Lives: Wimborne, near Bournemouth
Born: 1946, Swansea
Education: Bournemouth School, Foyle College, Londonderry
Career: 1965 Pontin's accounts clerk, 1965-1969 Wessex Building Society various positions, 1969-2001 Portman Building Society, mortgage administrator, branch manager, branch awareness campaign manager, mortgage controller, assistant general manager (financial services), group communications manager.
Career ambition: “To be healthy, successful and moderately affluent.”
Life ambition: To fly a Mig fighter plane in Moscow.
Likes: Happy people.
Dislikes: “Arrogance, but not a lot winds me up.”
Peers say: “John's experience and standing within financial services and PR should help him achieve success with his venture. He gets to grips with issues quickly, no matter how challenging they may be, and always keeps a good sense of humour.”
Drives: MGC Roadster, Vauxhall Vectra SRI, MGF.
If you ever see a donkey missing hind legs, the chances are I've been chatting to it.”
John Gully is a bit of a talker. A long-time Out of Context favourite, he is one of those rare people in financial services who says exactly what he thinks but manages not to offend anyone. Which is just as well, considering he is in the process of launching his own PR firm, odysseycommunication, after more than 30 years with Portman Building Society. At 55, it could be seen as a brave move but, typically, Gully doesn't see it that way.
“After spending 12 years as group communications manager for Portman I felt I was getting slightly stale. I have always harboured a desire to work for myself in public relations and I thought it was time I did something about it. I am glad I did because it has brought back the buzz of challenge and achievement.”
He is presently on the brink of signing up two major clients and hopes to have several more by the end of next year. After that, his goal is to build a full-time team of “professional communicators” who are able to demonstrate to companies his belief that good communications are indispensable.
Gully has never been one to settle for mediocrity. After leaving school in Bournemouth in 1965 he landed his first job as an accounts clerk at his local Pontin's holiday camp. It turned out to be an experience which left him cold.
“I joined in the off season – not as a red coat, can you underline that – so I had nothing to do, just sat around and twiddled my thumbs. That is, until the season started and the guests arrived. It was dreadful. Truckloads of invoices from icecream suppliers piled through my door and I knew then that it was time to move on.”
He joined Wessex Building Society where, with only 14 employees, he did everything from making the tea to taking mortgage interviews and preparing accounts. He says the experience taught him a lot about the building society sector and he enjoyed it but decided to leave for Portman in 1969, one year after Portman had made the then radical decision to move headquarters from London to Bournemouth.
“Portman was a pioneer in doing that and was also among the first building societies to develop a branch network. So I ended up working in various branches for several years, which was good but I could see it was not something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
He joined Portman's in-house marketing department, launching its branch awareness campaign, but after three years in the role he became the society's mortgage controller. It was a mistake. His new position offered a lot of admin and processing responsibilities but little in job satisfaction.
“I call it my years in the wilderness. I have always thrived working with people but it was a very internal job. I didn't get the chance to get out much.”
B ut then the Building Societies Act and Financial Services Act came along and Gully became assistant general manager for financial services and then group communications manager. “I suddenly found myself in the very exciting position of reporting direct to the new chief executive Ken Culley and driving the communications for the society.”
But that excitement might pale into insignificance if he ever gets the chance to fulfil the ambition he has harboured for more than a decade. Gully's dream – and he is deadly serious about this – is to travel to Moscow to fly the Soviet-built Mig 29 fighter jet. He says there is a company which offers package deals allowing cash-rich speed freaks to take the controls of one of the world's most sophisticated aeroplanes.
“Obviously, you are not allowed to take off and land but they do let you pilot it for a while. I enjoy flying so much that the combination of flight and the power of an aircraft like that would be a once in a lifetime experience. Perhaps literally.”
Despite highlighting the obvious dangers, Gully is more qualified than most to fly the plane. He has held a private pilot's license since the age of 40 and flies a four-seater Piper Warrior at least once a month, to “blow away the cobwebs. It gives me a terrific sense of what life's about”.
At the moment, life for Gully – aside from swooping over Poole Harbour and the Isle of Wight – is concentrated on developing his new venture. He is targeting mutual organisations as potential clients but is keen to point out that this does not necessarily restrict him to building societies, which he thinks have a bright future.
“Mutuality has and always will have a place in financial services. People can – and should – see their obvious benefits. That is not to decry plcs, because there is a place for them as well. I believe there is room for the two to sit side by side.”
Balancing options is a Gully speciality. Sitting side by side in his life are flying and his other great passion, driving cars. He has three, a classic MGC Roadster, a Vauxhall Vectra and an MGF, which he never drives because his wife Carole has taken a particular shine to it. Not that he minds, as it is the social aspect surrounding cars that appeals to him most, as a member of the MG Owners' Club. Finally, a man of many talents, he is also a keen photographer. “I have lots of anoraks but I have yet to go down the beer mat collection route.”