiss Professor Silberer to ask for his help in trying to resolve what was becoming a crisis; we then went to talk to Olivier Giscard d’Estaing the Directeur General. I am afraid I cannot remember exactly how things were resolved, but after a difficult period Olivier and I became good friends and everything settled down. In line with a tradition in French colleges we performed a musical at the end of the year and as Olivier was known informally as “Gigi” many of the songs came from that musical with words based on life at INSEAD.

“Thank Heavens for INSEAD in Europe, which was quite at sixes (Common Market) and sevens (EFTA) it now has become a sort of Seventh Heaven….” etc., etc.

Michel and I opted for the Study Tour which was based on Italy and Southern Europe. During this tour Michel fell in love with a young German lady interpreter, Renate, whom he married!

Our finale was a party on boats on the Seine and before we all bade each other farewell the French contingent led the way with a local organisation, again largely through the initiative of Michel, and gradually a crop of Alumni Associations came into being.

When I returned to my job in the food industry in London I was put on a training course which included selling, sales management and finally product management. I became product manager of OXO with a substantial annual promotional budget of over £1m – probably the largest single budget in the UK grocery trade at that time. All went well until the company was taken over by Brooke Bond whose principal products were tea and coffee. After a period as Group Marketing Controller where, ably supported by three brand managers, we designed and monitored the marketing plans of all the Group companies worldwide. Brooke Bond then decided to dismantle the central marketing department to everyone’s surprise, within and without the company, and I was once again looking for a job.

Despite help from headhunters and advisers my next job came through a personal contact who, impressed by my graduation from INSEAD, asked me to do a consultancy job for them at a highly specialist paper Mill in Maidstone in Kent.

Happily the combination of INSEAD and my experience in Liebig’s / Brooke Bond armed me with exactly the ingredients needed to solve the problem. In the Paper Industry in the UK in those days you either made paper or you sold it! In this case the separation led to underpricing and lack of profitability. All this came right and the resulting company, Whatman Plc, found itself in the top ten performers on the UK Stock Exchange during the Thatcher Years.

During this time and when the company had become highly successful, I became involved in a number of local activities, not least because Whatman was a major employer in the area and neighbours of the Kent County Council.

The CBI, Confederation of British Industry, started a local area organisation in the county (Kent) and I was asked to lead it as founder chairman. This led to a number of involvements with the CBI and one was the response to invitations from schools to talk about Industry and its role in society. From this sprang The Understanding Industry Trust, for whom I spoke in schools for the next few years, also becoming a trustee.

Meanwhile I was asked by INSEAD to spend a week a year as a visiting professor of marketing and I conducted a case called “Chipmunk Crisps” based on the development and launch of one of Brooke Bond Liebig’s products greatly helped and supported by J Walter Thompson from whom I have to thank for a large proportion of my knowledge of marketing. It was most interesting that, when I visited INSEAD, the participants were generally very confused about marketing – as opposed to selling – so I had quite a willing audience!

I then began to be asked to join other boards as a non-executive director, including two Investment Trusts of which I eventually became chairman. I am still the chairman of the trustees of the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.

Looking back over this time I am grateful that it was so rewarding. As the second President of the International Alumni Association my name is numbered among those interred in the foundations of the new Campus. Following the work that I did for such as the CBI and as Kent’s first Chairman of Business Link, I was very privileged to be invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the Companionship of the British Empire from the Queen and later invited to become one of his deputies by the then Lord Lieutenant of Kent.

I have very close friends from my promotion. Together we are passionate about our time at INSEAD, our careers and the deep friendships we made. Our adventure in Fontainebleau feels special because of the pioneering nature of our time at INSEAD. We recently met at Verbier to benefit from the Verbier Festival. And we are looking forward to our next meeting somewhere around the world.

If you are interested in sharing your alumni story, please contact the UK alumni association at [email protected]

June 2019