Sir John Zochonis
Sir John Zochonis is something of a mystery. The Manchester soap magnate, chairman for 20 years of cosmetics giant PZ Cussons, has given away millions to regional, national and international causes. He formed the Zochonis Charitable Trust, which has given over £26 million in grants. Last year alone
he made donations to charitable causes of £2.2million. However, he has consistently shunned the spotlight of the media, and never demands recognition for his generosity. The adjective that comes up again and again in conversations about Sir John is “private”. He is the quiet man of philanthropy and possibly the largest giver in the North West.
Moira Stevenson, head of Manchester City Galleries, has felt the benefits of Sir John's largesse over the years. “Perhaps one of his most endearing qualities is that he never seems interested in taking any credit for his support,” she says. “A very rare and noble virtue in an age of excessive materialism.”
Sir John is unusual among arts philanthropists in that he focuses, not on an individual discipline, but an entire region. He has donated to, among others, Chethams School of Music, the Clonter Opera, Buxton Festival, Manchester International Festival, Manchester Art Gallery, The Lowry Centre, Manchester Mid-day Concert Series, Royal Exchange Theatre and the Northern Chamber Orchestra. In short, he is passionate about the North West itself, and the area's rocketing cultural profile is due at least in part to his contributions.
“He feels particularly strongly about opportunities for local children,” says Julia Fawcett, CEO of the Lowry centre in Salford Quays. She goes on to praise Sir John's unusually hands-off approach to funding. “There is an absolute beauty in being able to say, "this is what we want to do?... and for him
to say, "yes, let me know how it goes". He will come along and support our activities, but he very much trusts the organisation to get on with their own work.”
According to Sir John's nephew Nigel Green, the Zochonis Charitable Trust's low profile actually makes him a far more effective and objective philanthropist, as he is less subject to the pressure placed on well known charitable organisations.
“It's a question of where he specifically feels a case for the most need. Wishing to do what you can to reduce the vast inequalities that exist in our world today. Inequalities of education, of health - the terrible gap that exists between rich and poor. In a very quiet way he does what he can to equalise things.”
His willingness to support projects in their embryonic stages makes him a trailblazing figure to other philanthropists, who are more likely to bring their contributions to the table having seen the Zochonis Charitable Trust step in first. When the IRA attacked Manchester in 1996, Sir John was among the first to come forward and donate to the reconstruction.
“In terms of charitable giving,” says Nigel Green, “he has the reactions of a gunfighter.” Sir John has supported the Royal Northern College of Music for more than 30 years, helping with everything from scholarships for talented students to building projects. “He's probably donated in excess of a third of a million to the college,” says RNCM principal Sir Jonty Stockdale. “Everything ever written about John is absolutely true; he's an amazing philanthropist who gives willingly.”
“There are many big egos in the philanthropic world,” says Arts & Business CEO Colin Tweedy, “but Sir John is eighty and a lot of people have never heard of him. His quiet generosity is something which deserves merit.”