King of the High Street receives honorary award

Fashion designer and retailer George Davies received an honorary doctorate from Edge Hill University today (20th July).

Described as “King of the High Street”, it is his vision and business savvy that are behind the incredibly successful household brands NEXT, George at Asda and Per Una at Marks and Spencer.

Since being named as the Guardian Young Businessman of the Year in 1985, George has been the recipient of countless awards recognising his major contribution to fashion, design, retail and business in a career which has spanned over 40 years.

Born and educated in North Liverpool, George has been a source of inspiration for generations of business and design students, including many of those following degrees at our university. The doctorate was conferred by the University’s Chancellor Professor Tanya Byron in a ceremony on the Ormskirk campus. Listen to his interview here.

Speaking after the ceremony, he said: “This is very special for me to receive an honorary; it has been made special by the environment, the people and the nature of this University.

“What I like about this University is that it has the pace, the speed, the friendliness and, more importantly, it has got the vision. Today we hear about all the problems with the economy but the courses at this University provide real hope for work for its students.”

While on campus, George officially opened the Edge Hill Business School. It houses students studying Business, Law and Computing.

Describing the pressures of the retailing business, George said: “You’re always sitting an exam which the customer is marking.”

Giving advice to students embarking on a similar career path, he said: “There are a lot of opportunities out there for people who will put their back into getting a job. You just have to push yourself.”

Born in Crosby in 1941, his father was a sausage factory manager whilst his mother, the dominant force of the family, ran a Post Office.  As a child, George was used to seeing his mum, auntie and cousin cutting out patterns and making dresses at home in preference to shopping on the high street.  Those early experiences with his mother made a deep impact that was to shape his adult life.

A promising footballer, he had trials for Liverpool Football Club during the reign of the legendary Bill Shankly.  Whilst not quite making the grade, he did go on to play for Bangor City and the England Universities and England Under-18s squads.

Leaving school with no particular career in mind, it was his mother who was determined that George should make something of his life and got him an interview at Birmingham University to study Dentistry.  Teeth, however, did not prove to be George’s forte and he left University to return to Liverpool where he got a job at Littlewoods, working first in stock control and then as a buyer – for ankle socks. He has never looked back.

At the age of 32, George was asked to join a home-based retailer called Pippa Dee. His success led to an approach from Sir Terence Conran in 1981 to revamp the rather tired Hepworth chain which had recently expanded to take over Kendalls.  And so NEXT was born.  He was then approached by Asda to create a clothing range and, in the 1990s he produced his second household-name brand, George. Marks and Spencer was next to approach George and in 2001, with a brief to appeal to a younger female market sector, he launched the Per Una range.  Having him on the Board added £500 million to M&S’s stock market value and helped clothes sales rise by over 50%.

Now, George is working on his latest venture, FG4, a children’s clothing range designed for sale in many countries.

Less well known is George’s charitable work.  This includes support for children in Sri Lanka and Tanzania as well as the Circulation Foundation and Wounded for Us, a charity that supports British soldiers injured in combat.  He was an Ambassador for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations.