Aston 50th Anniversary: Michael Oglesby

50 Aston Greats: Dr Michael Oglesby

Dr Michael Oglesby

In 1978 Michael founded the Bruntwood group of companies, which now provides office space, serviced offices, retail space and virtual offices in the north of England and Birmingham. Bruntwood own one-third of the office space in Manchester city centre and donate 10% of all annual profits to charities. At the beginning of 2000, Michael gave up the role of CEO to become Chairman and his son, Chris, took over the day-to-day running of the company. Michael today devotes the majority of his time to an extensive range of civic, arts and charitable activities.

Michael is also Chairman of the Oglesby Charitable Trust which is run and funded by the family. This has become one of the largest grant giving trusts in the North West with a broad spread of activities which although mainly active in the region also funds projects in East Africa and India.

In 2006 he was voted Businessman of the Year in the North West by the CBI. In 2007 Michael was installed as High Sheriff of Greater Manchester and in 2008 he was made Vice Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester. Michael was awarded the CBE in the January 2011 Honours List for his services to industry and charity.

He has been married for more than 49 years to his wife Jean and their two children, Chris and Kate, both of whom now work in the family business. Michael is a strong believer in the benefits that core family values bring to a family owned business and sees the role of business and business leaders as being key to creating successful communities. He is a strong believer in both personal and business philanthropy and he encourages others to follow this path.

Michael was one of the first students to graduate from Aston University with a degree in Building in 1966 and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2007.  Michael is a great supporter of Aston University and the Oglesby Trust funds an engineering research project in India.

What has your experience at Aston given you personally?

When I was there, Aston and my course was really rather new, so therefore they made it up a bit and so did we. Not only academically but also socially. In other words, there was not the hierarchy of groups that there are today. There was no Students’ Union building for instance. 

We very much made it up ourselves, and that was good actually. I enjoyed that. 

What with that, and doing the sandwich course, meant that by the time I finished I was ready for life. I was ready to go out there and work and be part of society. 

It was a very good way of preparing somebody. I was on a sandwich course and we were bringing practice in industry to the classroom, and there were times when we very vehemently disagreed with the lecturer when he told us something. We would say, no, that’s not what it’s like. We had more practical experience and that started a group debate. 

How is your fondest memory of Aston?

The people. I made a lot of very good friends, who are still friends to this day. Last weekend we had a reunion and there was ten of us there, and we played rugby together. That gives you an indication of the quality of the friendship. We still meet up once a year, 55 or however many years later. 

How do you think is Aston's greatest achievement?

If we look at Aston today, I think the greatest achievement is the diversity of the students that it is teaching, both socio-economically and the mix of people from different countries and different races. Aston has a high number of students who are the first member of their family to go to University [43% of Aston’s students come from the lowest socio-economic groups]. I think that’s making a huge contribution.  I think that whole bringing together of those people is great and very stimulating.

What is the best advice you can give to today’s graduates?

Be bold and broad in your thinking. Don’t by any means think that you will graduate and your life will necessarily be the track that you started on. I left University and started a business straight away, and have really worked for myself all the way through. It has worked for me. There is no reason why, if you are entrepreneurial, it can’t work for you. Aston prepares you pretty well for that.

Don’t necessarily think that you have to follow the tried and tested path. Think outside the box and there are great opportunities, it’s never been easier to start a company. If you have the ideas and the will to do it, then the world’s your oyster.

You were interviewed on Radio 4 recently talking about philanthropy. Why is giving back to Aston important to you?

It’s part of a whole life style pattern. I think it is very important to be involved in the community that you live in, that you exist in society generally. Everybody has the ability to do that, everybody has the ability to give back, whether it’s money, in any quantity, or just as importantly, it’s time. Aston was good to me, and helped me. I felt that I wanted to give to Aston, and it’s great that we have found a project which really is stimulating and can make a huge difference on an international scale. I am not sure there are many universities that could have offered me an opportunity to become involved in something which has a huge environmental and economic affect. 

There is something special about Aston, and there is something special about the people and some of the projects they are undertaking. 

Aston is in a great place at the moment, and has huge potential going forward. It is not big, but it punches way above its weight, and I think that’s excellent. And long may it continue to do so.