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Lord Sainsbury of Turville
Lord Sainsbury of Turville
Orator Professor Richard Guy
Orator Professor Richard Guy
Lord Sainsbury and Professor Guy after the ceremony
Lord Sainsbury and Professor Guy after the ceremony

Internal News - 27 June 2008

Honorary graduate - Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Oration by Professor Richard Guy

Sainsbury is a strikingly familiar name to us all and David Sainsbury, now Lord Sainsbury of Turville, was the fourth generation of the family to take over the business which was founded in 1869 as a small grocery store in London.

David Sainsbury’s highly successful career in the supermarket world spanned approximately three decades and would, for most individuals, constitute an extremely satisfactory life’s work. However, this has not been the case for David Sainsbury who, in a parallel existence, has had an enormous impact through his involvement in politics, science and philanthropy.

David Sainsbury was educated at Eton and Cambridge, where he first read history but then switched to psychology because of a fascination with science catalysed by breakthroughs occurring at that time in the study of DNA and genetics. Subsequently, he received a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University in New York, and rose through the Sainsbury organisation to eventually become its Chief Executive.

During this progression, David Sainsbury’s involvement in politics became increasingly important and, in 1997, the same year that Columbia University awarded him its prestigious Botwinick Prize in business ethics, he was made a life peer. Then, just one year later, he was appointed Minister of Science & Technology in the Blair government.

For the next eight years, until 2006, David Sainsbury served the Labour government as a passionate advocate of science and science education. He presided over a substantial increase in government spending for science and, rather uniquely, he was a politician well-liked and respected by the scientific community.

David Sainsbury articulated powerful arguments that convincingly demonstrated how investment in scientific infrastructure and research, and the subsequent transfer of knowledge and technology to industry, results in major economic benefit and enhanced quality-of-life. David Sainsbury’s philosophy and endeavour in this regard are encapsulated in his Review of Science and Innovation, subtitled “The Race to the Top”, which was published in October 2007, and which provides a blueprint for future investment in the areas of knowledge generation, innovation, education, re-training and technological infrastructure.

The impact of this thinking on science and engineering focussed universities, such as Bath, will be profound and challenges us in many ways: for example, to develop ideas with practical relevance, to collaborate productively with the private sector, not only locally, but nationally and globally as well, and to enhance the teaching of science and technology so that increasing numbers of young people are encouraged to pursue careers in science and engineering.

In addition to his very public support of science, David Sainsbury has made significant philanthropic contributions through a number of trusts established by his family. The flagship, which David Sainsbury himself set up in 1967, is the Gatsby Charitable Foundation which, in its first 40 years of operation, has made grants totalling more than £400 million.

In recognition of this generosity, David Sainsbury, and the Sainsbury family, received in 2003 a Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, an award given biannually to individuals who have dedicated their private wealth to public good and who have a sustained an impressive philanthropic career.

Gatsby focusses on several areas, specifically: science and engineering education to support improvement in educational opportunity in the UK; plant science, to fund basic research in plant growth and development; neuroscience, to promote world-class research in UK centres of excellence; as well as mental health, disadvantaged children, local economic renewal, and the support of basic agriculture and manufacturing in Africa.

In David Sainsbury, therefore, we have an individual who has achieved much and who has given a great deal. An accomplished businessman, who has overseen an incredibly successful supermarket chain. A politician, who has been a champion for the development of science and engineering, and for promoting the exploitation of technology. And a philanthropist, whose generosity continues to have profound impact in manifold ways. Chancellor, I present to you Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who is eminently worthy to receive the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.