A tribute to our founder, Alex Zemenides

All of us at PETA are saddened to hear that our founder, Alex Zemenides, passed away at the end of January, at the age of 92.

Alex created the Portsmouth Engineering Training Association (PETA) in 1970 whilst working as managing director at manufacturing company Sealectro. He identified that there was a shortage of training opportunities for his staff and other young people in the area and wanted to do something that would make a positive and lasting impact. Alex, along with five other businesses, founded PETA and became the organisation’s longest serving chair.

During this time, he was also invited to chair the various Group Training Associations that existed across the country; and in this role he was instrumental in not only influencing government policy on education and training, particularly apprenticeships, but also in helping other Group Training Associations grow and flourish.

Current chair of the board, Elliot Seymour, said: “He was a pioneer of training provision in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas, and we feel privileged to preserve his legacy at PETA by continuing to develop skills and knowledge for future generations.”

Former CEO Robert Hiskey, who worked closely with Alex during his time at PETA, shared the following message:

“Alex was an astute and successful businessman who was highly regarded and very well respected throughout the local community, particularly amongst business leaders. He was of course the group managing director of Sealectro Ltd in Portsmouth and its sister company in France.

"His role and contribution to PETA was immense and much of the company’s ethos, beliefs and philosophies were inspired by him. In the early days, Group Training Associations were heavily subsidised by government grants. Alex knew that it would be unrealistic to expect this level of financial support from government to continue indefinitely and therefore set a course for the business to become self-sustaining by charging commercial rates for services provided. I remember him saying to me that if PETA provided good quality services that industry truly needed and valued then they would be willing to pay for them and PETA would become self-sustaining and have a bright future. He never believed in training for the sake of training and considered that PETA and its staff should be run as a true business where staff experience the everyday issues of competing in business markets and winning sales orders based on merit and not through government grants. This strategy, although difficult in the early days, enabled PETA to become one of the largest and most respected private training providers on the south coast.

"When Alex retired as PETA chair, he continued to be a board member for several years after. During his retirement he lived in Cyprus for most of the year and therefore his attendance at board meetings were perhaps not as frequent as he would have liked. However, this did not prevent him from scrutinising my reports and monthly management accounts and so it was not uncommon for me to receive telephone calls from Alex in Cyprus when he would seek clarification or challenge me on a given issue. He had a great eye for detail and his interest in PETA never waned despite him being so far away. This reminds me of the time when I was promoted to the position of CEO at PETA and a particular occasion after a board meeting. He took me to one side and gave me great credit for the quality of the report and accompanying figures given to the board members and then said “as good as they are Bob, what we really want to know is what your gut feeling is telling you - that way we can get a feel for the business”. I never forgot his advice which proved invaluable in the following 20 years as the organisation grew and developed.

"When I retired at the end of 2017, after nearly 43 years’ service, I remember a call from Alex who wanted to congratulate me on my retirement but at the same time ask me one very important question “Bob is the company on a secure and solid foundation from which it will continue to grow and be of service to the employers for which it was established?” He knew that my answer would be yes as he was aware of the success of PETA and its financial position. So, when I confirmed that the business was in a healthy position, he said “in that case our work is done so go and enjoy your retirement”. In my mind this speaks volumes about Alex’s unstinting commitment to the organisation he created more than fifty years ago - what a wonderful legacy.

"Alex had a strong passion for apprenticeship training and believed strongly that apprentices were going to provide the skills of tomorrow. PETA, employers and thousands of apprentices over five decades owe a lot to Alex Zemenides as without his foresight, wisdom and passion for training none of the above would have been possible.”

The funeral of Alex Zemenides will take place on March 17 at 3.30pm at St Peter’s Church, Westhampnett, Chichester.