Sir Keith Mills

Sir Keith Mills

Areas of Interest

Business, Sports

Honorary Award

Honorary Doctor of Business Administration, 2011


Sir Keith Mills GBE is a business entrepreneur who founded the Air Miles and Nectar customer loyalty programmes and has established numerous businesses, both in the UK and internationally. However, it was his involvement in sport that led him to establish the Sported Foundation.

In September 2003 Sir Keith was appointed International President and CEO of London 2012, the company that successfully won the bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Having established the London 2012 organisation which planned and organised the Games (LOCOG), Sir Keith remained as Deputy Chairman alongside Lord Sebastian Coe to oversee operations. In 2014 Sir Keith was Chairman of the Invictus Games, working with Prince Harry to deliver a new major international sport event for wounded servicemen and women. Sir Keith is also a non-executive director of Tottenham Hotspur Plc and a shareholder and director of the British America's Cup yacht racing team with Sir Ben Ainslie.

In 2005 Sir Keith received a number of awards including: Master Entrepreneur of the Year, Chief Executive of the Year and the Sports Industry Businessman of the Year.


"Vice Chancellor, it is my pleasure to read the citation for Sir Keith Mills for the award of Doctor of Business Administration.

Sir Keith Mills is a self-made entrepreneur who has excelled in the marketing business and in more recent years, the business of sport.

Born in Brentwood, Essex, Sir Keith is from humble origins. The son of a factory worker, he lived in a council house in Essex and left school when he was 15. His enthusiasm for sport began when he was a young boy when his father took him to Poole Harbour in Dorset, where he was introduced to sailing and witnessed the adventures and affluence of the sailing community. It was a defining moment. Rather than watch those with money all his life, he decided that he would make some. Then in 1999, once he had, he realised one of his long term sailing ambitions when he became one of the crew that won the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. This is a race for mixed-ability competitors in which crew members clock up 40,000 miles within 15 ocean races and visit 13 countries.

Sir Keith worked in marketing and advertising for over two decades. He left school with no qualifications, starting at The Economist as a copy assistant. He then moved to the Financial Times and Investors Chronicle where he was made responsible for marketing and from there he moved into advertising. In 1985 he founded his own agency Mills, Smith & Partners, and acquired top named clients by providing a first class creative service to businesses including Shell and British Caledonian.

It was during his time in advertising that Sir Keith built a lucrative add-on to his business based on customer loyalty. He invented Air Miles, an incentive scheme that filled spare capacity on planes. He approached British Airways and they liked the idea. Air Miles in the UK was a huge success, and he went on to establish similar programmes in North America and Europe.

Just over 10 years ago, he followed up Air Miles with the Nectar supermarket loyalty programme. His idea has helped to transform British retailing, providing the facility for data capture and customer profiling. The loyalty sector has had its ups and downs, most notably in 1993 when the US Air Miles system collapsed, costing Sir Keith many many millions. However, in 2007 Sir Keith sold his company for £375m which put him firmly in the Sunday Times Rich List 2010.

In September 2003 he became Chief Executive and International President of the London 2012 campaign, which saw London selected as host for the 2012 Summer Olympics. He is now Deputy Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, but admits to having no sporting background beyond the hobby inspired by his father - yacht racing. He now owns two high profile yacht racing teams, one of which, TEAMORIGIN, was established to compete for the America's Cup, the world's oldest sporting trophy.

Sir Keith, his wife and family are also involved in a new Foundation called Sported, which aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people through sport. Sported Is a charitable organisation set up to provide funding and capacity building services to the community and voluntary sports sector. So Sir Keith Mills is a business big-shot who is now earning a new reputation as a sports diplomat, dedicating his time to both world and community sports development after a lifetime in mainstream marketing.

A quietly-spoken man, he has a huge raft of wisdom to impart and many students of business, sport and education can learn from his personal story of hard work, innovation and success. For his services to business, sport and society we honour him today.

Vice Chancellor, it is my pleasure to present Sir Keith Mills for the award of Doctor of Business Administration, honoris causa."