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Book Review: Next to Me by David Jones

David Jones came from humble beginnings and worked his way up to CEO of a successful British retail company. And he did so without telling anyone that he had Parkinson’s Disease for most of his tenure.

Jones was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease one year after he became the CEO of Grattan, which later merged with NEXT. In spite of the diagnosis, he continued as the CEO for almost 20 years. The primary focus is on Jones’ climb and how the leaders saved a British retailer from going bankrupt. Parkinson’s small role in the book does have a big impact as Jones describes the difficulties of living with it on a daily basis.

While he covers little about his personal life, he gives an honest account of the people in his professional life. Executives’ stories of how they reached the top vary; reading about Jones’ rise gives a great example of what it takes to get the C-level title.

Born and raised in Malvern in Worcestershire, Jones had a good childhood though money was scarce. To help sustain the family, he took a paper route with WH Smith delivering the paper six days a week without missing a day or delivering late. Fevers and bad weather couldn’t stop him.

When he completed formal schooling at 17, on the advice of a youth employment officer, he applied for a temp job with Kays of Worcester, his first step into the world of retail. Jones went through merging and selling Grattan, the merger with NEXT in 1986 and the sale of Grattan in 1991 when the company was in trouble.

Throughout the book Jones shares his business beliefs, lessons, and experiences in dealing with heavy-duty business problems, difficult managers, and Parkinson’s. He makes recommendations for how business governance should work. As he approaches the end of the CEO-ship, he gets involved with non-profit organizations and fundraising. In fact, all proceeds from this book go to Cure Parkinson’s Trust.

Jones couldn’t slow down after retiring because the hectic schedule helped keep his mind busy and off the symptoms that come with Parkinson’s. He’s currently a chairman at NEXT. Jones gives speeches about Parkinson’s and continues as a business phenomenon, most proud of his accomplishments and those of NEXT.

American readers might have difficulty picking up some of the British business terms and titles. These become clearer as the reader progresses in the book. Next to Me is divided in three parts beginning with the challenging years of rescuing NEXT from 1986 – 1996, going into his childhood and learning the retail trade from 1943 to 1986, and closing with his retirement and speaking out on Parkinson’s from 1996 through 2005. Going out of order proves more perplexing than helpful.

Jones encounters many people throughout his life. At times, the names of companies and people confuse the reader. In spite of the few glitches, the book is a gratifying read.

About Meryl K Evans

Meryl K. Evans, Content Maven, is the author of "Brilliant Outlook Pocketbook" and the co-author of "Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites." She has written and edited for a bunch of places online and off. A native Texan, she lives a heartbeat north of Dallas in Plano, Texas with her husband and three kiddos.
  • Bliffle

    Sounds like a book worth reading.