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Transcript: Former Chairman & CEO, NEXT

Wednesday November 22, 2006

November 20, 2006 (CNN) - British fashion retailer NEXT is a well known High Street name. Former chairman and chief executive David Jones has been widely credited with making it that way.

In the 1980s, he took a battered and almost bankrupt chain and turned it into a success story. All the while fighting Parkinson’s disease -- in secret.

CNN’s Todd Benjamin caught up with him at a London hotel and started by asking him about his early working life.

Benjamin: You worked from an early age. Even as a young man you had a paper route.

Jones: Well that was circumstances. I just found out quite by chance, that my parents weren’t as rich as I thought they were, and my father was maybe dangling from his job. And I suddenly realized, that when my mother couldn’t afford a school uniform for me, I should do something to help the family cause. So I got a paper run when I was aged about twelve-and-a-half to 13. Used to get up at five o’clock in the morning and deliver papers and that taught me something about people. When Christmas came I got 90 percent of my tips from the flats, and the slightly poorer people, but nothing from the rich people.

Benjamin: Do you think, you were a different leader when you were in your thirties versus now that you’re in your sixties?

Jones: I think that I was exactly the same type of leader in my thirties as I am in my sixties. I was considerate towards people. I tried to make people find the answer to problems themselves and not be told what the answer was. I think that, you have to recognize in my view, that everybody is an expert at something. Even the toilet cleaner, or the lift attendant knows their job better than you do.

Benjamin: I want to ask you about your Parkinson’s disease, because life had been quite good to you up until that point. You were a rising executive, and then all of a sudden, at 39, you go to your doctor and your doctor tells you, you have Parkinson’s disease. That must have been a devastating moment for you?

Jones: It’s probably the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me. I remember walking out of the consultant surgery, walking around the car park, and saying: "What on earth am I going to do?" I decided the best thing to do, was not to tell anybody. I didn’t tell my wife for three years and because the deception had to be complete, in my own mind, I created two people. The David Jones who was a chief executive and the David Jones who had P.D. I decided to keep them apart for about 20 years.

Benjamin: What was the most challenging part of dealing with Parkinson’s disease? Because that must have been extremely difficult, having these two separate roles. You said you didn’t tell your wife for three years, I know, you didn’t tell anyone else for 20 years.

Jones: Up until the late 1990s it was not difficult, medication kept it under control. After about 1999 it became more difficult as the condition deteriorated and by the time I got to 2002, I really had to tell people, because it was getting far more difficult to hide and the pain of hiding it was actually worse than the pain of the disease itself.

Benjamin: But even up until that moment when you let your friends and colleagues know, that you had Parkinson’s disease, you basically would try and regulate the Parkinson’s disease in terms of when you had meetings and so forth, through your medication?

Jones: In order to be fit to talk to you now, I was up at 6 o’clock this morning, took my medication and at this point in time I’m okay. In an hour and a half’s time I’ll probably be shaking quite violently.

Benjamin: Do you think, that you should be considered exceptional because of what you accomplished because you had Parkinson’s?

Jones: Not at all. No, I think the Parkinson’s; the other fellow had it. Not me. Parkinson’s had nothing to do with my success.

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