From the time I left school in 1945 until my retirement from Evode I have always been associated with companies which manufactured plastic products or chemicals used in the plastics industry apart from a two and one half year gap doing my national service in the Royal Navy. Along the way I gained a qualification in the chemistry of high polymers and plastics technology. Basically this was the chemistry which made Evode products possible.
By early 1968 I had been employed by Albright & Wilson, Oldbury, Worcestershire for seven years. A&W were the primary manufacturers of phosperous based chemicals in the UK but also made a very wide range of chemicals for other industries. I was employed in the Technical Service Department developing stabilisers for polyvinyl chloride polymers, flame retardant polymers and heat resistant plastics materials. In this capacity I worked closely with the sales personnel and a lot of business was done in Europe, particularly the Eastern block so I travelled extensively promoting company products. The Group consisted of a number of subsidiary companies and rationalisation was taking place bringing about changes which were not to my liking and I thought it about time for a change.
I saw an advert in one of the chemical magazines for chemists to join Evode and so I applied for an interview. In fact I had two, the first being for a chemist to take charge of the laboratory which dealt with the shoe industry, a job which went to Ernest Webb who had years of experience in the shoe trade and was well conversant with materials, systems and adhesives products used and was much better qualified than I was for the position. However at the first interview, conducted by Dr Simon and Vasek Vohralik, it was mentioned that there was a vacancy for a chemist to set up and head a laboratory devoted to dealing with technical problems experienced by overseas licensees, and, as I had a smattering of a couple of foreign languages and had travelled in Europe, would I be interested? This offer seemed to be an interesting challenge so back I came for a second interview at Common Road, Dr Simon’s office was now becoming a familiar place and in years to come was much more so, and I landed the position which was to prove a very rewarding experience in many different ways.
When people at Albright & Wilson learned where I was going they thought that I was staying within the A&W Group. The reason for this was that A&W had a manufacturing plant in Canada called The Electric Reduction Company of Canada (Ercona) and some years previously Evode had entered into an agreement with A&W to set up an adhesives company which was called Ercona Adhesives, but this was as far as the cooperation went. Later the company name was changed to Drecona and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Evode.
Prior to joining Evode on the 2nd October 1968 I attended an interview in London with a psychiatrist to be given a clean bill of health, fit to join the company.
Before I even knew what my new job was all about it was deemed, and quite rightly, that I needed to acquire some technical background and so I spent the first couple of month in the Technical Service Laboratory under the wings of the likes of Clive Beard, Maurice Chard and John Birtles, who, I must admit gave me a good basis to begin what was often, at the outset, a confusing introduction into an unknown world. While this was going on a minuscule ‘laboratory’ was being prepared for my activities in the main laboratory block, adjacent to the office of the chief chemist John Chard who gave me help and succour as long as I had the privilege to call him ‘friend’. In my early days, and later when we worked for Evode Export he was always on hand to give advice and assistance. Joan Stanley also offered valuable assistance in helping me to get to know people in the organisation and their functions. Other laboratory personalities who come to mind are Kate Geary and Barbara Flowers, Bob Bates, Alan Turner and Brian Middleton. Under the stewardship of John the laboratory fraternity was a very sociable group. We did a lot of partying.
When Evode was finding its feet Dr Simon gave thought to how the company could obtain business overseas. Having representatives who were conversant with business and building systems in the various European countries, in particular and who could speak the languages fluently was going to prove costly. He therefore hit upon the idea of appointing licensees who, in return for a negotiated retainer, would be given permission to manufacture Evode products and sell them to specifically agreed markets, using the Evo-Stik brand name. The first licensee was signed up in Finland in 1949 and the method of generating revenue by this means took off from there. To the end of his life Dr Simon took great interest in what was going on in the Licensee companies and before every visit and after my return he would ask me to go to his office to give him a detailed account of their activities.
In part, the administrative machinery for dealing with licensees was already in place when I arrives in 1968. Basically it consisted of one person Beryl Heath, working part time, who dispensed information to the overseas companies on, roughly, a quarterly time scale. She, however, was reliant upon the various laboratory managers to feed the information to her and a lot of her time was spent chasing these people up. Pert of my job would be to keep close contact with the laboratories on the day-to-day work which was going on so that it could be relayed to the licenees at an appropriate time. Additionally, it quickly became obvious that the building methods used in the different countries varied from those employed in UK, which demanded different types of adhesives and sealing compounds prepared from local raw materials, where possible, and these could be quite different from those used by Evode and lead to different product characteristics. This then was what the Licensee Laboratory function would be, to attempt to reconcile these various problems.
It was also essential that I had a working knowledge of the processes used in the factory to manufacture Evo-Stik products so I spent a lot of time watching and learning how the operatives worked which of course bought me close to them and to their supervisors, I had to repeat the exercise when I became responsible for the automotive products at a later date
I have a list of licensees dated March 1971 which reads as follows:
|Chemotchnica-Sintyl S. A.||Argentina|
|Drecona||Canada (a wholly owned subsidiary)|
|Valke Osakyehtio||Finland (the first Licensee)|
|N.V. Simson||Holland and Germany|
|Lloyd Bitumen Products||India|
By this time we had lost Werner & Mertz in Germany.
