John Mills is founder and Chairman of JML, the consumer goods distribution company, which exports to more than 70 countries around the world. He is also an economist and author, noted for his writing on Brexit, the Labour Party and exchange rate policy. In 2018, he founded the John Mills Charitable Trust, which supports charitable organisations active in economic and political research as well as other worthy causes.
John started out in business whilst at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), specialising in economic history and statistics.
As a student, during the 1959 summer vacation he started selling household cleaning goods door-to-door after hiring a Boeing Stratocruiser to fly fellow students to Canada for summer jobs. On leaving university – and after two years in the National Service in the Royal Navy – John joined Unilever's management graduate scheme but left after six months to start what became a series of businesses.
In 1986, John founded John Mills Limited (JML), which has become a global multi-channel retailer specialising in selling high-volume consumer products through in-store video, TV shopping channels, and the internet. Founded in the basement of his house in Camden, he remains majority shareholder and Chairman of the company.
With an annual turnover approaching £100 million, JML now sells more than 15 million products every year and employs more about 250 people. Operating in more than 70 different countries, it has trading relationships across many regions of the world, particularly Europe, the Far East and North America. The success of the company has helped put a JML product in more than 7 out of 10 homes in the UK.
Under his leadership and with the support of his colleagues, JML has managed to stay ahead of retail trends through innovation and investment. JML was one of the first retailers to launch a dedicated TV shopping channel, and the company won Shopping Channel of the Year in 2014. JML was also one of the first distributors to identify the potential of online, and now operates nine transactional websites.
JML was recently selected by Dun and Bradstreet as being among the 150 most dynamic companies in Europe.
A lifelong Labour Party supporter and donor, John was a Labour Councillor in Camden almost continuously from 1971 to 2006.
During his tenure at Camden Council, he served in a number of appointments including Deputy Chairman of the London Docklands Corporation, Chair of the Housing Committee at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the London Boroughs Association, and Chair of both the Housing and Finance Committees of the London Borough of Camden.
As Chairman of the Finance Committee, John was responsible for managing Camden’s £800 million local government budget, and successfully returned the council during the 1990s to a spending surplus whilst protecting the most disadvantaged people in the area. The council was recognised as Council of the Year in 2003. John has also been a Parliamentary candidate twice, in 1974 and for the European Parliament in 1979.
He has played an active role in public policy debates around national spending; inter-generational and country divides; deindustrialisation; housing and the UK’s relationship with the EU.
John has over the years been Secretary of the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign; Secretary of the Labour Economic Policy Group; Vice Chairman of the Economic Research Council; Co-Chairman of Business for Britain; Co-Chair of Vote Leave; Chair of Labour Leave, and Chair of Labour Future. He was also national agent for the ‘No’ campaign during the 1975 Referendum on the UK joining the European Economic Community (EEC).
He is also Director of think-tank openDemocracy. In 2018, he resigned his statutory positions in all the political organisations with which he was involved to comply with Ofcom requirements and avoid a conflict with JML running a TV shopping channel.
As an economist, John has written widely about how the UK – and the West in general – has failed to compete effectively with the East. He has argued that the UK should take a much more active position on managing the price of sterling to encourage the growth of UK manufacturing and investment.
John has been a Committee member of the Economic Research Council since 1997 and is now Vice-Chairman. He has written or co-written 11 books on economics, and numerous pamphlets. His books have been translated and are used particularly in various universities in emerging markets.
His books include Growth and Welfare: A New Policy for Britain (Martin Robertson and Barnes and Noble 1972); Monetarism or Prosperity? (with Bryan Gould and Shaun Stewart: Macmillan 1982); Tackling Britain’s False Economy (Macmillan 1997); Europe’s Economic Dilemma (Macmillan 1998); America's Soluble Problems (Macmillan 1999); Managing the World Economy (Palgrave Macmillan 2000); A Critical History of Economics (Palgrave Macmillan 2002 and Beijing Commercial Press 2006); Exchange Rate Alignments (Palgrave Macmillan 2012); Call to Action (with Bryan Gould: Random House, 2015); The Real Sterling Crisis (with Roger Bootle, Civitas 2016); Britain’s Achilles Heel (Civitas 2017).
John continues to live in Camden, London, but travels globally and maintains strong links to France, where he has a house in Avignon, while maintaining his interests in music, cinema, tennis, opera and theatre.
In 2018, he founded the John Mills Charitable Trust, which supports organisations active in economic and political research, as well as other worth causes. He is a supporter of the mental health charity SANE.