About Us

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enquiries@aspire-he.co.uk

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Aspire Management Team

Peter Gray - Chairman and CEO
In 1991 having previously worked for Lovell Construction as one of its youngest site managers, Peter set up BMBC a global book supply company with his brother James. From 1991 to 2001 Peter ran the operational management of the business including IT, customer services and operations in a period of significant growth. Also during this time a large number of acquisitions were undertaken including in 2000, BMBC's acquisition of John Coutts Library Services in both Canada and North America. Following this acquisition the Group was renamed as Coutts Information Services. Latterly in 2002 the Group acquired John Smith & Son, and the library supply assets were merged into Coutts with the campus retail business being run separately under the John Smith's brand.

Whilst retaining an interest in Coutts as a Non-Executive Director (a position he held until its sale to Ingram Industries Inc in 2006), Peter took on the role of Chairman and CEO of John Smith's and set a new strategic direction for the company.

At the time of acquisition, John Smith's had a retail turnover of £6m with all retail shops based in Scotland. The new drive for growth saw the Company quickly open a host of new stores in the UK and EIRE and also the placing of a significant investment in Botswana with the opening of a store and office premises at the University of Botswana. It is from here that the current International Division is based.

In 2004 Peter led the acquisition of Hammicks Legal, part of the Hammicks Bookshop Group with a strong and distinct brand in the provision of legal information around the world.

In 2006, Aztec Retail, the specialist retail software company was acquired enabling the Group to put IT at the heart of its business development. In particular it has enabled the company to develop technologically robust models that have great synergy with the new funding frameworks in Higher Education.

Under Peter's leadership John Smith's has become one of the strongest growing companies in the market. Turnover has grown consistently and the company continues to re-invest in its markets and develop up to date business models with integrity and value, particularly in the Higher Education sector   


David Fox - Higher Education Partnerships Director
David comes from a varied and extensive retail background, having worked with some of the major High Street players such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, Selfridges and the Arcadia Group as well as 2 of the big supermarket chains (ASDA & Sainsbury's).

His background developed from a focus on product buying and merchandising into a more general management role that included business development, relationship management and concept implementation, as well as the more operational elements of shop construction and set-up, marketing & promotion and day to day management.

David joined John Smith’s in 2004 and oversaw the first introduction of Aspire into the UK in 2006. Since then he has been focussed on developing both the John Smith’s campus business and Aspire into a variety of institutions.


Alan Leitch - Higher Education Director
Alan has worked in the UK academic book trade for over 30 years and his career has included senior management roles in both bookselling and publishing sales, giving him a unique experience of the academic and specialist market and an extensive network of professional contacts.

Having started his career as a shop floor bookseller in London in 1980, Alan then spent nearly 10 years in publishing sales with Routledge, firstly as a sales representative and then as UK Sales Manager. He returned to bookselling in 1994 and his extensive retail experience includes 4 years as Managing Director of Blackwell’s UK, where he was also responsible for the company’s UK library supply and online operations.

After leaving Blackwell’s, Alan became Divisional Director of Hammicks Local Bookshops prior to the sale of that business to Ottakar’s in 2003 and then founded his own business, Compass Academic Ltd, providing independent sales representation and market management for academic and specialist publishers. He joined John Smith’s as Marketing Director in 2004 and at the end of 2007 was appointed Director of the JS Campus Division which includes the company’s Aspire operations in the UK.


Peter Lake - Group Business Development Director
Peter joined John Smith & Son in 2011 having previously worked in a number of senior roles at Thomson Reuters. Peter was CEO of Sweet & Maxwell from 2003 to 2011 and was also responsible for Thomson Reuters legal businesses in Europe and Asia. 

As well as general management roles, Peter led the development of Westlaw online services in the UK, Germany and India and was responsible for the acquisition of software and information businesses in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Asia. Before joining Thomson Reuters, Peter had worked for Reed Elsevier and Pearson.


Andy Free - Director of Academic Partnerships
Andy is a 30 year veteran of the Publishing and Bookselling industry and has worked at a senior management level within all the major industry sectors.
Starting his career with Longman Publisher's Africa and Caribbean division, Andy switched to International Library Supply in the late 1980s, continuing his involvement in Africa and the developing world before joining Blackwell's to head up their publisher relations and special projects unit.

Following a period of working on electronic and digital content management and print on demand technology, Andy joined John Smith's sister company, Coutts Library and Information Services, before moving over to John Smith's in 2005 to take up the reins of the International Division based in Botswana.

Andy returned to the UK at the end of 2009 and, although still responsible for the International Division, now works closely with colleagues in the UK to support the ongoing development of Aspire.