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Ken Leeson

Ken Leeson

Areas of Interest

Business, Education

Honorary Award

Honorary Fellow, 2003


Born in London, Ken Leeson was educated at Northampton Town & County Grammar School before attending Mons OCTU followed by commissioned army service in the Malayan counter-insurgency campaign. In 1951 he joined the Civil Service as an Executive Officer and while working was sponsored as a part-time mature student to London University to study Law. Over the next 25 years he went from Senior Inspector in the Treasury to a Chief Officer post with Bedford Borough Corporation, rejoining the Civil Service in 1969 as an Assistant Secretary in the new Post Office Corporation set-up team. Subsequently he became Head of Internal Consultancy with PO Telecoms and then Deputy (Finance & Personnel) to the Managing Director of PO Telecoms London Region. In 1979 he was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive of BT's Eastern Region Board and in 1985 handled its merger with the Midland Region. In 1985 he moved to be BT's Group Director of Corporate Personnel & Industrial Relations affairs. Ken left BT in 1988 to take up the government appointed role of Chairman of the industry's UK Telecommunications Numbering and ISDN Addressing Board. He was also then filling seats as Chairman of Coventry Cable Ltd and of POFR Classic Hotels, and was an NED on the Board of the North East Essex Mental Health NHS Trust. He has served as Chairman at Colchester Institute and as a greatly valued member of the Board of Governors of this University.

After one term as deputy and three full terms in the chair, in 2004 Ken stepped down from the Board of the Colchester Institute to concentrate on his role as Chairman of the Colchester Institute Foundation Trust (which he had established some years before) and this institute has now undertaken at HM Education Department's wish, the management and financial merger of the FE College at Braintree and a new school Academy.

Ken has continued to expand his work as a Director and Secretary of the St. Petersburg Healthcare Trust whose members since the early 1990s have been engaged in promoting the concept of hospice and palliative care in Russia and in assisting Russian colleagues to set in place the necessary systems of clinical training.

In 2003 Ken Leeson was made an Honorary Fellow of our University.


"The Senate of Anglia Polytechnic University has great pleasure in recommending the award of an Honorary Fellowship of the University to Kenneth Frank Leeson, LLB (Hons), FCMI, FCIPD (known universally as Ken) in his younger days sportsman extraordinaire, would-be-mechanical engineer, former glider pilot, infantry officer, Civil Servant, key player in the UK communications industry and lately Chairman of Governors at Colchester Institute and Member of the Board of Governors of Anglia Polytechnic University and its predecessor institutions.

Ken Leeson was born in the East End of London before WWII and when the blitz bombing of London began, he experienced the trauma of being among the Children Evacuees who were shipped away from home and parents to supposedly safer places. He well remembers the coach journey, seeing the road sign for Woburn Sands, being excited at the prospect of the seaside, not realizing that Woburn was in the industrial Midlands! When re-evacuated to Northampton, he was educated at Northampton Town & County Grammar School (where one played 'rugby' not 'soccer') and concurrently he trained part-time at Northampton Technical College and British Timken Limited in mechanical engineering. In his mid-20s he was to go up to London University where he gained a law degree and then in his 30s he was sponsored to Cranfield Institute of Technology (School of Computing and Data Studies) later attending London University's Postgraduate Business School where he gained the LBS Senior Management Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

However, whilst at Northampton School, where he was classified as definitely no good at cricket, he took up field sports (eventually winning a medal for England (Youth) in the javelin, hammer and shot). Through the School ATC he trained as a glider pilot, with his sights set on the RAF for his National Service. However, that was not to be and he joined the Royal Fusiliers, was commissioned and was posted to the Far East during the Malayan Counter-Insurgency Campaign. It was during a hospital stay for "jungle sores and delousing" that he met his, then trainee nurse, Dutch wife-to-be, Anne, who had spent four years in a Japanese POW camp with her mother. They returned independently to Europe, but met again in 1952, Ken learned Dutch and they married.

In 1951, Ken Leeson entered the Civil Service as an Executive Officer through open, public, competitive examination, was later selected as a junior Treasury Inspector or "government snoop" before being promoted to Senior Inspector and helping in the 1960s merger of two separate Social Services departments. There followed a unique career pathway during the next twenty years, switching between the Civil Service, private consultancy and Public Utilities. He was variously Chief Officer at Bedford Borough Corporation, Civil Service Assistant Secretary in charge of Major Appointments for the set-up team for the new Post Office Corporation (when it ceased to be a government department), Chief Internal Consultant (equivalent to the CS grade of Under Secretary) for Post Office Telecommunications and by the mid-70s the London Telecomms Region Board Member for Finance and Personnel and its Deputy Managing Director.

In 1979 he came to Colchester as Chairman and Chief Executive of BT's Eastern Region Board, where he controlled the 17,000 student Bletchley Park Training Centre (of WWII "Enigma Machine" fame). The territory extended from the East Coast to the Cotswolds. His engineers installed and ran the first computer-controlled exchange - the no-name System X.

After managing the mid-80s merger of BT's Eastern and Midlands Regions, Ken found himself in Birmingham with 49,000 staff, 6 million customers and a travel case presented by his wife. In 1985 he returned to London as Group Director of Corporate Personnel & Industrial Relations. His main task was to use his operational "know-how" to crack the many "old Spanish customs" in BT's technical work. Fifteen months of tough union negotiations and no wage rise ended in a long national strike and interviews on TV before an agreement was finally reached.

Ken left BT in 1988 on appointment by Government as Chairman of the UK Telecommunications Numbering and ISDN Addressing Board. By this time, many new companies were entering the liberalized telecoms field. All needed numbers to have any business and he led the inter-company negotiations which eventually produced plans for the changes to national telephone numbering arrangements now used for all fixed, mobile and internet services.

During much of this time, Ken had been active in two chartered institutes (the Chartered Institute of Management and the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) and was elected a fellow of each. Over the latter twenty years he was also extremely active part-time, in divers ways: as in the mental health field, serving nine years as Deputy Chairman at Severalls Hospital in Colchester; becoming a Governor of Chelmer HE College Board of Governors, collaborating with the first VC (Mike Salmon) to press for Regional University status, when the Colchester Institute became an Associate Regional College of APU and as Chairman and First Trustee of the PO and BT staff convalescent and holiday homes. As Chairman of the Colchester Institute throughout the 90s until early this year, he played a major part in steering through its separation from Essex LEA to form the present Education Corporation and has continued to ensure it remains on a sound financial base. He still chairs the Trust Fund which supports especially needy students and gives other funding support.

Ken Leeson has shown himself to be a character of the most remarkable competence, dynamism and wisdom, not only by virtue of his most exceptional professional career, but also by his commitment to the Regional University of which the Colchester Institute is a part. We are immensely grateful to him for his eighteen years of dedicated service at a time of much change and development and thank him for his devotion and commitment. He has set a gold standard for men and women who would aspire to undertake this vitally important role as volunteers from the community, serving as Members on the Board of Governors.

It is for these reasons, therefore, that I invite you, Vice Chancellor, to confer on Kenneth Frank Leeson, LLB (Hons), FCMI, FCIPD an Honorary Fellowship of Anglia Polytechnic University."