Famous Alumni from Manchester in Business and Beyond


Manchester is a city that is known for its icons, and we’re not just talking about football clubs. Our vibrant, historic city is about much more than that. It’s about the Museum of Science and Industry, located in the world’s oldest surviving railway station. It’s about the stream of Nobel Prize winners that have pounded its pavements and taught at its universities. It’s about a rich history of some of the most iconic names in music.

Most of all, however, it is about the reams of notable alumni who have not only called the city home, but graduated from Manchester’s world-renowned universities. But who are these respected stalwarts? Some of them are business people, some are scientists. Some you will have heard of, and some you may not. One thing is for sure though… there are reams of them, some of the most notable you can see here.

Alumni with a head for business

Stuart Mitchell (Manchester Business School – BSc (Hons) Management Sciences ‘81)
Stuart is well-known as the former MD of Sainsbury’s and AS Watson, but his stint as Chief Executive Officer at Wilkinson is what really helped him make a name for himself. Coupling his business knowledge with a flair for radical new ideas, Stuart grew the store estate from 273 to 367, introduced catalogues and in-store order points, overhauled branding and launched not just an ecommerce website, but mobile ordering.

Sir Donald Cruickshank (Manchester Business School – MBA ’72)
Donald Cruickshank is just one of the Sirs to have graduated from Manchester Business School. His long and distinguished career has seen him become the Director General of the UK Office of Telecommunications, Chairman at the London Stock Exchange and the Chairman of Formscape Group Ltd, among others!

Jonathan Mildenhall (Manchester Metropolitan University – BA (Hons) ‘90)
Jonathan Mildenhall has had a distinguished career, to say the least, after graduating from MMU. After periods at a number of respected UK ad agencies such as Mother, McCann, HHCL and TBWA Worldwide, he moved into the role he is best known for – Vice President of global advertising strategy and creative excellence at Coca Cola. He has been responsible for some of the brand’s best known campaigns, and credits MMU for building the foundation of his great passion for business and advertising.

Sir Terry Leahy (Manchester Business School (then UMIST)– BSc (Hons) Management Sciences ’77)
Anyone who owns a Tesco Clubcard possesses the brainchild of Sir Terry Leahy, one of Manchester’s most notable business alumni. He created the revolutionary loyalty programme while he was CEO of Tesco, but it wasn’t his only supermarket success – he also increased the company’s market share from 20% to 30%. His achievements didn’t go unnoticed either, as he won a handful of fantastic awards during his tenure. These included Britain’s ‘Business Leader of the Year’ 2003, Fortune European Businessman of the Year 2004, and Most Influential Non-Elected Person in Britain 2007, according to the Guardian Unlimited Politics panel.

Mike Turner (Manchester Polytechnic – BA (Hons) Business Studies ’70)
Sir Terry Leahy isn’t the only Manchester alumnus to be held in such high esteem for his achievements – Manchester Polytechnic graduate and former CEO of BAE systems, Mike Turner, is too. As well as being crowned the NED FTSE 100 Chairman of the Year 2014, he also received a CBE for services to the aerospace industry in the Queen’s birthday honours 1999. Not bad for someone who started out as a humble Contracts Manager at British Aerospace.

Alumni whose reputation precedes them

Anthony Burgess (University of Manchester – BA (Hons) English Literature ‘40)
Who’d have thought that one of the greatest literary figures in recent history would have been born and educated right here in Manchester? His most famous novel, A Clockwork Orange, spawned a whole new slang language that still crops up in modern culture. However, Burgess was also a great lover of music, and composed over 250 musical works in his lifetime.

Benedict Cumberbatch (University of Manchester – BA (Hons) Drama)
Benedict Cumberbatch needs no introduction, and after being schooled at Harrow, is one of the more surprising members of Manchester’s alumni. Down to earth and incredibly talented, his impressive acting chops have seen him quickly carve out a career on both stage and screen. His CV includes Frankenstein, The Hobbit, Hamlet, Atonement, War Horse and, of course, Sherlock.

Brian Cox (University of Manchester – PhD High Energy Particle Physics ’97)
While Brian Cox enjoyed considerable success in the bands Dare and D:Ream before embarking on his distinguished scientific career, it’s the latter that he has become best known for. His distinctive voice and endearing manner have made his documentaries a must-see for even the least scientific of viewers, and his research into physics has seen him be awarded an OBE, and become a key part of the Large Hadron Collider project.

Christabel Pankhurst (University of Manchester – LLB Law 1906)
Christabel Pankhurst took after her iconic mother, Emmeline, becoming a key figure in the suffragette moving following the completion of her degree. She moved to London in 1906, became organising secretary of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), and was nicknamed ‘Queen of the Mob’ following various imprisonments. During her lifetime she experienced various stints in prison and even exile abroad, and was a key figure in the Order of the White Feather during World War I.

People from all walks of life, professions and backgrounds have attended Manchester’s respected universities, and their distinguished post-university careers just go to show that you needn’t have attended Oxford or Cambridge to make your mark. One thing is for sure if you too decide to study in Manchester – you will be in very good company.


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Manchester Business School has a global reputation for innovative and influential teaching and research, which impacts business on a local, national and international level. We call this Original Thinking Applied.

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