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A Personal Tribute to Bob Johnston by Nigel Slack


Bob Johnston was a man with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject. His passion, his very considerable expertise, and his supreme ability to communicate even the most subtle of ideas, marked him as an exceptional person. He was one of those rare academics who, through their originality and insight, really do manage to shift the centre of gravity of their subject. He was a pioneer in creating the vernacular of Service Operations Management. Scholars and students many years from now will owe a debt to his creativity, his clarity and his ability to ground the rapidly expanding body of knowledge in his field in the reality of what it’s really like to manage services.


He was one of the most engaging teachers of his generation who could bring complex models alive with a wealth of down-to-earth anecdotes and examples. His sense of humour and quick wit could make the classroom a ‘jolly place’ (one of his favourite phrases) as well as an exciting learning environment. But he also demanded that his students take the subject as seriously as he did. More than once he cured late arrivals at his lectures by locking the lecture theatre door five minutes after the start of a session; and woe betide any student who had failed to prepare for a session!


Bob and his family lived in the village of Monyash, high in Derbyshire’s Peak District, a part of the world that he loved. In all his years at Warwick University he never let the 140 mile round trip between home and the University interfere with his tireless work for the University. But he would not leave his beloved Derbyshire and he loved to hike through its dales and moors. It was an enthusiasm that he was keen for his less active friends to participate in. He and Shirley, his wife, would often extend their hospitality to colleagues from around the World who were welcome to stay and join them on a walk.


Although by this time clearly ill, Bob was meeting and discussing projects with his colleagues little more than a week before his death. Typically, his last words to his final Group Meeting were, “You are all welcome to visit, but if you bring grapes, make sure that they are in a bottle!”


I worked closely with Bob for 22 years. He introduced me to Warwick, first as an External Examiner, then as the Head of its Operations Management Group. He helped me when I was unsure. He encouraged me when I was flagging. He advised me, often before I had realised that I needed advice. And occasionally he rebuked me (with justification) if I made an error. I could have wished for no better colleague; no better friend. Everyone who worked with him will miss him. Everyone who he helped (too many to count) are sad, but above all, grateful – just so very grateful to have known him. Cheers Bob.

Nigel Slack

November 2012