About the Author
Hello, I’m Jim, JK Wright, the author of SHORT-CHANGED!, which is the summation of my very considered thinking about why our economy is presently mismanaged to the detriment of 90% of us. In this section of the website, I would like to tell you not only a little bit about my background, but also my unusually wide experience of living and working in the real economy, which gave me the insights and authority to finally write this book. I didn’t have a burning desire to become an author, but I do have a passion to find a better way of managing our economy.
I was born in 1938, the youngest in a family of 4 boys, and brought up in Wigston Fields just outside Leicester. I attended a county grammar school before going to Nottingham University to study mathematics, although I quickly changed to doing physics when I found the maths becoming too esoteric for my practical mindset. In retrospect I think I am more of an engineer with a good eye for numbers than a scientist.
I met my wife, Tina, at university and we will celebrate our diamond wedding anniversary in 2021 with our two daughters and six grandchildren. Aside from family and work interests, we have enjoyed various boating activities and continue to play bridge at two local clubs. In my sixties I learned to play golf badly, which has now switched to indoor bowls – equally badly.
I have never actively engaged in political activity or been a member of a political party. On one occasion I did provide some financial support to the electoral alliance between the SDP and Liberals. Finally, perhaps you should know that I was psychologically profiled as a pragmatist touched with idealism.
Experience of life in the real economy
As a research and development scientist.
My research on lasers started in 1962 as a Civil Service Research Fellow, my first government appointment, where I developed some of the earliest lasers in the UK. I then joined the AEI Central Research Laboratories in Rugby, where I led a team that developed the first laser for trials by the Royal Aircraft Establishment on what eventually became the basis of the smart bomb. The trials were carried out in collaboration with Hawker Siddeley Dynamics, which gave me my first experience of how collaborative projects need to be managed. Sadly, the project was interrupted in 1968 by the closure of the laboratory after AEI was acquired by GEC, but on the suggestion of my boss it gave me the spur to become an entrepreneur.
As a new business entrepreneur.
With the support of three colleagues, I set up a Rugby division of Laser Associates, the first UK laser manufacturer established a year or so earlier. I knew that its founding CEO was keen to commercialise the newer technology that we had been developing at AEI while I was keen to benefit from their sales and marketing experience. It was at Laser Associates that I learned both how and, how not, to run a business. It also gave me my first introduction to the City of London and the world of venture capital. It was the ‘how not to’ bit that led me and Ron Burbeck to leave the company and set up JK Lasers in 1971, after my failure to gain satisfactory answers to the financial situation of the company. In retrospect I now realise it was a very mini version of the 2007 -2008 crash, with the company failing a year after we left.
JK Lasers was established on the basis that there had to be a better way of doing it, and that, at all costs, we would never deceive ourselves. Our success of continual profitable growth, winning Queen’s Awards for both export and technology suggests that we found one. I was fortunate to befriend and be mentored by two experts in the fields of business management and corporate finance, from whom I gained an awful lot of ‘on the job’ training. We raised finance in the City to facilitate our growth and to open offices in Brussels, Munich and Paris. The business was international, so we learned to export to Europe, with all the paperwork, before we joined the EU. It had to be international because research and development costs were high while the overall market for each type of laser was relatively small. This was why it made sense in 1982 to merge the interests of JK Lasers with those of Lumonics Inc who were leaders in the development of another type of laser used for marking applications. This enabled us to expand our sales in North America and for both companies to share the worldwide marketing costs.
As a director and senior executive of a public company
The merger with Lumonics, a small Canadian public company with a sales and distribution company in the USA, was an immediate success. It made us the third largest laser company in the world and JK Lasers sales into the USA rapidly expanded. We also embarked on further growth by acquisition of other small complementary laser companies, and I became part of the due diligence team. I was now a director of a public company and began to learn about the growth and profit expectations of the stock market. Whereas at JK Lasers our goal was to make ever better lasers (albeit at a profit), our goal as a public company was to make ever better profits (albeit by making lasers). When after several good years profits inevitably faltered (nothing goes on forever), external shareholder pressure forced the company to be sold to the highest bidder even though there was little to no strategic business logic for the transaction. I had volubly objected to this bid on the grounds that a director’s primary responsibility is to manage the shareholders’ company not their money and that there were much better strategic alternatives available, albeit at a marginally lower price. I thus felt obliged to resign from my position of vice-chairman of the company at the relatively young age of 50.
As an independent consultant
I carried out work for Investors in Industry, Britain’s largest provider of growth capital, as well as several small companies. I became an advisor to an American company after it acquired one of those companies. Also, I chaired another company and supported it through a specious high court patent battle, before advising on its sale to another American company.
I acted as a pro bono advisor to the National Medical Laser Centre (NMLC) at University College Hospital on both technical and business matters. This included the provision of some financial support as well as assistance in raising further support from the Eli Lilley Corporation of America.
I became a supporter and vice-chairman of the trustees of Llamau, the leading charity for disadvantaged young people in Wales.
I became a member nominated trustee of the defined benefit pension scheme, which I had originally set up for all employees at JK Lasers. This updated me on the current pension maze.
As an employee of the NHS
My involvement with the NMLC gave me an insight into the NHS at the time of the publication of the white paper “Working for Patients”. As a result of this, I was attracted to apply for, and obtained, a 3-year position to project manage the establishment of a Staff College for NHS Wales that would seek to lessen the divide between the clinical and organisational aspects of the service. This was something I was passionate about since part of JK Lasers success was based on teamwork between the technical and commercial aspects of the business. In the event I learned a lot, but achieved very little, except perhaps another reason to write SHORT-CHANGED!.
As a member of government committees
This ranged from being involved with the establishment of the first UK safety regulations for lasers by the British Standards Institute (BSI) to being part of the UK delegation to establish the Eurolaser Program. I later became chair of the international committee for part of the definition phase of that project.
As a collaborator with Universities
JK Lasers established many links with Universities involved in the development of laser technology. These ranged from consulting arrangements to sponsoring post-graduate students, but the most important part was the regular sharing of information to the benefit of all concerned. Also, I developed personal relationships with many of our university customers throughout Europe.
As a retiree
I became concerned that the increasing levels of both public and private debt were essentially a problem waiting to happen. It seemed like everyone was counting chickens before they were hatched. The exact problem that did for Laser Associates and the pressures that I fought against at Lumonics. I remembered the time before credit cards existed and the joy of buying a racing bicycle after I had saved up for it. All I was seeing was worry about paying off debts long after the purchase had lost both its appeal and value. No one was stopping to think, credit was available and there was more stuff to buy and fill up this new phenomenon of self-storage warehouses.
All this started me thinking about how our economy actually worked. Surely there had to be a better way. After many years of personal research and reading many of the expert opinions, I concluded that our present politco-economic system is no longer fit for purpose. More importantly I finally realised why, which is what SHORT-CHANGED!is all about. I fervently believe that we can change to a better and fairer economic system, but only after there is widespread recognition and acceptance of the fundamental flaw in the present system.