Emeritus Professor John Coyne CBE

Professor John Coyne CBE receiving his honorary degree, HonDUniv, 2016
Credit: Ede & Ravenscroft


Professor John Coyne enjoyed a successful academic career for over 40 years and retired in 2015 after 11 years’ service as Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Derby.

John was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire in 1951 where he developed, from a young age, a keen interest in sports. John played football and cricket as a schoolboy for Barnsley, and although he was offered the opportunity to become a professional footballer he did not take them up. Two of his teammates did go on to play for England. He was successful in securing trials to play cricket for Yorkshire but once again it came to nought. Sports however never derailed him from his studies and he had to buckle down. He was ultimately successful at school and received the Cooper Prize for the best ‘A’ level performance in the school. John went on to study Industrial Economics at Nottingham University – intending to become an Accountant! Excellent academic performance as an undergraduate won him an exhibition and several prizes, including the Marsden Prize in 1973 for Outstanding Male Graduate in the University. He had clearly developed an inkling for leadership which led him to be a student president whilst at the same time dabbling in left wing politics.

Whilst at Nottingham University in 1972, John married Julie, now his wife of 44 years before graduating with First Class Honours in 1973.

John did not leave Nottingham after graduating: he joined the department in which he had studied, Industrial Economics, as a Junior Researcher, before being appointed Lecturer in 1975 then later Senior Lecturer. John enjoyed a successful early career with some ‘interesting opportunities! The publication of a monograph entitled ‘The Birth of Enterprise’ led to him being asked to spend a year writing speeches for Sir James Goldsmith. The arch capitalist and the leftist academic making no doubt interesting collaborators!

He was appointed Warden of Cripps Hall at Nottingham University in 1985 and the family moved into the official residence on campus. He sat on the Executive Board of the School of Management and Finance from 1988 and was also a founder and Co-Director of the Centre for Management Buy-out Research which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. After 15 years teaching at the University of Nottingham John was appointed Founding Director of the new Leicester Business School – also taking up the Bass Professorship of Business, in 1990. Being sponsored by a brewer had its perks no doubt! He became Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law in 1997 and was finally appointed Pro- Vice-Chancellor (Academic Operations and External Development) of De Montfort University in 2000.

The rest, some of us will be familiar with. John was appointed Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Derby in 2004. The University transformed under his leadership and John also had a profound and outstanding impact on the City of Derby, the County of Derbyshire and the wider region. He served bodies concerned with commerce and economic development as well as Derbyshire Sport and was one of the founding Directors of the new Local Enterprise Partnership.

In 1997, while leading an outstanding career in University management and leadership John also founded, with two friends, Cfe Ltd a small public interest company committed to encouraging better decision making in support of enterprise. He has served on the board on a pro bono basis ever since. Cfe Ltd is now a successful independent research and policy institute employing over 20 staff and with a turnover in excess of £1.4m. Throughout his career, an economist at heart, John also worked on numerous and diverse corporate assignments with clients mainly related to management buy-outs and corporate change. John also completed re-financing for two companies and advised on various strategic issues in organisations undergoing change in diverse sectors ranging from banking, government services and telecommunications to leisure, agri-business and retail fashion amongst others. He always sought to combine academic enquiry and practical application: first class thinking followed through into effective delivery. Characteristics he like to carry through in his leadership of the University.

In 2011, he was appointed as a Commissioner of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and also chaired the Investment Subcommittee of the Commission.

Last but not least, John was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2016.

Somehow he also found time to pursue his interest in painting and has exhibited work in several locations, including a solo exhibition at the Leicester Trinity Gallery.

John retired just a year ago now, and has since been on a ‘grown up gap year’, devoting time to his wife, his family and his love of sports and travelling. He started with the World Athletics Championships in Beijing in August 2015 and has been away almost continuously since. He will end his year by travelling to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics before heading into the jungle of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The original plan was to return to watch Derby County in the Premiership!

When he is not travelling the world, John enjoys spending time at his house in France with Julie and supporting his two daughters Lucy and Emily, of whom he is extremely proud, as they both follow his footsteps into Academia.

The University wishes to recognise his positive influence on the City of Derby; the outstanding impact that his leadership had on the University and the region; and his 40 years of service to higher education at a national level. We are delighted to award John an honorary Doctorate in recognition of this.

[July 2016]