In Memoriam David Collischon

Past Master David Collischon passed away after a long illness on 14th April 2016 at the age of 79. His funeral was held last week and unfortunately I had a prior commitment as Chairman of the Panel to interview applicants for our inaugural Oxford Said Advanced Management and Leadership Programme Bursary, so could not attend. David would have understood. I still wanted to write one of my In Memoriam Blogs and am grateful for input from his wife of 51 years Lesley, his daughter Lois, John Yorke, his best friend of 55 years, and Past Masters John Fisher, Venetia Howes and Jim Surguy.

David is best known for his revitalisation of the Filofax brand, turning it into a fashion item in the 1980s.

David’s early memories were of the bombing raids over London and in 1940 when he was three his family’s flat in Walthamstow was completely destroyed.  He did not particularly enjoy school but showed early initiative as producer of a school play. Smoking was forbidden in school and when a packet of cigarettes was found in his pocket he was hauled before the headmaster. When asked to explain he said they were a prop for the play and could he have the money for them please.

He left school at 16 with some qualifications and a talent for model making. His first job was as a warehouseman at Collins, the publishers but he then took a Thomas Cook tour of the business including delivering book review copies around London.

National Service took him to Malaya and he reached the rank of acting captain in the Royal Army Service Corps.  In 1958 he returned to Collins’ publicity department learning typography and publishing skills and handling future best sellers like Born Free, Dr Zhivago and HMS Ulysses. For the last one he was asked to make a model of the destroyer for a window display. It was so successful he was asked to make 20 more in a month, which he did by working every weekend. By 1960 at just age 23 he became Manager of Fontana books, a paperback imprint in those days that used to give Penguin a run for its money. He then moved up to Marketing Manager and then Sales Manager of Studio Vista, a British publisher specialising in leisure and design topics. It was later acquired by Collier Macmillan.

His then boss Peter Whitely introduced him to sailing which became one of the loves of his life. But he also met Lesley around this time, the real love of his life. She was just 17 and he respectfully courted her over the next few years before they married in 1965. By then he was Sales Manager of Crowell-Collier Macmillan, the paperback imprint of Macmillan Inc.

David built his own mirror sailing dinghy to showroom standard. He later passed his yacht master’s certificate and graduated to bigger boats. His handiwork skills were exceptional and in 1968 his book on Furniture Making was published as part of a series on home crafts.

David and his father, who had been National Chairman of the Institute of Marketing (later Chartered), had both used and saw the uncapped potential of the Filofax system. Filofax was first introduced to Britain in 1921. The original idea was based on an American organiser system, Lefax of Philadelphia – loose leaf information sheets on technical matters and trade information, for practical and flexible reference. Filofax came quietly into British life, used mainly by journalists, lawyers, doctors, soldiers and clergymen. Grace Scurr started at Norman and Hill (later Filofax) as a temporary secretary. She used the system as a diary to record customers and suppliers. When the company’s offices were blitzed during the war, it was Grace’s diary that literally saved the firm. It was Grace who coined the name Filofax – “a file of facts” – and she went onto become Chairman, retiring in 1955.

David set up a mail order business representing Filofax on an agency basis and in 1980 had acquired enough capital to buy the company for £8577. He had presented a plan to his bank manager forecasting a turnover of £250,000 over five years. The bank manager thought this a bit ambitious but the actual sales over five years were £2million! There were many challenges along the way, warehouse space; setbacks; stock shortages; product quality; unreliable suppliers and staff; but David met all these with integrity, diplomacy, fairness and a wry sense of humour. In 1987 he floated the company on the Unlisted Securities Market valued at £12 million. By 1996 it was valued at over £30million with sales in over 40 countries. David sold his shares and retired in 1998 and could then pursue other interests and indulge his passion in sailing with a yacht and apartment in Spain and another yacht near home in Essex.

He joined the Marketors in 1988 and became a Liveryman in 1991. He was proposed to join the Court of Assistants in 1994 and elected Junior Warden for 2000 becoming Master in 2003. His contribution was immense but a particular feature was his organisation of the Policies and Procedures by which the Company is governed. He also drove the initiative we now call Outreach.

Even in his last difficult years with Parkinson’s disease where he was confined to a wheel chair he remained strongly committed to the Company and made every effort with his wife’s support to attend meetings and dinners. When I organised video interviews with some of our older Past Masters to record their memories for posterity David insisted on taking part and we captured that twinkle in his eye for all time.

I understand the funeral was a full requiem mass, with so much incense that they had to refuel the censer (swung with energy by his local MP) part way through! The service was very well supported with 16 members in attendance including five Past Masters. There was a lovely reception afterwards catered by his son Adrian. His son in law Sam played the organ with great accomplishment.

People who knew him well speak of his warmth as a friend, his humility, his generosity of spirit. He was dynamic, a perfectionist, determined and a gifted entrepreneur. But he was also “the very best of company and would never let you down.” He will be greatly missed and long remembered.

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