John Forkin - Issue 1 - Winter 2014 - University of Derby

Over to you: John Forkin

Writer: Jenny McNicholas

Jenny McNicholas speaks to John Forkin, Managing Director for Marketing Derby and one of the driving forces behind Derby’s continued transformation.

"Although I grew up in Derby I didn't love the city. I've always thought if you live somewhere you either have to love it or leave – which is exactly what I did, I moved to London to study Politics and Government."

Yet it was the discovery of John's underlying passion for Derby, and his ambition to help change its fortunes, which led him to return: "When I came back I knew I needed to be part of the regeneration, so I made it my mission to get involved."

And get involved he did.

In 2005 Derby City Council and Derby Cityscape launched a 15-year master plan to attract £2 billion of investment to modernise the city centre and create 10,000 jobs. John joined Marketing Derby in 2006 and has since been instrumental in helping to drive forward and promote the plan.

Derby now has intu Derby (formally Westfield) which attracts around 25 million shoppers each year, QUAD, and most recently the world-class Derby Arena.

"We wouldn't have even dreamt about the Arena five years ago, but the city council pushed ahead with it. It could have been any other city, but it wasn't. It was Derby. We're not hosting the Olympic Games or the Commonwealth Games, but here we built something that's truly world class.

"Developments such as this have created jobs, improved Derby, and made us a more confident, innovative and iconic city. We have a great deal of potential and a coalition of people who are interested in changing it for the better – and it's a place that can be molded.

"Innovation has been in Derby's DNA for over 300 years. Our key economic strength is the high-tech employers that we have in Derby, the big names that everyone has heard like Rolls-Royce... to Bombardier, and right down to SMEs."

"I'm passionate about urban regeneration and understand totally how cities need to adapt and change. Innovation has been in Derby's DNA for over 300 years. Our key economic strength is the high-tech employers that we have in Derby, the big names that everyone has heard like Rolls-Royce (which has its world headquarters here) to Bombardier, and right down to SMEs."

It's clear from talking to John that he also sees the University as being fundamental to the city; an institution that has made a significant contribution to Derby's success and one that will continue to do so.

"The University has a huge role to play; it's already brought an awful lot of people into the area since it gained its status in 1992 and has contributed significantly to the economy. You only have to go back 20 years or so when there wasn't a University – which is totally unthinkable now.

"It's more important now than ever for graduates to be employable, which is why I would highly recommend the University of Derby. The majority of graduates leave there armed with skills ready for the world of work, which stem from the significant investment it makes in facilities. For example, its ties with Derby Manufacturing University Technical College, the new Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering and Derby Theatre – all contributing to the wider Derby offering."

John's Career Changing Tips

  • Only do a job you really enjoy and feel passionate about. If you wake up three days running and don't want to go to work, change your job.
  • If you're alienated from what you do, you aren't going to be any good. If you love playing the guitar, play the guitar, don't play the piano.
  • Don't sit around and wait for inspiration. You have to figure out what you are about – identify where your passions lie and then draw upon and find your inspiration from within.

John's passion and enthusiasm have taken him many places and it's on these travels that he has some of his more 'ambitious' ideas. He recalls a trip to London back in 2007 that resulted in him setting up the Derby City Embassy there.

"I was strolling through Trafalgar Square when I noticed a big flag pole that read 'Texas Embassy', so I put my head around the door and found it was a bar. That's when the idea popped into my head – why doesn't Derby have an embassy in London? A 'base' in the capital that we can use to promote our businesses and make people aware of the investment opportunities to be had in Derby.

"When I found no other city had an embassy in London I thought 'right we’re going to be the first!' It isn't a building with a person in it, it's a virtual embassy that moves around, but even to this day – five years on, we're running Embassy events in Downing Street, Monaco, Cannes and Birmingham. For us it's a brand that we hold, no one else has dared to copy it.

"We've even been awarded the title of 'Best Investment Promotion Agency Events' by the Financial Times' FDi Magazine for the Derby City Embassy events that we host – making us number one in the world."

Managing Director of Marketing Derby isn’t typically a job you would 'accidentally' fall into, but for John this is exactly what happened.

"My career has been a total accident, I didn't know what I wanted to do; my attitude to my career has been opportunity led. If there's a thread that runs through my career it's regeneration – changing places and communities. I don't actually think of my job as marketing, it's a part of changing the city – marketing is just one tool we use in order to do that. It's been liberating not to have a career plan; my attitude is very much 'grow your own'.

"I hope in the coming years the city continues to flourish in the same way it has in the past ten years but we can't get complacent, the job's not done."

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