Q&A - Professor John Humphrey

Professor John Humphrey was appointed to the Board of Trustees in May 2018 and elected as Chairman in October 2019. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate lawyer and is the Chairman or non-executive director of a number of listed public companies. He is a BGS Old Boy and graduated in 1972. View a more detailed career bio via the BGS website here.

Can you tell us a little about your background and your time at Brisbane Grammar School?

My father was in the Army and that meant we moved around regularly. I came to Brisbane Grammar School in 1969 as a boarder and finished in 1972. In those days the boarding house cohort was larger than it is today and had more than 150 students spread between Years 8-12.

Boarding was characterised by strong boarding house spirit. We saw ourselves as a special tribe – the backbone of the School. One of my special memories was being in the first cohort to use the new boarding house, Harlin House, when it opened. We thought the facilities we had access to were quite luxurious at that time. Of course, those same conditions by today's standards are considered substandard.

What did you do after leaving Brisbane Grammar School?

After graduating from BGS, I completed a law degree at The University of Queensland. From there I got a job with a law firm and became a partner specialising in corporate work and mergers and acquisitions. Since then I've had the opportunity to become a Director and a Chairman of several listed public companies. I retired from my law firm at the end of 2012 and served for six and a half years as Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law of Queensland University of Technology. In July this year I rejoined my old law firm as a Senior Consultant.

Can you tell us about a standout memory as a student at BGS?

One of my standout memories is that in early July 1969, we were all crowded into the Great Hall to watch the moon landing on a couple of black and white TVs. We couldn't see a thing, but we clearly heard Neil Armstrong take 'one giant leap for mankind'. It was quite a moment and a very special achievement. Interestingly man has not walked on the moon again since I left school at the end of 1972.

Do you think BGS prepared you well for life beyond school?

The quality of my teachers at school was high and while giving us a good education they prepared us well for our Senior exams. We were encouraged to aim high and the School provided me with an extensive network of contacts. Though I had never lived in Brisbane outside of boarding, I graduated with many friends, some of whom came with me to study law at university. The great lesson I took from the School was that if I worked hard and prepared properly it was realistic to expect to succeed in the things I tackled.

How has BGS changed since you were here?

The potential job opportunities faced by current-day Brisbane Grammar School students are so much greater and more varied than they were years ago. Accordingly, how we prepare and educate boys needs to be, and is, so much more comprehensive. Modern technology is a great educational enabler and the School is much better resourced as it strives to retain its position of academic leadership.

The scope of the co-curricular program is the other significant change I have noticed. The School now offers an amazing range of quality co-curricular experiences which helps to round out students so that they can better take their places as productive members in our society.

As Chairman of the Board of Trustees what is your vision and priorities for the future?

My vision for BGS is for us to be a school that works with each student to deliver a tailored, individual education which will maximise that student's educational achievement, while at the same time offering a broad range of co-curricular experiences to benefit other aspects of the student's development.

The major focus of the Board in the next few years will of course be the STEAM project, which will combine the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in a new learning precinct. The design for this exciting project is currently being finalised, and the Board and Senior Leadership Team are excited by the educational potential of this cutting-edge new facility.

In the shorter term, the project to create two boarding houses, a junior and senior house, is significant and when completed will bring us to a point where we will have a high quality, contemporary home for boarders.

Taking over from Howard Stack, Chairman for almost 30 years, what are your thoughts on his legacy at BGS?

Howard has given unparalleled service to Brisbane Grammar School during his period as Chairman. His legacy will include the Middle School, the Indoor Sports Centre, the Lilley Centre, and the Northgate Playing Fields and facilities.

While any one of these projects would by itself be a worthy legacy, perhaps his greatest contribution was in leading the School's response to tragic sexual abuse that was suffered by a significant number of students at the School during the 1970s and 1980s and subsequently the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. From the time the problem emerged (which was well before the establishment of the Royal Commission) Howard dealt with it head-on and accepted the Sc​hool's moral responsibility to the victims. Howard has met with the victims, listened to their stories and apologised to them. He put in place processes by which victims could seek compensation which, with the benefit of hindsight, can be seen to be best practice.

Howard has always been dedicated to the School and a tremendous advocate for a BGS education. His legacy is simply outstanding and it is unlikely that the School will see anything like it in the future.

When not thinking about everything light dark blue, what are your other interests?

My interests are bushwalking, wine, tennis, weight training and chess. In younger days I played golf at a reasonable level but I have difficulty in finding time now. A highlight for me this year was walking around Mt Blanc in France which is one of the world's great through walks. I think it's a great time to be following tennis at the moment and watching the tremendous skill and rivalry between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who I think are the three best male players of all time. My personal favourite is Rafa.