Air Marshal Black Robertson
Like his father, a decorated WWII Spitfire ace, Black Robertson’s story is one of extraordinary good fortune – indeed, his RAF career has its origins in an administrative error. He entered the RAF College Cranwell under false pretences, lacking the requisite academic qualifications – circumstances that forced him to adopt a work ethic that served him well. He eventually retired as an air marshal, having flown all the RAF’s fast jets and latterly qualified as a helicopter pilot. Five tours – ten years as a Whitehall warrior – were penance for the privilege of command at almost every level. Sheer enjoyment, sport, a love of flying and working with high calibre individuals were constants throughout a 36-year career. Twin highlights were his time commanding No. 92 Squadron, a unit with a proud history, and his appointment as an ADC to HM The Queen.
After leaving the RAF Black continued to work at the highest politico-military level nationally and internationally. More than 20 years in business led to a new career as a writer and speaker. On reflection, much of what he learned has been subconscious, osmotic even, coming from working closely with dedicated professionals and talented teams. The successes he’s enjoyed have come mainly from making the best of such talents as he, and others, possessed. If in a sense leadership came naturally, by force of circumstance, it’s a quality honed by a willingness to learn from mistakes. The keys have been honesty, self-criticism and a readiness to acknowledge errors.
Experience – and people – were his teachers. And he learned from the best, both in the air and on the ground. A surprising early influence was the Rt Hon John Smith QC, the Labour leader who died prematurely in 1994. During a week’s court martial defending a 92 Squadron crew, he demonstrated an openness, sense of humour and ability to relate to others that provided an eye-opening lesson.
Eschewing the theoretical and cleaving to the practical, Black’s own humanity, plus a fund of amusing anecdotes, form the basis of his recent success. That said, dealing with tragedy and loss – an inevitable concomitant of military life – highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence too. Latterly he came to understand the value of this underrated and arguably inadequately understood quality. It’s one that enables him to hold, amuse and inspire any audience.
‘What a splendid evening you gave us yesterday - Mary and I are most grateful to you. We thought your talk immensely entertaining; it was perfectly pitched and delivered with great style.’
The Lord Stirrup of Marylebone
‘Black is an engaging and passionate speaker, with the right balance of thoughtful reflection and humour. After the two talks Black has conducted for the Royal Air Force Museum the feedback has been immensely positive and guests have particularly commented on how interesting the talks were and what a good speaker he is.’
Vikki Hibbert, Head of Events and Catering RAF Museum