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Douglas Perkins

Doug Perkins

Areas of Interest

Health Care, Business

Honorary Award

Honorary Doctor of the University, 2006


Born in Llanelli in 1943, Douglas Perkins is founder and Chairman of Specsavers Optical Group. After passing his professional optical exams in Cardiff he moved to England, and together with his wife Mary, founded Bebbington and Perkins Opticians in Bristol. In 1980 they sold what had become a chain of 23 outlets and went to the US to study alternative models of optical management. In 1984 they founded Specsavers Optical Group, now the largest privately owned opticians in the world. Throughout his career, Douglas has always worked towards improving the standards of care available to the public. As a member of the General Optical Council Companies Committee he has been active in broadening the professional qualifying curriculum, and has also been key to the evolution of the Department of Optometry at Anglia Ruskin. He is involved with many charities including Eyecare Trust, Fight for Sight and Vision Aid Overseas.

In 2006 Douglas Perkins received the honorary degree of Doctor of the University


"The Senate of Anglia Ruskin is pleased to confer of honorary Doctor of the University on Douglas Perkins for his pioneering development of the British Optical industry, particularly in respect of the provision to communities of affordable eye care, and his major contributions to charitable medical organisation.

The Senate of Anglia Ruskin University has great pleasure in conferring the award of Honorary Doctor of the University on Douglas Perkins, Founder and Chairman of the Specsavers Optical Group, for his pioneering and innovative contributions to the development of health care in this country and overseas, with particular reference to optometry, and his support for the evolution of professional education in optometry in this University and elsewhere.

This University has evolved a strong profile based on high levels of customer service; a robust philosophy of service to the community and the less privileged; the provision of responsible professional education, notably in the health care and personal services; and the extension of our services in an European and international context. It is appropriate we honour Douglas Perkins on this day, since the above elements of Anglia Ruskin's philosophy are formidably mirrored in the career and achievements of our honorary graduand.

Douglas Perkins was born in 1943 in the splendid Welsh town of Llanelli, son of Police Sergeant Perkins. He developed an early taste for science at Whitland and Llanelli Grammar Schools and was inspired by working part-time in Tucker's Chemist shop in Llanelli: out of acorns are great oaks born. He took a science degree in 1965 and other relevant optics professional qualifications at the Welsh College of Advanced Technology at Cardiff, now part of Cardiff University.

His wife, Mary, also qualified as an optician, and their similar home background values and beliefs were formative influences on their subsequent professional achievements, of which more later.

Given the job prospects in West Wales at the time, he emigrated to the foreign land of England and together he and Mary founded Bebbington and Perkins Opticians in Bristol in 1967, which, by the time they sold up in 1980 had spawned 23 stores in Bristol and South Wales. However, they became aware of the limitations of the small operation in terms of achieving economies of scale, and were keen to explore possibilities of expansion through means other than the creation of large impersonal plcs. They were troubled by an optics profession which they perceived to be in urgent need of revitalisation in relation to its lack of customer orientation; high prices for optical care; debatable value for money; and the lack of empowerment of in-store opticians in branches of large optics plc chains. The period 1980-1984 was critical in the Perkins' evolution of their professional and business philosophies which subsequently became the foundation stones of Specsavers, and in this, their thinking was significantly moved on by a two-year sabbatical in USA examining alternative models of optical management.

The main elements of the philosophy which emerged may be summarised thus: "fashionable, affordable eye-care for communities". Behind this mission lies a highly innovative approach to combining the economies of scale of the larger organisation with the advantages of the personal service provided by the small operator. This approach encompasses several dimensions: the idea of qualified partner opticians in the various branches who are directors and owners in the business rather than mere employees - and partake of any profits; (a franchising and joint venture model); bulk purchasing; a flat organisation with open communication channels; robust quality assurance and customer care regimes; the noble British past-time if store browsing linked to high quality professional service; complete price spectacles; constant attention to value for money; and the empowerment of both the customer and the in-store professional in decision-making on service, treatment and product.

This emerging operating philosophy for the optical business was happily facilitated and complemented by Margaret Thatcher's decision in 1984 to liberalise the market, allowing professions to advertise their products and service for the first time, thus releasing much in the way of innovative and creative approaches.

Accordingly, the Specsavers Optical Group was founded in 1984, and the first stores opened in Bristol, Swansea, Bath and Plymouth. Development since has been remarkable: 880 stores are now evident in UK, Ireland, the Low Countries and Scandinavia; an average of 35-40 new stores open every year; annual sales for this year are likely to reach £1bn. Specsavers now hold 35% of the national market; they provided 4.7m eye tests in UK in 2005; and were designated as one of the UK Super Brands in 2002. Almost inevitably, Specsavers were recently nominated as Britain's most trusted brand of optician for the fifth year running. This litany of achievements is formidable by any standards.

Market diversification since inception has been pursued along two dimensions. Expansion into Europe has been mentioned, with 79 stores in the Netherlands, 56 in Sweden, 40 in Norway and 37 in Denmark, though this has had its own challenges with varying professional accreditation and training requirements across the European Union. The second dimension has been the extension of the Specsaver philosophy into related areas of personal health care, such as hearing (there are now 200+ Hearcare stores in UK), and, it is hoped, in dentistry. The vision (no pun intended!) is that optics should really be defined and perceived as a primary health care service, since optical diagnosis also indicates the presence or otherwise of various other illnesses, such as diabetes. It also assumes that private providers such as Specsavers with a strong customer orientation should legitimately be considered by NHS as an integral part of primary care - which, of course, has substantial political implications.

It is almost inevitable given the above that Douglas Perkins should play an influential role in the national regulation of the profession, and he is a member of the General Optical Council. In this capacity, he has been active in planning for the broadening of the qualifying curriculum beyond the conventional scientific and technical content to include other professional skills; and in advancing the professional updating agenda in optics. In these endeavours, he has been extremely helpful in the progressive evolution of the Department of Optometry in this University, and its high status amongst British universities in this field.

Apart from the honours bestowed on the Specsavers Group, he has been the recipient of personal accolades, with two Honorary Fellowships from Swansea and Cardiff Universities, the Optician "Lifetime Achievement Award" in 2003, and is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers. His sponsorship of medically related charities is formidable, including the Eyecare Trust, Fight for Sight, Vision Aid Overseas, Mercy Ships, children's hospices, Guide Dogs, and the Tsunami Appeal, and is very active in local community affairs in Guernsey, where the family home now is.

As might be expected from his Llanelli origins, he is a passionate rugby devotee, and together, we hope for great things from the red-shirted heroes in the forthcoming season. As far as is known, he has not yet provided spectacles for visually challenged rugby referees: however, acknowledge these may be necessary in the months to come! His other great passion, apart from work, is his family, and it is noteworthy that all three children (John, Cathy and Julie) are senior managers within the Specsavers Group.

Douglas Perkins' crusades and contributions are evident for all to behold (preferably through Specsaver spectacles), and so, in the light of the above, and exercising the power conferred upon me by Senate, may I therefore invite the University Secretary, Stephen Bennett, to bestow the award of Honorary Doctor of the University on Douglas Perkins."