Johnsons of Whixley meet the boss - John Richardson

Johnsons of Whixley meet the boss - John Richardson

Johnsons of Whixley meet the boss - John Richardson

Meet our chairman John Richardson, who has been at the head of our business for more than 50 years and says he has no plans to retire.

John first took ownership of Johnsons of Whixley in 1964. Under his leadership, the business has grown to become one of the largest commercial nursery businesses in Europe, and a trusted supplier of plants and trees to commercial projects throughout the UK.

Most 80 year olds are at home reading a book or watching TV. At 79 you are still at work four or five days a week. What does an average day entail?My average day at work involves managing a series of administrative tasks related to quality and environmental systems, health and safety, packaging waste, agricultural census requirements, as well as answering letters with no other obvious recipient. I maintain a number of ongoing historical records and attend meetings appropriate to my role.

How will you be celebrating turning 80 this year?
Possibly by going out for a meal with family one evening.

What got you interested in horticulture and what has kept you motivated all these years?
I grew up on the traditional West Riding farm run by my mother’s family, producing cereals, vegetables and 200 acres of rhubarb. I worked from age 11 on the farm during every non-school hour. I wasn’t motivated by classroom subjects - only woodwork!

On leaving school I applied to go to Askham Bryan College, but the principal suggested that I should go to Writtle College in Essex and do a two-year Diploma course, which I did.
I tried salad production, tomatoes, vegetables and spent three years selling fertilizer to commercial growers before deciding to focus on nursery stock production.

What are you most proud of?
I’ve never owed anyone money, other than a mortgage, and I am delighted to have the family I have got.

If you hadn’t opened a successful nursery what career path would you have gone down?
Almost certainly I would have gone in to some sort of mechanical engineering. Aged 16, I applied for an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce, but was turned down, as my maths results were not good enough.

Was there any point at which you felt like quitting?
I’ve never felt like quitting anything other than Latin! Every time we’ve had a problem I try and see the way out, never look back and consider what we might have done differently.

Is there anything you would have changed, knowing what you know now?
I may have developed a garden centre if any of my sons had been motivated to run it.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry over the last 50 years?
Climate change and the impact of foreign holidays has revolutionised the range of plants now used in private gardens. There have also been big changes around the use of plastic. 50 years ago there were no plastic pots, no poly tunnels and no polythene bags. And there were fewer summer sales because nothing was in pots. Mechanisation has also increased significantly.

What is the biggest change in shopping trends you have seen over the last 50 years?
The first garden centres were seen on the outskirts of London just 50 years ago. The first supermarkets followed soon after. The local authorities used to order plants for their own parks departments to plant - now local authority work is almost entirely through contractors.

Is it nice to see the different generations of the family coming into the business?
It’s really satisfying!

Do you have any advice for people starting out in horticulture or their own business?
Attack the project with fire and enthusiasm and gain as much knowledge as possible related to the entire project area you are interested in. Learn about it as much as you can. Watch every episode of Dragons’ Den and you will then realise how many people don’t know the basic facts relating to their proposals but expect support from others. You will have one or two setbacks - but skill, enthusiasm, personality and quick thinking will carry you through. No job will be as rewarding as working for yourself.

...and finally, will you ever retire?
Retiring is something you do when you go to bed! I love my association with my work, the staff, our customers – and the plants! - too much to consider packing in. What would I do? I have 14 books waiting to be read, and I try and get through them, but only very slowly!

Posted 5th Oct 1:57pm