Industry pays tribute to OP legend Jonathan Straker

As the sad news of the passing of industry legend Jonathan Straker filtered through the UK OP industry and beyond, tributes poured in.

0

Thanks to Hugh Sear for the photos of Jonathan.

 

Hugh Sear, former business partner, OyezStraker

I worked with Jonathan for 21 years and between us successfully built a £3 million ($4.9 million) business into a £200 million one. During the due diligence for the Straker and Oyez merger we laughed that the sixth biggest supplier to the company was Jonathan’s expense account.

We spent many memorable weekends chartering boats and playing golf and he was a great supporter of Warlingham rugby club after playing for them in the early days.

One of my favourite memories was after an OPI event chartering a plane to Phoenix. Walking into a gift store, Jonathan broke the light bulb with his head, which resulted in everyone in the shop hitting the deck thinking it was a gunshot. On the way back, which I luckily was only told about afterwards, Jonathan had somehow persuaded the pilot to let him fly the plane!

Jonathan was a larger than life individual and I have many, many endearing memories.

 

Irwin Helford – Viking

Jonathan was a special person and unusual friend to me. I will never forget him.

When I brought my company, Viking Direct, from the US to the UK, almost every stationer resented our entry and repelled our marketing presence. It was understandable as we expanded in the UK quickly and successfully.

When taking the stage at a BOSS Federation event, Jonathan spoke up and said Viking was teaching the industry lessons in ‘Fanatical Customer Service’ and marketing skills. He said that as dealers adopted these higher standards, they and their customers would reach new levels of customer loyalty and business success.

Obviously, it took great courage for Jonathan to speak out, but he was certainly correct. The levels of service and marketing did improve within the industry and everyone benefited from working harder to satisfy customers. That’s how the free enterprise system works and no one spoke better of it than Jonathan.

He and I became good friends over the years and eventually, he recommended me for Freeman in The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. I was honored to accept and receive the granting at Stationers’ Hall with Jonathan at my side.

Few men, in the UK or America, had the courage, love of office products, competitive spirit and high integrity, as Jonathan. I am proud to know him as a friend.

 

Eric Bigeard, Lyreco legend

Jonathan would for sure not want to generate any sadness… even today!

The memory of Jonathan for me is linked to hilarious moments shared with him. His sense of humour and his acute pleasure to crack jokes have always been the highlights of so many dinner speeches. I was sure if Jonathan stood up that I was going to have a nice time. No one could beat him at this art!

Wherever he is… they are going to have fun around him.

 

Nigel Gunn, SVP Global Sales, Esselte

A true gentleman, I have many fond memories of Jonathan. He was a real character who always had plenty of time for people, to listen, to advise and to recount many of his experiences in the office products industry and in life in general. 

Jonathan helped me throughout my career. When I was a young sales rep in the mid 80s he challenged me and guided me. It was always a pleasure to call on him and discuss stationery a little and rugby a lot. His personal support continued when as the Master of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, he encouraged me to become involved in this prestigious organisation and this support was still there in recent years. 

This support was typical of Jonathan who was so keen on the development of youth in business and securing a strong future for our industry. 

His beaming smile, charm, wit, and endless enthusiasm for our industry shall be sorely missed, but most fondly remembered.

 

Mark Austen, Managing Director, Office Club

Jonathan was a true icon of our industry. He was generous, especially to new entrants to our industry, and was unfailingly courteous and fair in all his dealings. A legend whose passing diminishes us and our industry.

 

Robert Baldrey, CEO, Vasanta

The passing of another true industry legend who will be sadly missed.

 

Peter Stubberfield, President, Floortex USA

Jonathan was one of those characters that lit up whatever room he graced. During those memorable evenings when he attended OPI and other industry events in the US, he effortlessly conducted masterclasses in how to make a speech and deliver a punchline. He made it look easy in a way only equalled States-side by the incomparable Master of Ceremonies, Ron Shaw.

Jonathan had that ability to make everyone feel special in his presence and with his Leon Pride-like bonhomie, sartorial elegance and physical presence he will be a hard act to follow.