There was also the licensee which we kept very quiet about for political reasons and that was Verolit in Israel. In the mid-1970’s we added a licensee in South Africa but during this period others had began to drift away from the fold for reasons which will be explained later.
By 1969 it was becoming obvious that the small area of space available to us was totally inadequate as was the new single additional chemist, Alec Page, who worked with me on the licensee problems so the decision was taken to build a new laboratory in an existing building next to the Technical Service Laboratory. This laboratory was ready by mid 1970 and a team of dedicated chemists, Brian Newbold, Ken Hanlon and our first lady chemist Ijke Cooper developed some unique formulations to cope with the variety of situations posed by our friends overseas. Ijke, sadly, was only with us for a couple of years, having to follow her husband to a new part of the country to which his job took him. She was replaced by an equally dedicated young lady Christine Fleming, who is still with the company. The floor of the lab was coated with one of the Allweather Evode floor paints and Ken, always one for a laugh, embedded a coin in the paint. It was amazing how many people tried, over the years, to pick it up. Eileen Harrison was our secretary, dealing efficiently with lots of technical reports and correspondence to our associates all over the world.
On a regular basis we entertained visitors from the Licensee companies who visited Stafford to keep in touch with what was going on technically. Most frequent visitors were from Holland, Italy, Norway and Portugal and there was an exchange of personnel between Stafford and these companies, Geoff Richards going to Norway and then on to Finland, Alec Page to Simson and, or course, Bryan Pease who had been persuaded by V. Vohralik to leave his job in Chicago to join Drecona coming back eventually to Stafford. I made reciprocal visits to all of the European companies on a regular basis.
Before the days of the Licensee Laboratory these overseas trips were undertaken either by Dr Simon or V. Vohralik. I constantly found myself at a disadvantage during these visits because, in the eyes of the Licensee, I was the representative of Evode and consequently I should be able to answer any question on technical, commercial or policy matters which they cared to ask. Not only was I dealing with the technical people in these companies, which were relatively small and usually family owned and run, but with the people who made policy decisions which they felt should sometimes coincide with Evode thinking. But I was not a board member nor even a member of a senior management team at that time so, on a regular basis I found myself having to make excuses which did not always sit well, particularly with the likes of Mr Theodore Steenvoorden, the managing director of N.V. Simson.
As already mentioned, the conditions under which product made by overseas companies had to be used could be quite different from those experienced in UK and, from an economic point of view, it was in their interest to use locally available materials wherever possibly. Consequently they produced many unique products to meet more exacting situations than obtained in UK. These circumstances were all reported in detail after every visit but, in my opinion, we lost many opportunities to capitalise on information freely exchanged. Evode could have and should have taken advantage of the different technology.
In the early 1970’s two unique situation arose, one which affected the whole of the site and the other which affected the laboratory staff specifically. The first was the oil crisis in 1973 when the price of crude oil was escalating on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. During this period the whole of the laboratory staff abandoned development world and turned their attention to recosting products based on information on the movement of raw materials prices being fed to us by the Purchasing Dept. The miners strike, which I believe was in early 1974, affected the whole site from the point of view of availability of electric power. In order to keep abreast of the development work in hand, and only being able to work when power was available, a rota was drawn up to bring people into the site at weekends and so we attempted to introduce some continuity in a trying situation.
During early 1972 we acquired another licensee in South Africa which gave me the wonderful opportunity to spend a month in that country in various locations setting them up to manufacture similar products to ours and promoting the company to various industries. However, the Licensee system was under strain and the overseas companies were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the terms under which the agreements were being operated and there was constant pressure for them to be renegotiated. However, Evode had sighed up a licensee in Mexico, known as Evomex, and it was decided that I should spend some time in their factory to oversee the manufacturing processes, but first I had to have some basic Spanish in order to communicate. I recall a man called Bert coming to the site two days a week for a couple of hours to do the job. He had worked for English Electric in Argentina for many years and together with Beryl Heath and Harry Venton within a two year period we all took ‘O’ level Spanish and passed, but I never did get to go to Mexico.
Early on the 1970’s Evode Export had been set up under the managing director, David Dunlop. In 1976 the decision was taken by the Evode Board to close the Licensee Laboratory, transfer responsibility for licensee technical problems to the main Evode laboratory without any specific chemist having responsibility for the problems in hand nor a specific delegate to liaise with the Licensee, the costs being borne by Evode Export. Although Evode Export, although Evode Ltd., would still be the recipient of the Licensee income. This was done without any consultation with the people who had worked so closely with the Licensees for a number of years, nor were the Licensees themselves consulted or advised.
They were faced with a fait acompli. Needless to say this was the final straw so far as some of the Licensees were concerned.
