THREE GENERATIONS: Johnny Flowers (left) with grandson Nathaniel and son Robert (right)
THE HUDDERSFIELD motto ‘juvat imprigros deus’, which translates to ‘God helps the diligent’, could have been specially written for Johnny Flowers.
As a prominent and respected business figure in the West Yorkshire market town, some have been known to call him ‘Mr Huddersfield.’
Having recently celebrated his 78th birthday, Johnny, as he prefers to be known, still goes to the family owned business every day, even though he doesn’t have to because his son and co-director, Robert, makes sure that the business his dad established in 1976 stays ahead of the game.
Every week Ashbrow, a renowned Audi specialist and quality used car dealership that began life as a modest lock-up, sells vehicles at home and abroad mostly via the internet to customers as far afield as New Zealand, Germany and Holland.
“More and more people know about Ashbrow because they follow us on our website,” said Johnny, who expects that to continue.
“I’d say that around 60 per cent of our sales come from the internet because we have a good reputation for pricing and customer service.”
With Robert now overseeing the company, Johnny is the first to concede that the social media side and daily running of the business is left in his son’s safe hands, saying with a wry smile “the whole thing is bigger than me now.”
Robert, who joined his father in the business after graduating from university in 1990, and has been at the helm of the company for the last decade as the sales side of the business grew bigger and bigger, went a little further.
“I would love to see my father relax completely and start to enjoy the fruits of his labour. But he still comes to work every day, opens first thing and closes at night - and calls it his hobby.”
Not that it has been all plain sailing to this point. Johnny said: “When I started there was a lot of prejudice, but I didn’t let it worry me and I worked through it.
“I had two daughters and a son, and I didn’t want my son to start from where I had. That was the burning thing and even now I still feel that.
“I wanted him to start somewhere better than where I’d come from and that drove me to working 16 hours a day sometimes.”
He continued: “To be honest, to the outside world what they see in Ashbrow today might look incredible, but to me it’s still a growing proposition. I can’t forget that when I bought this place the man I got it from had used it as a coal yard.
“It needed developing, but at the time the council wouldn’t let me have an extra part of the site because they said that I was going to turn it into a scrap yard.
“It took me nearly 10 years to get it and do what you see today. Even then the council still didn’t think a black person could do what I wanted to achieve.
BOOMING BUSINESS: Ashbrow Garage
“But after a long struggle I eventually got a lease for 125 years with a peppercorn rent which meant I paid nothing.”
But in this typical story of hard work and persistence paying off, even Johnny couldn’t have envisaged when he left Jamaica in 1961 that he would one day have a company in its current position.
He said: “It’s very hard to describe because I didn’t set out for it to be like this. I liken it to what happened to a baby. It grows, it walks, it talks, it goes to school, university, then out into the wide world.
“What we have now started with one man and a lock up garage, then I bought this and it has grown since then.”
Without doubt, Johnny’s remarkable rise from working for Metro until the mid 1970s, to setting up Ashbrow Garage, has served as an inspiration to countless black youngsters and black-owned businesses who saw and experienced race prejudice as a barrier to advancing their careers.
One young entrepreneur he helped when setting up her travel company in Huddersfield, said: “At a crucial time in what I was trying to do I couldn’t have had a better mentor.
“The advice and encouragement he gave me was invaluable because it helped me to deal with any doubts I had and boosted my confidence when I needed it most.”
As well as Robert, other family members of the business, specifically wife Adele Flowers and daughter Olivia Flowers, and Carlton Chapman, have contributed largely to Ashbrow’s success.
But Johnny, who has two daughters, Joan and Louise, and three grandchildren, considers the root of his success to be his wife Alda, who left Jamaica ahead of him and it was because of her that he came to England.
He said: “Although I came to England to go to college and continue my training as a car mechanic, Alda was my main reason for coming.”
Alda, who worked as a nursing sister at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary (HRI) for most of her career, is well known in the Huddersfield community in her own right, and in 2011 received the ultimate accolade from the country of her birth – the Jamaican Diaspora Award for Excellence – the equivalent of an OBE.
The honour was given for her decades of work helping people, especially fellow Jamaicans in the UK. She has also been the driving force behind the Jamaica National Council in Huddersfield since its inception in 1979, and is on the board of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and the National Children’s Centre.
Alda later received her award in front of hundreds of guests at a prestigious ceremony in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Johnny, who won the Life Achievement award at the Huddersfield Black Business Awards last year, said: “Now there’s someone who is truly inspirational.
“The things that she’s done for people over the years and the ways she helps the community has been wonderful.
“I’m very proud of her and what we as a family have achieved.”