A Foundation for life

By Dr Geoffrey Davies | Posted: Monday July 23, 2018

More than 13,000 miles, and more years than I would care to specify, divides me from my happy and constructive time as a pupil of Otago Boys' High School in Dunedin

This is a school that stands for excellence in its teaching but also provides boys with a more traditional set of values. It opens minds but it provides guidance about right and wrong, about mutual respect and discipline, and it gives us a sense of our past as well as making us aspire and dream. Today, this quality is captured in the wonderful original building, a kind of gothic architecture that begs you to take it seriously, now surrounded by smart, modern buildings. These edifices work together without contradiction to serve the purpose of education and to prepare pupils for a fruitful life.

When I was there, Otago Boys' High School had a very active cadet force, including the navy, the air force and the army, all well equipped and well organised. I was a member of the navy section and it was my time there, and literally learning the ropes on the sea close by, that inspired me a little later to join the Navy and become a Navigation Officer.

I recall with interest the school motto – ‘The right learning builds a heart of oak’ – because learning has been a life-long commitment of mine. I now run a group of manufacturing companies in the UK and European continent, and over the years that I have carefully spent acquiring companies and developing them to become successful parts of the group, I have always championed education so that employees can make the most of their skills and talents and develop new ones, no matter how much formal education they start with.

Alongside learning, from time to time I have also had the privilege to lecture young people in higher education. I used to teach mathematics and statistics; later I worked with universities to develop new courses which combine engineering and marketing skills, thus equipping students for a great career in business and manufacturing. Today, my group sponsors several undergraduates each year through university without requiring them to come and work for us afterwards. At a recent visit to one university where we had sponsored students I was approached by a young woman who sought me out to thank me specifically for providing her with this opportunity. I was really touched by her gratitude. It made me feel proud that my group of companies was so tangibly contributing to our community through the gift of education.

It might not always feel like it at the time but having a good education truly is a privilege. Countless millions of people in the world have precious little education and never as a result climb out of the trough of poverty, not just of economic circumstance but of spirit. Through no fault of their own they are inhibited from finding ways to improve their lot in life or experiencing new things. Aspiration is not in their language.

Believe me when I say you are never too old to learn and no matter the heights you might achieve, you can readily be brought down to earth. A few years ago, my brother came to visit me here in the UK just before Christmas. He expressed a wish to go to France to visit the war graves which was something that neither of us had done so we planned a trip and set off. It was a wintry time of year and we traveled at random between the graves in the north of France. There was a bleakness about it because of the nature of the visit but also because of the very sense of the place in the middle of winter. There were still no trees in the areas surrounding the rows of graves where the fighting had taken place, and this made it a cold and stark landscape. In one area we noticed several graves with soldiers from Australia and Canada and we wondered if there were any soldiers from New Zealand. After some time, my brother, who had also been a pupil at Otago Boys' High School, found the names of three young men from Dunedin. ‘Young men’ is stretching it; they were boys really, aged between 18 and 20. It truly brought home to us the extraordinary lives of these boys, fighting and dying in some fields of northern France more than 13,000 miles from home. It was very moving.

Subsequently my brother did some research and found the relatives of these brave lads in New Zealand, one family of whom was still contactable. The twist in the tail, for me, is that many years ago, when I was a pupil at school, we used to go through the gothic-style portals of the school, and each time we entered or exited we were obliged to doff our caps in honour of the soldiers commemorated in the war memorial above our heads. We did this almost as a reflex, without much thought. And sure enough, we have since found out that the names of the three Dunedin soldiers buried in France are on the memorial at Otago Boys' High School.

I am a firm believer in this school, in what it offers to its pupils now and what it will continue to offer. I am also a firm believer in the circle of promise, which starts with your own good education and with it your own potential and, once benefits are reaped from that in the form of a successful career, you return some of the bounty so that others can gain in similar ways.

In this way I commend other alumni to contribute to the highly constructive work of the OBHS Foundation. At the same time, I doff my cap, this time with reverence, to all those whose lives might have been severely cut short but whose promise as fine men remains unequalled.

Dr Geoffrey Davies OBE DL FIAgrE
Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion
CEO & Managing Director
Alamo Group Europe Ltd
Vice President
Alamo Inc. (USA)