When the laboratory closed the various chemists were absorbed into the main Evode Laboratory and I went to work with Evode Export as Technical Manager, responsible to John Chard, the Technical Director, which again gave me the opportunity to travel extensively into other parts of the world I had not seen before. One of the licensee companies which had disappeared was Dia Prosim in France. To retain a foothold in this market a company called Mendler Fils in Haguenau near to Starsbourg was bought by Evode Ltd., and I used to visit this company on a bimonthly basis to offer technical liaison. Not many of the people there could speak English so, over the three years or so that I was in close contact with them my French improved very much. In the relatively short term this arrangement did not work out. My feeling is that we should have put our own management team in there instead of leaving the incumbents to run the company after Evode became the owners. No-one asked opinions, although Tony Moreton, based there, reported back on a regular basis. This company we sold back to the original owners.
I believe that I was on a visit to Haguenau when Dr Simon was buried, so unfortunately I cold not attend the funeral.
About 1977 David Dunlop tendered his resignation as MD of Evode Export and left the company. There was a lull of a few months before another MD, Sydney Wynne-Simmons was appointed but in the meantime John Chard had run the export company without any problems arising. The appointment of Wynne-Simmons, who only lasted a matter of 18 months, raised doubts about the future of Evode Export as he was totally ineffective. There were people in senior management positions who had never agreed to the setting up of a separate export company, finally bringing in a man who was not up to the job after John Chard had put up such a good show in running the company. In 1979 the detractors had their way and Evode Export was wound up as a separate company, the sales, shipping and administration people reverted to Evode Ltd., directly responsible to Brian Fletcher but overseen by Bill Pitchford, John Chard became personal assistant to V. Vohralik and I went back to the general laboratory in Evode Ltd.
In effect I had no job, within the Evode Group nor any prospect of one, until Bill Pitchford persuaded Brian Fletcher to reintegrate me as Technical Manager in what had now become the Export Department. So I began to travel overseas once again on company business but I feel that, at this time, the greatest advantage I had was to work closely with Gordon Barratt who had been with the company for many years working specifically on the promotion of building products and I owe a lot to him for teaching me the ways of the very complicated building industry. I was, of course, reunited with old colleagues of Evode Export days, the long suffering Marion Bird, one of the best secretaries Evode ever had, Dick Read and Steve Leek, the sales people and Dave Whalley the shipping clerk, assisted by Sue Melbourne. We worked very well as a close team.
In June 1982 my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and within the first six months of her illness there was a rapid decline in her health. My days of overseas travel were over and I owe a great debt of gratitude to the company in general and Bill Pitchford in particular for the understanding, sympathy and assistance which I received over the seven years while my wife was alive. My technical path was about to go in another direction. Evode had acquired in the early 1980’s a company which manufactured products for the automotive industry, now being made on the Stafford site, and I was asked to assume responsibility for the liaison work between the laboratory development, sales staff and customers. This bought me into contact with the irrepressible Vin Hall who knew the automotive industry an the buying fraternity therein like the back of his hand, an the ladies in the progress office in the nether regions of the site who were always tolerant and helpful. I learned to get blood out of a stone, yesterday and it bought me into contact with production people in the factory who rarely failed to do their best to get products into the warehouse as quickly as possible. It was an invigorating experience visiting the likes of Austin Rover, Jaguar, Vauxhall, Ford and Nissan in the various locations and developing a technique to withstand the pressures applied by the buyer who were working to a ‘just in time’ programme, something which was new to Evode and which we had to learn to cope with rapidly. Towards the end of the 1980’s Tony Davison joined Evode from Austin Rover and, after working closely with him for a year or so he tool over the responsibility for the liaison with the automotive companies. In March 1989 my wife died and I was fortunate to be asked to join the export department once again.
I now assumed the role of manager of the Export Department, reunited with my old colleagues although I had worked from an office situated amongst them whilst I was looking after the automotive side of the business. Again I began to travel on company business, particularly in Europe, but one trip took me, together with Steve Leek, to Japan to talk to people at Toyota and Nissan, the former just about to establish a factory in Burton on Trent while the latter, long established in UK, was about to expand its production facility in the Sunderland area. I like to think that it was these exchanges that brought business to Evode in due course.
As all who worked for the company appreciated the early 1990’s had been a time of uncertainty with a hostile take-over bid to contend with and then protracted negotiations with Laporte. I felt myself lucky to be leaving the original Evode company as I did on 2nd December 1992. Although it had changed in so many ways over the years, it had given me many opportunities to extend my chemical and commercial knowledge and to travel extensively and acquire many memories. I do not believe that in any organisation one could have worked with such an amenable and pleasant group of people.
Travelling overseas is never as romantic or attractive as people who do not have to do it think it is. There are the early morning starts to catch a plane and the late night arrivals back home. There are the good memories and the bad. I was overawed by the shear size of the North Sea oil rig under construction which I visited in Stavanger, as I watched when John Chard and I unexpectedly came upon the vast stadium in Nuremburg where the rallies were held, playing cricket in broad daylight at 2am Egil Nordahl’s lawn on Oslo, riding the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka and seeing Mount Fuji in the distance, but being horrified when my passport was confiscated by an overzealous policeman at Teheran airport because the taxi drive had double parked. But that is export business.