 

Eric Smith, former CEO, Spicers

He was undoubtedly one of the outstanding personalities in the trade during my time. He was a consummate salesman and a charming human being. His sheer size meant that he was always going to be noticed and his enthusiasm for life was infectious. Doing business with him could only be a sociable experience, even if he was screwing your price into the ground! His company golf days were memorable and he once told me that, if things got really tough in the business, his golf day would be the last bit to go. He did a great job as President of BOSS and later as Master of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. It was a pleasure knowing him.

 

Jeff Whiteway, CEO, OfficeTeam/Spicers

Jonathan had the unique and wonderful knack of making everybody he met feel comfortable and valued, from the most humble employee to the Chairman of a multinational company.

Langan’s Brasserie on Stratton Street became akin to a staff canteen at Straker. Many a very happy eight-hour lunch flew by with Jonathan hosting and entertaining throughout.

Jonathan was a great talker, but also a great listener. I learnt so much from him but unfortunately it’s impossible to replicate such a personality.

He had an amazing business brain, while also understanding the strength of relationships and the importance of fun in business. It would be hard to find a better-liked, respected and lovable man as Jonathan – he will be very much missed and leaves the office products industry poorer with his passing.

 

WRFC tin hat

 

Ron Wotherspoon, former CEO, Progress/ECi Europe

Jonathan Straker first came to my attention back in the 80s when he approached me to supply a Progress system for his business, Strakers, then based in Artillery Row, Westminster. A large, imposing figure he greeted me in his shop with a warm, beaming grin and firm handshake, every bit a proud retailer. His face was that of a pugilist, an eloquent description of its spirited owner, Jonathan was someone who embraced life with enthusiasm and took knocks as the price of success.

Typical of his impish humour, he phoned me one day and announced that he no longer needed to buy Progress; he had bought a company that already had it. His sense of humour even survived my quote for the additional licence fees! (Strakers had bought a small stationer, Marathon, which had an interesting young employee – Jeff Whiteway).

Jonathan and I became firm friends as he drew me into BOSS where he was the Chairman of the Resellers Board. He had a farsighted idea that the Federation must work with dealer groups rather than compete with them. A controversial measure but nevertheless successful as it drew ten dealer groups into block membership and they all met on a newly created BOSS special interest group chaired by me.

Jonathan’s warmth and wit served to bring people together and overcome the inevitable difficulties when competing commercial interests need to work together. His period as President of BOSS was a perfect illustration of his qualities; his after dinner wit, his charm and his energy made him a popular guest at all trade functions.

I shall never forget his presentation to a large international OPI conference in Switzerland, when having dazzled the audience with a tour d’horizon of the industry, Jonathan referred to the numerous slides he had shown with their detailed statistics and declared that he had made them all up! His point was deftly made; our industry is as much about understanding markets and people as numbers.

For all his jovial and witty manner, Jonathan was a tough businessman as was illustrated by his long partnership with Hugh Sear as they together created one of our great companies.

Jonathan went on to be the Master of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers and President of the Society of Old Friends, bringing to both roles his charisma and wit.

There will be many people across the industry that have their own memories of this great man. I will miss a warm human being who always had time to listen or offer wise counsel; he taught me the importance of relationships in business. By his example at BOSS, he taught us all how competitors can cooperate; through his commitment to the Stationers Company, he showed us the importance of our collective history and traditions. Like many, I shall always remember him with respect and affection. My life was richer for knowing Jonathan Straker; my thoughts are with his ‘bride’ Jeannie and his family.   

 

Richard Thompson, former Managing Director, Officeteam

I first met Jonathan more than 40 years ago when he established Bromley Office Supplies and I was working for Dymo; we remained friends and business colleagues ever since.

One of the most enjoyable memories was when Jonathan accompanied me on a business trip to Japan to visit Zebra Pen where he charmed and amused all those he met, despite towering over them by almost 18 inches!

When Jonathan decided to retire, he and his co-directors at OfficeTeam asked if I would take his place as Managing Director, which was indeed an honour to follow such a great man.

I will always remember Jonathan for his charm and wit, which made him friends all over the world.

