John Pride, the man who introduced Toyota motor cars to Britain, has died at the age of 72. The former Managing Director of Toyota (GB) was undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer, but having maintained his active lifestyle, his death on Sunday, 2 June came as a shock to family and friends.
John Pride was born in Clapham, South London in 1929. Following school at Oundle he carried out his National Service in the RAF, and in 1947 joined the family business, Pride & Clarke.
The motor dealership, which had been started by John's father and his uncle Alfred Clarke in the 1920s, was one of London's leading motorcycle stockists. John was a keen motorcyclist at the time, though he would develop greater passions for cars and powerboats.
A fine engineer, he had gained an enduring interest in clock-making and model-making during his instrumentation training in the RAF, and his fascination with technology would later extend to computers, which he would apply to his business at a comparatively early stage in their evolution.
John gained valuable negotiating experience as buyer for Pride & Clarke, which dealt not only in motorcycles but also touring accessories such as camping gear. As time went on, however, part of the company's expanding interests were linked with Skoda car imports. When his father died in 1958, John took over part of his interest in Pride & Clarke alongside his Uncle Alfred and cousin Trevor, and it became a public company.
In 1963, what at first appeared to be a setback when Skoda withdrew its agency proved to be a turning point for Pride & Clarke. Acting on magazine reports about the resurgence of Japan's motor industry, John travelled to Tokyo for meetings with the major manufacturers.
Toyota had started exporting its vehicles but Britain was virgin territory. John Pride established an immediate rapport with the manufacturer's senior management and laid the foundations for a lasting relationship based on mutual respect.
"I understand the original agreement was made on a handshake," says John Pride's son Jamie. "Throughout his life, if my father said something would be done, it was done – and the less paperwork the better. His business contacts knew that once he had made a decision he always stood by it.
"My father established excellent relationships with senior Toyota management. When I visited Japan with him later, I was amazed by the warmth of the welcome we received."
Now sole importer and distributor for the UK, the following year John Pride brought over 70 Toyota vehicles, mainly Corona saloons, and put examples on display at the London Motor Show amid a blaze of publicity. At that stage Pride & Clarke was supplying former Skoda dealerships around the country from its depot at Lydden in Kent.
Progress was slow at first, but in the early '70s, when a relaunched Corolla and the new Celica joined the Toyota line-up, sales took off and the dealership network continued to expand. By this time John Pride had instituted an advanced computerisation programme to control the flow of cars and parts.
Pride & Clarke's subsidiary Toyota (GB) Ltd grew rapidly and in 1977 Inchcape Motors International, today the world's largest independent automotive distribution group, put in a successful bid for the company. The following year Pride & Clarke and the Toyota agency were split into separate entities, with John Pride continuing as Managing Director Toyota (GB).
With the added weight of Inchcape behind it the company went from strength to strength, and because of its consistent year-on-year profitability John was given a high degree of autonomy, ultimately becoming Chairman.
His retirement in 1987 came about as Toyota's Burnaston factory was coming on line, and a few years later the manufacturer bought a controlling interest in Toyota (GB), which today has a network of 220 independent dealers. "It was right for my father to retire when he did, because he was always a man to control his own destiny," says Jamie Pride.
John Pride moved from Esher to Bournemouth, where he could indulge his passion for powerboating, (see the attached photo by JCP with John at the helm of his own boat a couple of years ago) and made regular skiing trips to Canada, where his daughter, Jane lives with her husband and 13-year-old twins. He was also a keen water-skier. Last year he and his wife Jill celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
"One of my father's great strengths was an instinctive awareness of where to draw the line, whether in business or in personal relationships," says Jamie Pride. "He would bring gravitas to the party when required, but most of the time he did things because they were great fun. We will all miss him greatly."
John is survived by his wife Jill, son Jamie, daughter Jane and grandchildren Amy, Edwin, Michael and Charlie.Published 11 June 2002