John Kay was born in Edinburgh, and attended school and university there, where he was drawn to economics by the notion that one might understand society better through the application of rigorous and logical analysis. After a period of study and teaching at Oxford University, he became Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, where he established it as one of Britain’s most respected think tanks.
He then shifted emphasis from public finance to business economics, taking a chair at the London Business School and establishing an economic consultancy, London Economics, which grew rapidly and provided a platform from which he gained experience both of running a small business and of the activities of large business: experience enhanced by non-executive roles in several companies and assignments for a variety of governments.
In 1996 he was attracted to the idea of establishing a business school at Oxford University and spent three years as founding Director of the Said Business School. Since leaving that institution in 1999, he has focused on more popular writing, contributing a weekly column to the Financial Times and publishing several books.