RIP great man, you will be missed by so many.

 

Mike James, Managing Director, Dundale Associates

Jonathan was my industry hero, and I will always remember how kind he was to me when I was a young Dymo salesman. He has been a fantastic supporter of mine throughout my career, and like many others, I will always be in his debt.

He was my inspiration to join The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers and I was so proud that as a past Master it was Jonathan that clothed me as a new Liveryman about 10 years ago.

I was also Jonathan’s Vice Chairman of the London branch of BOSS in the late 1980s. Through his inspirational leadership as Chairman, attendances at meetings increased from single figures to over 100 at each meeting, with the highlight being over 250 industry figures attending the National Conference, which we organised in Guernsey.

What, however, will be my lasting memory of a great man will be his good manners, cheerful smile, loyalty, and encouraging words to everyone from the ‘good and mighty’ of the industry to the most humble newcomer. He always just considered himself a simple paperclip salesman.

Jonathan was truly loved and respected, and was always embarrassed when I, as President of The Society of Old Friends, would pay tribute to him as my industry hero. I doubt we will see his like again.

 

Jamie Fellowes, Chairman of the Board, Fellowes

I did not know Jonathan well, but I recall being coupled with him to give a toast at an OPI banquet. I believe that I represented the manufacturers toast and Jonathan the resellers. As I recall, mercifully I went first and delivered a rather bland, prosaic brief toast. Not my forte, and I was quite pleased to sit down knowing that this task was over. Then Jonathan took the microphone and launched into a 25-minute monologue, punctuated with hilarious stories, finally building his toast to a marvelous crescendo… I have been thankful ever since of the sequencing of these two toasts! 

 

Leon Pride, former VP, Esselte

Jonathan was one of greatest characters in our industry. Over many years through good and difficult times he always remained gracious, calm, and loyal, with a welcoming smile. He was just a really nice guy; many will miss him. He also seemed to know more bars in London than anyone I ever knew!

 

Bill Armstrong, former CEO, Spicers

A giant of the industry has passed.

Big Jon was big in all respects, big in stature, in heart, physically and in reputation.

He single-handedly reconnected the UK office products industry with its historical roots, in the form of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, by personally introducing a whole generation of industry stalwarts to the Company he loved so much, the Company of which he became Master – a rare honour for what he might say a ‘humble’ modern day stationer.

He also was part of a small group of industry figures who together breathed new life into the UK industry federation BOSS in the 1990s.

His remarkable, complementary partnership with Hugh Sear (a formidable combination of engaging people skills and detached analytical skill) produced a highly successful business – first in Strakers, followed by OyezStraker and then OfficeTeam.

Jonathan was much loved for his leadership, his unfailing courtesy, kindness, and for his great sense of humour. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

 

David Brient, former MD, Dudley Stationery

I had a great deal of respect for Jonathan. He was one of the larger than life characters of the industry back in the day.

I particularly remember him for his public speaking skills; he was really outstanding as the guest speaker at one of the early OPI conferences, I think it was Florida.

He made us all proud to be Brits amongst the US hosts as he was brilliant and funny with genuinely warm-hearted humour that was always generous and created good feelings in all.

This was a real skill when today’s humour tends to be negative leaving someone feeling hurt.

Jonathan was a gentleman.

In the earlier days of Straker, I think at a time before he joined up with Hugh Sear and others, I remember him joking at a BOSS conference that the only thing that helped him sleep at night was knowing that his bank manager was more worried than he was about his financial affairs! So that’s a joke I must have remembered from over 20 years ago!

He had huge charisma and presence, a man easily remembered fondly, always a gracious competitor and was for years very complementary about everything we did at Dudley.

I guess a lot of our loss ended up becoming his gain eventually, or at least the OfficeTeam legacy that he created!

 

Steve Hilleard, CEO at OPI

It is rare for any individual to have such a profound effect on an industry and its participants as Jonathan and sadly we will not see his like ever again. RIP Jonathan, and thanks for everything you did for me, my company and for our industry. We are poorer for your passing but will take comfort in the belief that wherever you now are, there’ll not be a dull moment.