Delroy Beverley: Anything is possible to a willing mind

Delroy Beverley
Delroy Beverley
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Delroy Beverley is the first black chairman of a European business school. Bernard Ginns meets him

His first job came as a 14-year-old schoolboy on a milk round.

For five days a week, Delroy Beverley would be up at 3.45am to get to the dairy, load the float with milk and do the deliveries around Harlesden in northwest London.

Then he was off to school for a full day of learning. Saturdays brought no lie-in; instead, the milk round doubled up for the weekend.

Beverley says the experience instilled in him the discipline of getting up and doing something. He also learned some basic lessons about business.

“The whole service industry, the transaction aspect, the customer-facing aspect, the dissatisfaction if you delivered the wrong milk, the financial interaction, understanding gallonage, understanding cost ratio for the cost of milk... it was fascinating for somebody not used to that.

“That is where I really got a sense of the discipline. Not many 14-year-olds could get into the discipline of getting up so early and then going to school and all that entails.

“If you had a milk round back then it was seen as more prestigious as a paper round and you got a lot more money as well,” says Beverley, breaking into laughter.

The job lasted three years, until he found that he needed to devote all his energies to his education.

“It was work, study, read. Work, study, read. And there was a sense of wanting to do well for your family.”

The thirst for knowledge and education provided the foundation, which coupled with the ambition and work ethic propelled Beverley through university and vocational studies into a career in housing and construction in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

A turning point came in 1999 when he was one of seven people selected by Bradford council to join an leadership development programme for members of black and minority ethnic communities.

Beverley says it gave him an insight into politics as well as business, experience of working at a senior level and relayed the importance of building long-term relationships. He also got a mentor in Wallace Sampson, now the chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council.

The three-year course was the first of its kind in the country, adds Beverley. “Because it was groundbreaking, you were almost paving the way.”

He says: “It was very difficult to be exposed to something like that and then at the end of three years go back to what you were doing previously because you get an appetite, a desire and a belief to want to do good and well in life. I already had that, but it reinforced that even more.”

Nor did he want to be hamstrung by the programme and was determined to prove himself.

Beverley joined InCommunities, the Bradford-based social housing provider, as an area manager and took on non-executive directorships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the national charity based in York, and Huddersfield Pride, a regeneration company, exposing him to fields like governance and strategy.

He worked his way up the corporate ladder at InCommunities, which is one of the UK’s largest social housing providers with 1,200 employees and a £93m turnover, and within two years reached director level. In 2006, he established Propertysolutions, which is now a multi-million pound division responsible for the group’s building and construction activities. One of his initiatives was to get more women and black and minority ethnic candidates into the construction industry.

He started building links with Bradford University School of Management by providing placements for final year MBA students.

The school, part of Bradford University, invited him to join its international advisory board. He joined as a member in 2013 and was elected chairman in October 2014.

The board advises and supports the dean, Professor Jon Reast, in managing the school’s affairs and includes big hitters such as Alan Keir, the chief executive of HSBC Bank plc, and Professor Malcolm McDonald, the strategic marketing guru.

As the first black chairman of a major European business school, it was a proud moment for Beverley and his family. “Where I come from, that doesn’t happen. It’s unusual,” he says. “It’s a privilege. I want it to be a positive in my community.”

He wants society to be more confident in considering black - and female - leaders as capable. His own sector, social housing, is more amenable, he says. “We have a fantastic business leader in InCommunities in Geraldine Howley. She is an example.” Ms Howley, chief executive since 2003, is president of the Chartered Institute of Housing.

Beverley says he meets with Prof Reast regularly and has a strong relationship with new vice chancellor Professor Brian Cantor, who aims to establish Bradford as the technology university of the North.

As well as supporting this ambition, Beverley wants the school to continue to be recognised around the world.

He adds: “I want to make the business school more accessible to people in the very communities that surround it. The business school does incredibly well with international students and that is fantastic and long may that continue, but I think there is an opportunity for it to shine brightly in the communities of Bradford as well.

“There are very strong business-minded people in some of the communities of Bradford that maybe see the business school as not accessible to them.”

He also wants the school to appeal more to local businesses and says it needs to raise its game in the field of executive education.

Developing the relationship with the alumni network is important too; he describes Cambridge University’s expertise in this area as “a masterclass”. He also plans to bring in new members of the advisory board.

“I think we need to join the dots of the business school, the alumni and the local community in Bradford,” he says.

He hopes that the organisations and people of Bradford will do more to celebrate the success of the city and “change that perception… that the city is a no-go area because it is simply not true”.

Beverley spends time mentoring A-level students. He tells them: “Be willing to commit to what you want to achieve and work hard to do it. You will have to knock on a lot of doors, but eventually one will open.”

He says: “If I was summarising my journey, that would be it.”

FACTFILE:

Date of birth: An early 60s child

Favourite holiday destination: St Elizabeth and St Thomas in Kingston, Jamaica, because that’s where my parents are from.

Last book read: Managers Not MBAs by Henry Mintzberg. Here you have an author whose many books I read during my MBA.

Favourite song: Medicine For My Pain by Lynden David Hall or Ain’t That Peculiar by Marvin Gaye.

Favourite film: The Color Purple

Car driven: VW Golf

Best advice ever given: Anything is possible to a willing mind

Most proud of: I am very proud of my sons who have done incredibly well.