The view from Sir John Madejski’s penthouse, attached to the side of Reading Football Club grounds, gives a panoramic perspective of all Reading and beyond. Perhaps this is representative of the man’s incredible influence over not only our Uuniversity, but our town and our county. Sir John very kindly gave me the opportunity to visit and interview him earlier this month, the last chance to speak before he steps down as our Chancellor in December.
Considering first the town of Reading we look out over, Madejski remains overly-positive for its future, the town he has made his home for over four six decades. “I think Reading is actually getting its own identity, it’s proved to be a real sort of ‘powerhouse’ of the South East”. He considered for a while what the relative importance of Reading was in physical terms, before answering, “all those years ago it was very important because of the river [Thames], then because of the railways, then it was very important because of the M4, and now it’s very important because we have a leading university”. Sir John was, throughout our time together, very adamant about the progress the uUniversity as a whole has been making since around the beginning of his tenure, “We brought the university kicking and screaming into the 21st Century: We are now far more open; we are singing our praises… We’re more connected with the town of Reading than we ever have been before”. And now, as he very bluntly puts it, ‘his job’s done’.
Madejski hails from Stoke-on-Trent, though quickly realised he ‘didn’t like it very much’, and came to Reading ‘after about a week’. Open to the individualistic ways each young adult continues their education and mental development, Madejski doesn’t own any academic qualifications, ‘leaving school with absolute diddly-squat’, the John Madejski of today took his pivotal piece of educational furtherment from what he coins “The University of Life”.
For Sir John, this included extensive travelling and numerous entrepreneurial-based jobs to gather expertise before returning to the UK and beginning car magazine ‘Auto Trader’, and making his fortune in the 1990s. I’m reminded this is not for the faint hearted by any means, “You really have to be quite resilient if you are going to take that course.”
And whilst Madejski reiterates that university is not for everyone, “Those who can, must”, simply because of the power of qualification, something in this day and age you can definitely not afford to underestimate. He’s had this conversation before, having been anxious over his two daughters’ decision to go to university. He believed they both could be academics, and so he stressed to them, “be one, don’t force yourself out of it if you know you are”.
An interesting point to note is that Sir John is in fact Dr Sir John Madejski, something he is personally hesitant towards. Each Chancellor is awarded a Doctorate of Letters upon their appointment, but Sir John deems this “rather meaningless… I do read books, but I’m certainly not a doctor of literature, and so it’s slightly misplaced as far as I’m concerned. I feel rather guilty when you ask your question. I don’t feel like Dr Madejski; I’m not Dr. Madejski.”
As Chancellor, Madejski has sung Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell’s praises, describing him as “the one who does all the work”, and the central cause to Reading University’s success this decade. As is the case with Chancellors, denoted as the ‘Figurehead’, Madejski has remained completely out of the realms of the PAS Review, the Teaching Excellence Framework, and most of the building projects consuming Whiteknights Campus currently.
The Madejski name has however, been influential for Reading, both University and town. Donating the funding towards the Madejski Lecture Theatre in Agriculture, or founding Henley Business School’s Centre for Reputation have directly impacted upon the University, whilst Reading Football Club’s two-time entry and exit from the Premier League and the John Madejski Academy have given the University a connection to Reading town beyond it’s own gates. We discuss how are one man’s influence can impact upon an institutional such as Reading. Madejski is sceptical that anyone could really make a lasting impression; “Like anyone connected to the Uuniversity, we all pass through. Much like the football club here, we all just pass through: here today, gone tomorrow. We all try and make a contribution”.
Sir John assures his time has certainly been worthwhile, and whilst no specific memory sticks out, it’s been the staff, academics and administrators he’s encountered who struck him most profoundly, “they’re a really honest, upstanding, good people who are out there for total furtherment of humanity”.
Madejski constantly refers to himself as ‘not a real Chancellor’, his non-academic background being the main reasoning for this. I asked for his advice to the incoming Chancellor Lord Waldegrave, who returns to the pattern of academic, public sector Chancellors, and what he may learn from Madejski.
“He does bring a huge amount to the party… I think [his achievements] will most probably be in a different sort of structure to what my contribution was. I think my association with this area has been my key strength”, and so as Madejski confirms that his heart ‘does belong to Reading’, this gives a good indicator of what Lord Waldegrave should probably look to do.
Many former Chancellors and V-Cs have received recognition from the Uuniversity through buildings, lecture theatres or scholarships being named after them. Whilst, as is common knowledge, Sir John doesn’t turn down the opportunity to have his name on a building, he certainly won’t be going around asking for anything. Madejski’s rather quiet legacy will be a metaphorical one, based around the business prospects of Reading town and how with the help of Sir John this correlates with Reading University’s prospects for the future.
We talked about plans for the future, and what at the age of 75 seventy-five Madejski considered his decision, having stepped down as Deputy Lieutenant of Berkshire, and now as Chancellor to the Uuniversity. “I think there comes a good time where you do that whilst you still can, rather than when you’re forced out, or indeed come to a situation where you can no longer do it, and I think that the age of seventy-five is quite a good termination point, in my opinion. Quite frankly, I would like some me time. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’d like a bit more rest.”
To read to the complete transcript of the interview with Sir John, please follow this link: https://sparknewspaper.co.uk/news/sir-john-madejski-interview-transcript/