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Sir Tom's life story will help today's students.

Students on Wearside are to benefit from the story of a North-East millionaire's rise from humble roots to international success.

Author, TV agony aunt and The Journal columnist Denise Robertson has written the biography of her close friend, Sir Tom Cowie, who left school at 16 and began his working life as a second-hand motorcycle salesman in Sunderland.

He went on to found the Cowie group, which later became Arriva. Sir Tom, now 82, was also chairman of Sunderland football club during the 1980s.

Last night, Sir Tom said: "I am paying for the book to be printed and distributed and all the proceeds will go to Sunderland University Development Trust.

"I left Bede Grammar School at 16, much against my mother's wishes, to sell motorcycles, but I do believe in the value of higher education and I hope the book is a moneyspinner for the university. Universities always need more money!"

Speaking from his home on the outskirts of Lanchester, County Durham, he said: "Chairman of Sunderland AFC was the biggest single failure of my life. Southampton were doing well under Lawrie McMenemy and I thought he would be an ideal choice as manager. But his tenure here was a disaster.

"Nowadays, although I have my own box at the Stadium of Light, I never go to games. They are still the first result I look out for, but I have too many other interests."

Sir Tom counts opera star Dame Kire te Kanawa and ex-Formula 1 World Champion John Surtees among his close friends.

After completing National Service during the Second World War, Sir Tom went on to build one of the fastest-growing companies in the UK. From repairing and selling motorcycles in a small backyard in Sunderland, Sir Tom created the Cowie Group, which developed into Arriva and last year had a turnover of more than pounds 1.6bn.

Sir Tom, married with one son and seven daughters, said: "I was somewhat miffed at the time that the Cowie group's name was changed to Arriva, but companies change names like they change pairs of trousers these days. I know, and the people close to me, all know what I did for the company and that is all that matters."

The book, Sir Tom Cowie, A True Entrepreneur, will be launched at Sunderland's Stadium of Light on Wednesday, October 6.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2004
Words:392
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