Obituary: John Garnett

William John Poulton Maxwell Garnett, industrial campaigner: born London 6 August 1921; Director, Industrial Society 1962-86; CBE 1970; married 1943 Barbara Rutherford-Smith (three sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1985), 1986 Julia Cleverdon (two daughters); died Paros, Greece 14 August 1997.
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John Garnett changed the way a whole generation thought about work. His experiences in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and later working as a clerk and then personnel manager at ICI (1947-62) convinced him that the challenge at work was not to protect people from exploitation but to give them the opportunity to make use of their talents. People long to give but so often organisations make no use of their gifts.

Taking over as director of a largely moribund Industrial Welfare Association in 1962, Garnett changed its name to the Industrial Society and made it the leading influence in Britain in man management through courses, conferences, but above all through his speeches.

He was an inspiring speaker with his shock of white hair, his illegible notes clutched in his hand, pouring energy into his audience. Each point was hammered home with stories and examples. He claimed his technique was learnt keeping old ladies awake at League of Nations rallies.

In hundreds of speeches over 30 years, John Garnett spoke to thousands of managers and supervisors in all sorts of organisations and sent them away armed with their own personal action points, determined to change the way they managed and put some of that inspiration into their workplace. His three principal messages were the importance of effective first-line leadership; the simple skill of team briefing to galvanise the whole organisation; and the need for vision to inspire people at work.

His book The Work Challenge, first published in 1973, set out what needed to be done by leaders to help people put more into and get more out of their work at a time of changing technology and changing attitudes to life. He was proudest, however, of the plastic card of 10 points for leadership action.

William John Poulton Maxwell Garnett, to give him his full name, carried forward the missionary work as well as the names of his father and grandfathers. His grandfather William Garnett had worked with Sidney and Beatrice Webb to achieve extraordinary success in bringing educational order to London. His father, Maxwell Garnett, moved from being Principal of Manchester's College of Technology to the League of Nations Union, establishing branches and undergraduate groups throughout the country.

William Garnett also built a holiday home at Horestone Point, Seagrove Bay, near Seaview on the Isle of Wight. Sir Edward Poulton, the Oxford zoologist, had a family home two miles south, at St Helens. John Garnett's parents, Maxwell Garnett and Margaret Poulton, met, he said, playing beach hockey on the sand of Priory Bay between their parents' homes. After marriage they bought part of a field above the bay to build their own home. John Garnett later gave coastal land including Horestone Point to the National Trust.

The Great War culled John Garnett's uncles including the England rugby captain Ronald Poulton-Palmer, the oarsman Kenneth Garnett, and Stuart Garnett, who founded the sea scouts. His uncles were the hounds at his heels for much of his life, and responsible for the tremendous drive to achieve and change the world. When asked to volunteer for secret work in the Second World War, he knew he could not face his mother if he refused. He served first as lieutenant in an amazing nautical undercover taxi service, taking spies and supplies between Cornwall and occupied France.

Garnett loved the sea, sailing and the Isle of Wight, although in later years he also took holidays in the Greek islands where he died. The family gatherings and holidays on the Isle of Wight are known for their size. Beach hockey at low tide with 20 each side might be followed by 50 in St Helens Church. The annual walk to Whitecliff Bay, was distinguished by John Garnett telling successive generations the stories of Captain Scott's Last Expedition and of the short life of the Titanic.

At his retirement party, organised by his second wife, Julia Cleverdon, now Director of Business in the Community, thousands from industry and commerce came to the Albert Hall in teams of 10. Each team involved managers with trade unionists and young people for a day of involvement with company chairmen and trade union leaders whose careers had grown alongside John Garnett.

On leaving the Industrial Society in 1986, Garnett served as Chairman of West Lambeth Health Authority (1986-90), fighting the waves of despondency in a changing Health Service and pulling St Thomas' Hospital in London back from the brink of closure.

He never really retired, believing that you should run the last lap fastest of all. He poured his energy into his younger daughters' school parent association, the New River Walk in Islington, and St James's, his local church, building a new church hall and sheltered accommodation for single- parent families. He had earlier been Deputy Chairman of the United Nations Association, 1954-56, and chaired the Churches Council on Gambling, from 1965 to 1971.

Garnett led by example, walking the job, listening and speaking to people at all levels in the organisation with the same passion and care that he poured out in his speeches. At Lambeth Health Authority, appalled by the litter in the corridors, he set himself the task of picking up 10 pieces of litter on his way in and 10 on his way out. His greatest joy was seeing a consultant do likewise.

For his 75th birthday last year, 75 of the family put on a performance in full costume of HMS Pinafore in a Greek amphitheatre he had built, like his beloved Stone House in the Isle of Wight, by hand alone.

John Garnett's strength came from a real love of people, and the joys of setting them alight and his belief in Christ's call to serve God and his fellow man. His sense of humour - and a strong sense of his own failings - kept him approachable and fun, a very practical idealist.