Modest psychologist proudest of mental health contribution


PSYCHOLOGIST Sir Cary Cooper remains decidedly modest when it comes to his achievements.

Perhaps it's down to the fact that Los Angeles-born-and-raised Cary has lived in Britain for more than 50 years.

"I definitely feel more British as I have spent most of my adult life here," said Cary, the 50th anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Alliance Manchester Business School.

"I like the values system in Britain, more than the American one. I think America's values are more about money - and they don't have a public health service."

The 76-year-old was knighted in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours, yet insists people call him plain old 'Cary'.

He is a familiar face on television screens, is regularly heard across the airwaves, is the author of more than 120 books on occupational stress, women at work and industrial and organisational psychology and has written more than 400 articles for academic journals.

Cary is also the founding editor of the Journal of Organizational Behaviour and the International Journal of Management Reviews, co-editor of the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, The Royal Society of Arts, The Royal Society of Medicine, The Royal Society of Public Health and The British Academy of Management.

It is all a long way from his upbringing in California - where one of his school mates was Phil Spector, who would go on to find fame - and controversy - as a record producer.

Cary's father, Harry, was born in Ukraine before emigrating to Canada and then on to America.

The original family surname was either Kuperman or Cooperman - Cary is not sure.

His mother, Caroline, came from the Romanian city of Braila.

One of Cary's cousins is Pierre Moscovici, the French politician who is now the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs.

Cary grew up in east Los Angeles, which, in the 1940s, was home to many Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.

"Soon afterwards, many of the Jewish families started to move to West Hollywood," he recalled. "The Jews who stayed behind started to encounter a lot of prejudice from the Mexican-Americans. They would attack us and ask us for money."

Eventually, his father, who owned a barbershop, moved the family to West Hollywood.

Cary attended Fairfax High School, whose alumni include Demi Moore, Mickey Rooney, David Arquette and Mila Kunis.

Spector and Cary worked together in the school library to make extra money.

"We did that because we both came from modest families," he explained. "It was usually just him and I in the library and I found him to be a very strange guy."

Spector is currently serving a life sentence for murder.

Cary has four half-siblings - as his father was married twice before - and a younger sister, Tabi, who is an actress.

He was raised in a Conservative Jewish home and was barmitzvah.

Cary may have grown up in Hollywood, yet having the film industry on his doorstep never felt anything but normal.

"I was actually an extra in a couple of films," he recalled.

"Film people would come to the school and offer you 25 bucks and lunch to dress up as an extra.

"It was not a big deal for me - I guess you can compare it to growing up in Stoke and being surrounded by the ceramics industry."

He went on to read economics at the University of California and then enrolled in the US Navy, as he would have been drafted as a reserve otherwise due to the escalating situation in Vietnam.

Cary worked in naval photographic intelligence and was serving during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles in the country - 90 miles from the Florida coast.

"I can't talk too much about it," Cary said. "However, it was a frightening time and I was scared to death.

"I was actually given a leave of absence for the weekend to go and say goodbye to my parents because we really did not know what was going to happen.

"It really was close to a third world war and I don't think many people realise that."

Cary took an MBA which involved studying behavioural science, psychology and sociology.

Taken under the wing of Fred Massarik, a Jewish professor originally from Prague, he was sent to Leeds, in 1964, as part of a project at the city's university.

And, leaving Los Angeles for 1960s Leeds proved to be a big culture shock.

"It was horrible - you wouldn't believe it," Cary remembered.

"I lived in Chapeltown and it was a poor area, so much so that some of the street lights were actually powered by gas. It was also a red-light district.

"Me and another American kid, Mel Berger, rented a property where we had to put our mattresses on the floor to sleep. It was dilapidated and horrendous."

After two years in West Yorkshire, he moved to the University of Sussex to work as a research assistant. There, he worked with the Viennese Jewish social psychologist Marie Jahoda.

"She was a brilliant woman, although we talked very little of us being Jewish," Cary said.

"There was one moment, during the 1967 Six-Day War, which will always stay with me. There was a lot of tension on campus between the Jewish and Arab students.

"I was walking across campus and Marie was coming towards me. We both stopped and she hugged me. It was about us both wondering whether Israel would survive.

"It was a powerful moment and we both had tears in our eyes as we walked away. It still brings tears to my eyes talking about it."

Cary spent six years in Sussex before moving along the south coast to become a lecturer in social psychology at the University of Southampton.

From there he was headhunted for a position at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).

He was married to first wife, June, at the time, with whom he had two children, Scott and Beth.

Grandfather-of-two Cary is now married to Rachel, with a further two children.

Cary, who lives in Poynton, Cheshire, said: "The guy who headhunted me was Roland Smith, who later went on to become chairman of Manchester United PLC.

"He was a Catholic, but a philo-semite - he was really into the Jewish community and knew everybody.

"He became my closest friend and I was closer to him than I was to my own father.

"Roland took me on a tour of Manchester and I was given a suite in the Midland Hotel which was bigger than my house.

"Roland also an arranged an interview for me, without me knowing, with UMIST chancellor Lord Bowdon.

"I was in trouble with my wife because she did not know I was in Manchester for an interview."

Unusually for those days, he was offered a professorship at only 33 and became head of the Manchester School of Management within UMIST.

Cary went on to become pro-vice-chancellor and then deputy vice-chancellor at UMIST prior to its merger with Manchester University in 2004.

He also played a key role in creating the Manchester Federal School of Business and Management.

Cary and his family settled in Wilmslow, Cheshire - and he became a dedicated fan of Manchester City. He has a season ticket at the club's Etihad Stadium.

After UMIST, Cary moved to Lancaster University before returning to Manchester last year.

A professor of organisational psychology and health, his research looks at occupational or organisational health.

"One in four people suffer from a common mental disorder, such as anxiety, stress and depression," he explained.

"In the workplace, it is the leading reason for sickness absence and it costs the British economy 27 billion per year, if not more.

"Constant long working hours means that person will become ill. I have done lots of research on this.

"Britain has the longest working hours in the European Union. Bosses need to hire managers who are socially and interpersonally sensitive.

"The best way to manage is to people-praise and reward - and not constantly fault-find. Bad management causes people to become ill."

Such is his expertise, Cary published a major report for the EU's European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Work Conditions on Stress Prevention in the Workplace and produced a scientific review for the World Health Organisation on workplace violence in the health sector internationally.

In 1999, Cary, together with Ivan Robertson, set up Robertson Cooper, which helps organisations to measure, build and maintain psychological well-being for individuals, teams and companies.

Are Jewish people more prone to mental illness?

It's an interesting question, according to Cary. He explained: "Jews, generally, are high achievers and are more prone to Type A behaviour, as we are impatient and ambitious. They are very Jewish characteristics.

"If you demonstrate Type A behaviour, you are six-and-a-half times more likely to have a heart attack."

Cary describes himself as culturally-Jewish and proud to be Jewish and has visited Israel for both pleasure and work purposes.

Despite being awarded a CBE in the 2001 Queen's Birthday Honours, as well as his knighthood, Cary said his proudest honour is his contribution to mental health.

He was the lead scientist to the UK Government Office for Science on their Foresight programme on Mental Capital and Well Being.

"I helped to change laws regarding mental health," Cary added.

"How many times can you say that about yourself and know that you have made a difference?"

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph