Tribute to our friend and colleague John Wilson

By Jason Atkinson, MD of Russam and including tributes from Charles Russam, Founder of Russam GMS, and Peter Dunkerley, Former colleague and director at Russam.

The whole Russam team was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of John’s passing just before Christmas following a brave fight with a cancer called Mesothelioma which has no cure.  Our thoughts go out to Susan and the whole family during this difficult time.

John was one of our most experienced and dedicated colleagues and worked with us from 1999 to 2021. He held many leadership roles including Operations Director, MD – North and Associate Director – International.  He joined Russam after a distinguished career working overseas for the TI Group and Coats Viyella in operational leadership roles and brought all of this experience to our Russam clients; very much acting as a “trusted advisor” and problem solver.  

I remember meeting John on a Monday morning in September 2005 which coincided with my first day on the job at Russam and first introduction to the wonderful world of Interim Management. John was running an operational meeting for the team at a hotel called the Old Palace Lodge (the most haunted hotel in Bedfordshire if I remember correctly) and I got stuck in a terrible traffic jam on the M1. Needless to say John gave me a good telling off and then welcomed me with open arms.  I was never late again! John was a straight-talker; he “didn’t pull his punches” and you knew exactly where you stood.

John’s legacy is woven in the very fabric of our company especially when it comes to spotting and nurturing rare talent. Before the days of Teams, sophisticated behavioural analysis and other selection tools, John was able to quickly and effectively understand whether a candidate would be an excellent fit and be successful as an Interim Manager on a client assignment. He would say that we “don’t make up the numbers”; that it only takes one superstar to do the job. He didn’t take short-cuts, he didn’t rest until the right solution was found for our client or business partner. This brings me on to John’s last 5-6 years with us when he spearheaded our involvement in the WIL Group (Worldwide Interim Leadership). I think this work energised John and reminded him of his passion for working overseas and collaborating with colleagues on a multi-national basis. John worked on over 400 international projects (or “missions”) to place interim and transition managers including projects in remote corners of the world like Vietnam and the Ivory Coast. We estimate that John worked on 2,500 different client projects during his tenure and thus made a huge difference to many lives; not just with the jobs he found people but also all the coaching and mentoring that he on a daily basis. In 2018 at the Shanghai Conference John won our yearly award for “Best Interim Project”.

I’ve had so many emails and calls from colleagues both in the UK and connected with our international group about John. He will be remembered so warmly by us all. Here is just one from Frédéric Marot-Achillas who John worked closely with when Frédéric was with our partner firm X-PM France. I’m sure that he won’t mind me sharing in this note.

“Dear Jason,

Sad news indeed !  We liked John very much .  He will remain in our thoughts as an English gentleman, with a great sense of humour and always willing to help and work with colleagues across the globe.

Please pass on to the Russam team and his family our sincere condolences.

Frederic”

John Wilson – sharing some memories by Charles Russam

For me, it was a great personal sadness when I heard that John Wilson had died.  It brought back many memories. 

The day John and I met was particularly memorable.   This was in the late Summer of 2000. I became aware that our Northern office was in trouble .  I’d just learnt that our Regional Director had abruptly resigned – and what bothered me was that he was joining a strong competitor.  Those who have come across situations like this will know that of all the responses available, the best one, very often, has to be a swift one! 

I searched our files and also referred to an old friend from Huddersfield who passed on to me John’s name from one of his contacts – who happened to be his previous Finance Director – and who I had, in fact, met previously.  Coincidentally, this happened at the same time that I had come across John’s name through our own internal searches.

All this resulted – the next day – in the departing Director leaving through one door and John joining me in the office as soon as he saw the Director driving out of the car park!  John stayed.  For the next twenty years.

From that somewhat theatrical beginning and from a professional perspective – and probably due to being an engineer and Scottish and with an employer mentality – what I remember next is many years of working together in our successful and eventful venture which, for me, was right up to when I was seen driving out of the Russam car park in 2014, after Jason and, Ian had taken over the company.

From a personal perspective, I remember many unexpected and engaging things about John during our association:-  His light-footed dancing skills – which he and his wife Susan both showed off at our Christmas parties – and were much admired – and which also surprised some!  John was also keen on cooking.  His skill and enthusiasm for making sauces was a particular feature . He demonstrated this rather flamboyantly when he stayed with me ahead of an Event.  I still think it might have been John who left behind a bright yellow umbrella marked “Singapore Cricket Club” – although I was never sure.  John had worked in that part of the world, managing an engineering subsidiary there, so it might have been.

Best wishes, Charles

Charles Russam FCA

John Wilson – Obituary by Peter Dunkerley – Russam Interim Management Recruiter   

“John sadly passed away before Christmas.  He and I worked together side by side for Russam for twenty years.

He did in the North what I did in the South.  He was one of the few recruiters who understood the process and achieved continuously positive results.  This understanding led him to write operations manuals for Russam, something I happily left to others.   He was effective because prior to Russam, he had been a Managing Director for many years with engineering companies, admittedly mainly in Peru, so John knew how people operated at all levels in commercial organisations.  He could interpret and deliver to client needs better than most.

He was a no-nonsense Scot, but he didn’t wish the English rugby team to hell, which was good.  He and I could be a bit competitive but for the full twenty years we had a solid non-aggression pact and saw each other socially with wives Susan and Rowenna.

He had a wide range of extra-mural skills including a good knowledge and capacity for fine wines, an ability to grow prize winning vegetables, a long record of five star travel and of course an ability to speak Spanish.

So for twenty years John and I shared opinions and notes on everything and as a forthright character, who wasn’t shy in expressing an opinion however long it took, he will be greatly missed by me and by the Russam community.” 

Peter

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