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A rummage through the life of British businessman, South Africa fan and Prince Harry supporter, Philip N Green

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Prominent British businessman Philip N Green is addicted to his iPhone but gets an even greater buzz from helping vulnerable young South Africans develop

An adviser to British prime ministers and former COO/CEO of a number of business giants such as Reuters and DHL, Briton Philip Green (64) is the current chairman of Carillion plc, a large UK-based company providing construction and support services in many countries around the globe. But this doesn’t apparently keep him busy enough. In 2004, he founded Hope Through Action, a charity that helps disadvantaged young South Africans develop life skills through sport. Oh, and he’s also the chairman of Sentebale, a charity set up by Britain’s Prince Harry to provide social support to young people living with HIV in Lesotho. Recently he was decorated with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for his services to business and charity, both in the UK and South Africa.

Philip grew up in Walsall, England, where his father ran a small business and his mother the family home. He studied economics and politics at Swansea University before enrolling for an MBA at the London Business School, where he met his wife, Judy. They now have two daughters and four grandchildren. He speaks here to SUSAN BENTLEY about his priorities, his greatest challenge and what leadership means to him (by the way, this Philip is NOT the controversial UK businessman Sir Philip Green who recently became the first person ever voted by British MPs to be stripped of his knighthood!)

First thought on waking? Check emails!

Where do you live? Pangbourne, UK, though I spend the working week in a London apartment, and visit South Africa roughly three times a year.

Your most irritating habit? I’ve become extremely intolerant and impatient in queues. I almost have a personality transplant, and it’s not a good one. I’m also addicted to my iPhone.

Your greatest challenge? Raising two teenage daughters, despite them both being wonderful! In business, a career spans more than 30 years, you make some mistakes and learn from them and hopefully get better at it. With parenting, you make mistakes because you haven’t done it before, yet you only get one or two chances…

Best bit of parenting advice? Listen and maintain communications!

What originally took you to South Africa? I went there for a three-month mining project in June 1976. I found the socio-political environment very difficult, as it was so different to anything I’d experienced. I remember a liquor store with two entrances – one for black people and one for white people – and the arrogance of state officials on trains and in airports. Most obviously, I remember the disparity of wealth. I also travelled in Southern Africa and was exposed to its incredible natural beauty. There are few more scenically beautiful places in the world than Paarl and the Berg River valley.

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Hope Through Action engages with 500 South African teenagers a week, aiming to equip them with skills for tackling life’s challenges

Your motivation for starting Hope Through Action? In 2005, Judy and I became involved through a church in the South African winelands with a crèche in nearby Mbekweni township. We soon realised young people living there face the fallout from every possible social challenge: drug and alcohol abuse, gangsterism, poverty. We’ve continued our work with pre-schoolers, but Hope Through Action has now built two sports centres for teenagers. About 500 teenagers pass through them each week, arriving to play sport, then discovering life and leadership skills in programmes that equip them to tackle everyday challenges. They take responsibility for their own growth and there’s a lesson here: I’ve met people who have literally nothing, yet have tremendous joy. I know others who are worth billions and yet are deeply unhappy. Of everything I do, I get most satisfaction seeing the young people in Mbekweni develop – it’s been a huge blessing to me.

Why is leadership key? Leadership is about self-awareness, emotional intelligence and communication, and the ability to see the bigger picture. It’s essential for stability and growth – whether it involves an individual, family, charity, company or government.

How have you learnt this? I’ve led different companies and seen this principle play out in all of them. I’ve also brought up two teenage girls! At my present company, Carillion, we aspire to engage with society and take responsibility for our actions. It’s exciting to see graduates coming into the commercial space now who’re more motivated by a company’s corporate social responsibility and environmentally-friendly profiles than by making money.

You’re a noticeably busy man. How do you prioritise your life? With five F’s, and in the following order – Faith, Family, Fitness, Fun, Firm (work). May I rather say that I aspire to this order? It’s not always easy to put them into practice!

So you believe in God? Yes.

Why? The ‘why’ is of course difficult to explain, because we believe by faith not because anything has been proven. By definition, ‘faith’ can’t be proven. However, I’ve read the Bible and believe its contents, and believe there have been times when God has spoken to me. I also believe I’ve felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and had experiences in life which couldn’t have happened without the Lord’s intervention. I believe we can all have a friendship with God through Jesus which will never end.

Greatest disappointment? The death of my father one week before my 21st birthday. He was only 54, and we had a good relationship. I’d have loved him to be part of my adult life and know my children.

What are you reading at the moment? I’ve just put down Helen Zille’s autobiography, and have started an historical novel by Lynn Austin.

What are you most grateful for? Christ and my faith. My wonderful wife, who has put up with me for 40 years – it’s amazing! Two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren. What more do you want?! Then health, fun and my career. I’m enormously grateful.

Last thought of the day? Check my emails!

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Moving forward… Philip with Andile Human, one of the first intake of students to benefit from a Hope Through Action leadership programme. Andile is currently studying at the University of Cape Town, considered by many to be Africa’s top university

Read more about Hope Through Action at www.hopethroughaction.co.za

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