JOHN HAYS 1949-2020

City pays tribute to ‘Mr Sunderland’

The outpouring of tributes from the travel industry following John Hays’ death was mirrored in the northeast, with politicians, business leaders and Sunderland football club among those offering condolences. Sunderland MP Julie Elliott

said: “So sad to learn of the death of John Hays – such a lovely man, an inspirational business leader and true champion of all things Sunderland.” South Shields MP Emma Lewell-

Buck added: “This has absolutely floored me, terrible news. Had many laughs with John over the years. I will remember him fondly.” A minute’s silence was held ahead

of Sunderland’s match with MK Dons at the weekend, with the club paying tribute to its former vice-chairman. Sunderland AFC

tweeted: “John was a champion of the northeast and the City of Sunderland.” The Sunderland Echo

reported that floral tributes had been left at Hays Travel’s head offices honouring him as “Mr Sunderland”. Sunderland

City Council awarded Hays the Freedom of the City


6 19 NOVEMBER 2020

of Sunderland in 2016. The council’s leader, Graeme Miller, said: “Very, very sad to hear of John’s death. John and his company are household names across the northeast and the Hays brand is well respected across the country, and the travel industry.” Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor

and chief executive of the University of Sunderland, which awarded Hays an honorary degree in 2010, said: “John was an outstanding businessman and someone totally committed to the city of Sunderland. “He was also a great friend

and supporter of the University of Sunderland.” Representatives of the national

media also paid tribute, with BBC presenters Steph McGovern and Simon Calder and ITV’s Chris Ship among those tweeting their condolences. McGovern, who spoke

at the 2018 Hays Travel Independence Group conference, said: “He was one of the good guys in business. “He cared

so much about his

staff and did loads for the region. He was a true philanthropist.”

Sian Beynon

“John’s loss is felt throughout our Hays family and beyond – it’s

the true mark of an amazing man. Sending so much love and strength to Irene and the family. We have all been blessed with learning and enjoying the days going to

Entrepreneur, p


For a man whose first agency was at the back of his mum’s childrenswear shop, John Hays’ career in travel is nothing short of remarkable. Son of a miner, John joined a

merchant bank after reading maths at Oxford University and gaining an MBA at Manchester Business School. But his love of people and fun meant a career in banking was never going to make the grade. John’s ability to do the sums,

combined with his chatty, easy-going nature, gave him all the skills he needed to set up and run an agency in his hometown, Seaham, in County Durham. The first year, 1980, wasn’t easy.

His Abta application was initially rejected and sales hit a grand total of £812. But, as John put it: “I was hooked – I fell in love with the travel industry”. John often recalled how customers in

the early days had to wade through clothes to reach the counter. Yet he grew Hays Travel from one rent-free, cramped space to a northeast household name. The first Sunderland branch opened

in 1982 and Hays’ first call centre in 1990. This was followed by the launch of a homeworking division and, in 1995, the Hays Travel Independence Group (IG) consortium, which now has more than 100 members. Despite the growth, John’s mantra

for success – the importance of a family culture and looking after customers while returning a profit – remained, as illustrated by many people sharing fond memories of John at his annual staff garden party or industry events.

work, having the family joy of being part of Hays Travel.”

Jackie Geddis

“What he did for us ex-Cookies will never be forgotten. He really

was a real-life hero.”

Kerry Dawn Fuller

“John was a wonderful boss who I will always

have so much respect for. He and Irene have looked after us all in the most difficult year ever, and always put us first in everything they do.”

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