John Athwal, managing director of leading Christmas supplier Premier Decorations, has been honoured as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s 2018 News Year’s Honours list for his services to business and charity.
Having already been announced as Asian of the Year in 2010, John has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to the British economy for his thriving business, Premier Decorations Ltd, established almost 30 years ago which now provides employment in the UK for 84 permanent staff rising to 250 during the delivery season. Premier Decorations has twice appeared in the Sunday Times Profit track for the fastest growing profitable companies, and once in the International track 200 for the fastest growing exporters.
John is also renowned for his philanthropy committing time and money to a number of charitable organisations including the Make a Wish Foundation which grants wishes to children and young people with life-threatening conditions, where he spent 14 years on the fundraising committee. John also devotes time to The Fence Club, a members’ only club for people in the toy industry which raises money for sick and disadvantaged children in the UK, in the role of treasurer and previously chairman.
In 2014 John took part in the CEO Sleepout to raise awareness and money for Action for Children – a charity concerned with 100,000 or so children who sleep rough in the UK every year – and continues to work with children’s charities including the Loomba Foundation and Silver Star, a diabetes charity.
Latterly, he has been sitting on the Chairman’s committee for the Children with Cancer charity.
John comments: “Receiving an OBE in the Queen’s 2018 New Years Honours list is a fantastic tribute and I am overwhelmed to have been recognised and nominated by colleagues and peers. Life has not always been as easy as it is today; having arrived at the age of eight in the UK in 1961 with my parents from very humble beginnings in Punjab, I have embraced the opportunities this country has offered me, and it only feels right to give a little something back to society.”
John’s entrepreneurial skills unearthed at college at just 17 years old, where much against his parents wishes, he formed a business with a friend as a music promoter hiring bands for the local town hall and student’s union. His parent’s disapproval of this venture, which involved late nights and selling alcoholic beverages going completely against his Asian culture, led John to run away from home – a decision that he now regrets because of the worry and anxiety it caused his family; but which also altered the course of his life.
As a self-confessed workaholic, John landed a job as a trainee manager in a filling station and, in the days when these generally only sold fuel, recognised the potential to stock add-on merchandise such as jackets, briefcases, garden accessories, bread, milk – in fact anything that caught the customer’s eye. This business model proved so successful that it expanded to filling stations across the country and having been promoted to marketing manager John approached the board of directors to establish a business wholesaling non-petrol products to other filling stations. At the business’s peak it was selling to 2,500 filling stations in the UK.
At the age of 29, John was appointed to the Board of Directors and established an importing arm for the company, and a couple of years later, a friend approached John with an order to supply Christmas decorations to Asda – as his friend did not have the funds to fulfil the order himself. Travelling to factories in Taiwan and discovering the considerable excitement involved in this type of product, John decided that this was where his future lay. He formed Premier Decorations Ltd – the UK’s first Christmas brand and one which remains a market leader for this type of product today.
This year, Premier Decorations will celebrate its 30th birthday, while John celebrates his own 65th birthday. Although he no longer works full-time in the office John is still an ever-present figure in the company, supporting his staff and guiding the company strategy. He concludes: “Professionally I think that I have achieved most of my ambitions – and receiving an OBE really has to cap it all. I will continue to be active in both my business and charitable work, but also look forward to spending more time in the future with my wife Jito, children and grandchildren.”