About us

JS Group is a forward looking business that can trace its roots back to 1751 when the bookseller John Smith and Son was founded in Glasgow.

JS Group is a forward-looking business that can trace its roots back to 1751 when the bookseller John Smith and Son was founded in Glasgow.

The JS Group is an old family firm with deep experience of helping universities to help their students. JS Group can trace its roots back to 1751 when the bookseller John Smith and Son was founded in Glasgow and the aim of the company now is very much as it was then, to support universities and students to be successful in their studies.

For many years we ran on campus bookshops for many universities and then in 2002 an opportunity arose to support students in Botswana that changed the direction but not the purpose of the business. The government in Botswana encouraged and supported students to go to university with a series of grants and subventions including one for the purchase of textbooks. The issue that both the government and students had was that there was no reliable supply of textbooks in the market and purchasing them from outside Botswana was prohibitively expensive – so the money was spent elsewhere. The government asked us if we could come up with a solution that guaranteed availability of textbooks in market at much lower prices and made it quick and simple for students to get the right textbooks for their course.

The solution we developed was the Aspire platform, where rather than give cash, we loaded up each students account with a credit. We then built the entire back end infrastructure to ensure that whatever students needed for their studies (from books to mining equipment) we could ensure they could have at the lowest prices in Africa. Of course, we worked with faculty to ensure we had all the right resources for their courses and built partnerships with 3rd parties to support the delivery where necessary.

The result of this change of approach was:

  • Money was not being wasted and was being used for its intended purpose.
  • Data on what was being bought by students was really helpful in building the overall understanding of what students need was rather than what people thought it was
  • Faculty at universities quickly became key advocates, because it meant that their students had a level playing field in terms of the tools required for their studies and irrespective of background, students could participate.

In 2006 with the introduction of fees in the UK a number of universities were interested in seeing how the Aspire platform could assist them in providing a robust mechanism to ensure that financial support in the form of bursaries and scholarships was targeted to support student success and reduce barriers to learning for less advantaged student groups. Since that time, we have worked with over 35 universities and colleges and over 1 million students have benefitted from our services.

For us, this whole process has helped us change from being a “supplier” on campus, to being a genuine strategic partner to the sector.

Working in partnership with us

We work to fully understand our partners so that we can provide the best services and resources to meet your requirements and student needs. JS Group has a team of over 60 staff with a wide range of expertise and experience who are committed to being trusted and knowledgeable partners working with institutions to deliver the best service to their students. Partners will find us:

Open and honest

We are committed to having trusted and productive relationships with our HE partners and our commercial suppliers. We value openness and honesty to make this work.

Innovative and energetic

We are constantly challenging ourselves to seek improvement and be creative in our approach to offering the best services and value for our partners.

Data and results driven

We are committed to being data led to ensure the delivery of better student outcomes.

JS Group Executive Management Team

Peter Gray

Peter Gray

Chairman and CEO

Under Peter's leadership John Smith's has become one of the strongest growing companies in the Education sector. By continuing to invest in its Aspire platform and develop up-to-date business models with integrity and value he ensures engagement solutions are delivering better student outcomes.

Peter Lake

Peter Lake

Group Business Development Director

Peter is responsible for business development at JS Group working with universities and partners to see how our existing services can be improved to deliver better students outcomes and what new services and collaborations can be developed to support student continuation, attainment and employability. Prior to joining the JS Group in 2011, Peter held senior management positions in the information sector and is an adviser to a number of EdTech businesses and the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

David Marshall

David Marshall

Group Commercial Director

David has been at the forefront of the JS Group evolution with his leadership playing a major role in developing the e-commerce channels, building and improving supplier relationships, extending the range of products offered and being the champion of The Group’s eBook strategy.

Alison Baccar

Alison Baccar

Director of Engagement

Alison leads our team of Engagement Partners and is responsible for ensuring all our Aspire schemes deliver exceptional benefits to students and universities. Before joining JS Group, Alison had senior roles at ADT and Wolters Kluwer.

Elisabeth Fitch

Tricia King

Strategic Innovation Advisor

Tricia King joined JS Group in August 2021.  She brings a wealth of experience to this role having worked in senior roles in the university sector.  For 11 years she was Pro-Vice-Master for Strategic Engagement at Birkbeck College in the University of London.  More recently Tricia spent 3 years as Vice President Global Engagement at CASE.  Tricia’s role at JS Group focuses on scoping, developing and implementing innovative new services at the graduate employment stage of the JS Group student journey.

Tricia works for JS Group on a part-time basis alongside her existing consultancy business TKCC that she established in 2019

Brad Bence

Brad Bence

IT Director

Brad heads up the IT team at JS Group and is responsible for the development of the Aspire platform and our data and analytics strategy.

Julie Walkling

Julie Walkling

Director of Academic Partnerships

Julie joined JS Group in 2020 and works with current and potential HE partners to ensure we are providing the maximum benefit to them and their students. Bringing over 25 years knowledge and experience of HE, she was Executive Director for Students at the Royal Agricultural University, and Director of Student Services at Anglia Ruskin University and London Metropolitan University. Julie is a former Chair and Executive Member of AMOSSHE. She is currently Deputy Chair of the Trustee Board at Exeter Students’ Guild and will be joining Council at the University of Gloucestershire on 1st August 2021.

Michael Thorne

Michael Thorne CBE

Strategic Advisor to the Board

Professor Michael Thorne has worked at UCL and Cardiff University, and was Pro Vice Chancellor at Sunderland, Vice Principal at Napier in Edinburgh, Vice Chancellor at the University of East London and prior to his recent retirement, Vice Chancellor at Anglia Ruskin University. He has chaired the government’s Advisory Committee on Libraries, the Parliamentary Skills Commission’s enquiry into Information, Advice and Guidance and was a member of the Board of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. He has most recently been appointed as the new independent Chair of the Mid and South Essex NHS Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP).