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Pickfords' John Hooper retires after 40 years of business moves

Nov 24, 2016
Last year, after more than 40 years in the moving business John Hooper, Business Moving Technical Sales Manager for Pickfords, decided to retire.

John spent over 35 years at Pickfords, starting at 17 as a junior porter/packer before joining GBN in Leyton East London in the mid 1970s where he progressed to the position of sales estimator.

“I recall a particular business move survey for the satellite manufacturer Inmarsat where five or six companies were invited to survey the job together,” said John. “I was very much the new kid on the block, but I can remember to this day some of the giants of the industry being there, these included Roy Wilson from Pickfords, Bill Carter of Bullens, Jack Freeman from Vanguard and Len Poole from Bishops.  I was lucky enough to secure the job which gave me the confidence to go on and secure as many of the biggest and most high profile commercial moves as possible.”  

After four successful years at GBN John received a phone call from Julian Dargaval at Pickfords offering him a position as sales manager for business moving. “It was not a difficult decision to make especially as the MD Dennis Oliver had agreed to my request for an automatic company car, something unheard of in those days,” said John.  

In 1980 Pickfords was de-nationalised, and a management buyout took place under the NFC banner. The staff were encouraged to buy shares at £1 each even if it meant re-mortgaging their houses.   

“Unfortunately we had just taken out a mortgage at 15.5% and our first child was on the way. Eventually we managed to buy 200 shares with the use of a company loan, these were sold a few years later for £4,400, we can only dream of where we might be if we had been able to buy say 5000 shares as many of the staff at that time did,” said John. 

The 1980s and early 90s were a boom period for business moving, especially in London and the South East. While previous major players such as Bullens, Vanguard, Evan Cook and Alfred Bishop were eventually sold or merged, many of today’s foremost specialist commercial moving companies such as Premier, Harrow Green and Business Moves developed and grew during that period.  

It was a time that saw the first glut of major law firm mergers, Lovells, Freshfields, Pennington’s, Herbert Smith and Ashhurst, Morris Crisp were all major moves John handled. It also coincided with the exodus from Fleet Street of the major newspapers. “I remember managing huge relocations for The Mail, The Telegraph, The Press Association and The Financial Times,” said John. “I also secured the first move into the Tower at Canary Wharf and during the move I took the opportunity take the lift to the empty penthouse for the view unfortunately all I could see from the 40th floor was the sky above and the clouds below.”  

Some of the largest moves during this ‘boom’ period were for government departments that were moving many thousands of staff out of London as well as within the capital. John’s successes included, The Inland Revenue to Nottingham, MAFF to York, National Statistics to Norwich, AEA to Oxford, plus the Dept of Education, ODA, Customs & Excise and The Treasury all to new HQs in London.  

Pickfords began to focus on more specialised sectors of business moving such as hospitals, schools and laboratories. “I secured what was then the largest hospital move to a new facility ever undertaken in the UK,” said John. “This involved the relocation of dozens of departments for the Westminster Hospital Group NHS Trust from various London locations to new premises in Fulham Road. This was soon followed by many more major hospital relocations including Guys & Thomas’s, St Marks, Southend, Edgware & Barnet, Dartford & Gravesham, St Georges, Kings College, West Middlesex, Tonbridge Wells, Northwick Park & Central Middlesex.”  

“When I came into the industry all those years ago the general perception of removal companies by many clients and their agents was low,” said John. “As most of us know, it is difficult for any one person to change an entire culture overnight, however, throughout my career at Pickfords I tried to focus on quality and service. I have striven like many of my colleagues over the years to raise the image of business moving in every way possible in the belief that we all now provide a dedicated professional package of services to our clients, not just vans and men.”  

Photo: John Hooper 


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