Breaking up, breaking out.

By 1970, on the surface everything for me was on the up and up. But underneath, on the business front, I was becoming increasingly worried, believing the company needed drastic remedial action if it were not to exhaust the Group's patience as well as its available funding. I fully realised that one of the prime responsibilities of leadership consists of engendering positivism amongst the troops, even when things are patently negative. Nevertheless I was becoming mighty tired of warming my own and everybody else's hands in front of burning fires.

The Lily Cups tipping point for me came first thing one cold winter's Tuesday morning. I had just been telephoned by some poor coffeee bar owner in London, emotionally much disturbed, shouting and swearing about how, because of bloody Lily Cups he had nothing to sell in the way of hot drinks even after one broken delivery promise after another. At that point in walked my Director - I have to say my mentor and my friend - all fired up because he'd heard one of my salesmen talking to sales administration  'from his f...... home, Bryan! Get the bastard out on the road,' he shouted. I then did something that I might have lived to regret. Instead of biting the bullet and thinking of job, wife, fifteen and eleven year old daughters and eight and five year old sons, not to mention the mortgage and the overdraft (in that order) I said not a word but instead picked up my coat and drove my very nice company car homewards.

After arriving and revealing all to an astonished, supportive yet understandably concerned Joan I sat down and wrote an eight page handwritten letter to Sir John Foster Robinson, Group Chairman. (How often and with such yearning have I wished I had retained a copy of that letter. Although I say it myself, it was probably my masterpiece!) It took me two hours and then I at once walked over the road, bought a stamp, stuck it on and slipped the envelope into the letter box.

Now I could smell the bridges burning. I had whistle blown full blast so the upper ranks must and did close against me. Less than a week later the company chauffeur, Mick, arrived to collect the firm's car. (Yes, the near bankrupted company's chauffeur, for God's sake!) I remember him muttering something supportive as he surreptitiously slipped me a note from my pal the personnel director enclosing a cutting from that very day's jobs pages in the Daily Telegraph. (More on that later). In fact the sender broke ranks to come around to see me not long afterwards. He told me privately that the Board had convened three days after I had vacated the premises. They were to work out the correct strategy to bring me without loss of anyone's face back into the fold. It seems they had been expecting me to walk back in of my own volition, full of apologies which would then be generously accepted. Normal service would be resumed. Unfortunately it seemed that meeting was interrupted by a phone call from the Chairman and the Group M.D. Lloyd Robinson. The call was taken in private by my local MD so I shall never know what was 'discussed'!

Lily Cups and Containers (England) Limited lasted just over three more years before it closed its doors and let go everyone still remaining. I genuinely took then, and I take now, no satisfaction in reporting this fact. On the contrary I could damn near have cried about it at the time. Ten years of my life - and a good life for me and my family and my team - unnecessarily gone to hell and damnation. Five years or so later when I was staying overnight in Liverpool I was driven out to the old Lily Cups industrial site by my local guy, Alec Matthewson. Nobody stopped us entering because the factory / office gates were hanging off. All was overgrown with weeds, littered with broken glass and rubble - and with some choice graphitti on the factory walls and on the inside and outside walls of that damned directors' dining room. End of that story.

Earlier I mentioned a certain message and jobs cutting fed to me by a friend. I always had the feeling that few if any of my contacts in the trade or my new colleagues ever believed I had not been head hunted before I walked away from Lily Cups. But I wasn't! That Telegraph cutting advertising a sales manager position was in fact pure co-incidence! Sales manager of a non-existent company that was planning to produce plastic and paper cups 'somewhere in England'! Apply to Sir Julian Salmon, Jermyn Street, London W.1.. Wnthin a week of leaving Lily I entrained to London to be interviewed in his dauntingly upmarket office by Sir Julian (Of the J.Lyons Group family). Within another week I had (a) had a long telephone conversation with Sir Julian's partner and friend in America - President of Maryland Cup Corporation, Mr Henry Shapiro. (b) Endured exhaustive three day medical / psychological tests in London and Lancashire, (c) been offered the job at a higher salary than that which I had abandoned and a top of the range Ford Zodiac, etc. The following week I was on the plane to Baltimore. Something called their 'College of Product Knowledge' beckoned. Very American.  More next time on that adventure.

Even more of an Americanism was the name chosen for the new UK venture; "Sweetheart Plastics." When I put down the phone on my 'acceptance speech' Joan was ecstatic. 'What's the company to be called?' she finally asked. 'Sweetheart Plastics',  I responded. She hesitated for a moment, then; 'How embarrassing. Thank God you've joined in time to change the name,' she said. But I wasn't and furthermore I wouldn't - attempt to change the name. What stays in the mind first and best, I asked myself; Sweetheart Plastics or Gosport Plastics?

I spent the next month in the States, learning and getting to know products and people. The sheer scale of everything Stateside was breathtaking. My excitement ratchetted up. By the time I returned home Lily was but a distant and actually quite an irrelevant memory. I felt like a bright and shining new star - or at least that I was riding on one. Of course whether or not I was remained to be seen!.


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