Anyone for libel?

Meanwhile, back int he ranch house ... by 1982 Sweetheart International had made a good, profitable recovery from the country's financial trials and tribulations. In fact all was going swimmingly apart from the seemingly constant changes in ownership and its directorate.

As I have previously written, Sir Julian Salmon had years ago sold out his initial fifty percent to Malcolm Bates, a prime City of London predator specialising in buying and 'turning around' small and medium sized privately owned companies like ours using cash-laden industrial pension fund money so to do. I parenthesised - and now italicise turning around because all too often the only beneficiary turned out to be the sleight of hand turning arounder! Those other two stakeholders, namely the company's customers and its employees, were always of minimal interest, so often emerging the worse for such 'buyouts'. Bates's second in command was one Alan Mathewman, who gave me a copy of his just published book aptly entitled The Genghis Khan Way of Business (or similar). He it was who dropped me like the proverbial hot brick after I said no to his attempts to parachute me as managing director into a struggling Yorkshire paint company. A refusal that may be difficult to comprehend in these job-hopping days, I know. Insufficiency of personal ambition? Perhaps, but I had my very disabled wife and my very able Delia to consider. Besides, having spent ten high pressure years building a manufacturing business from a green field start, and by now being the only surviving founder director, (apart from Henry Shapiro in the USA), I had developed a certain love for and a great deal of pride in 'my' company and its growing assembly of employees, most notably those in sales and marketing. Finally, in spite of all its problems my family and I had settled well into life in Lee-on-Solent. I didn't fancy exchanging it for a life in industrial Yorkshire, even though Joan was still very much my Yorkshire lass.

Nevertheless, having turned down that head-hunter approach (amongst others) I knew I had to forget about any ambition of becoming what my friend Ted Pool sarcastically asked' Bryan, what the hell you want to be; Chief Executive of the Western World or something? Nevertheless, to paraphrase Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, I have sometimes wondered whether; 'I could have been a contender'. Probably not.

My original MD, Alan Watchman, had been fired by Bates and replaced by Lionel Klackan, ex of Lyons Maid, the ice cream company. I asked the visiting Americans why they had not put me in charge, for I was generally seen as deputy to the incumbent managing director. Mort Gilden gave me a response, at first enigmatic; We wanted someone to come behind you turning off the lights, Bryan. The implication being that I had been coming up with bright ideas and that mysterious element called leadership but that I was not good enough at controlling the costs arising. Totally unjustified of course! Anyway I got on very well with Lionel, an extremely clever man even if one never emotionally attached to the company and one who never did move domestically to the Gosport area, preferring his veritable mansion on St George's Hill, Weybridge. Perhaps he sensed that the occupants of this Sweetheart International seat would always have a limited shelf-life. Certainly I saw whole succession of manufacturing and financial directors come and go as well as these bosses. I will though, say this; having worked in close quarters with everybody inside and connected to the company since its inception, the original directorate, had it been allowed to stay together, would have resulted in a much bigger and better and more profitable company than the one I finally left - or who finally left me - in 1987. As sizeable and profitable as it was at that time.

This all-too-destructive hire and fire philosophy succeeded in implanting in me serious doubts about my nation's Thatcher-inspired industrial destruction in favour of her soon to be de-regulated City of London. How, I wondered, could anyone, greengrocer's daughter or not, fail to see that the only long term source of my country's financial wellbeing lay - past, present and future - in the invention and manufacturing of things? Instead she handed over the keys of the nation's treasury to the sharp-suited 'City of London' and then spent the rest of her tortured life (and ours to date) wondering why they wanted to rob us blind with perfect impunity. This was the beginning of my slowly hardening conviction that both Westminster and The City were (and very much still are) in urgent need of radical reform.

Anyway it was now Lionel's turn to be parachuted out of Sweetheart International. The man coming in as MD was one Mike Townsend, previously head buyer of one of our larger customers, Express Dairies. This appointment made zero sense to me or,  I suspect, to anyone else bar Mr Bates and Mr Townsend. I'm not going to dwell on this. Mike was a perfectly good man but one without the necessary abilities to lead and direct the operations of a company now well into eight figures of sales and seven figures of profit, a company that had built itself a beautiful new factory in Gosport together with extensive new offices and warehousing. Mike had never been anywhere this close to the industrial pit-face. Suffice to say that when the City powers-to-be decided his time was up they made a special journey to his hospital bedside in order to 'let him go'. He was suffering an agony of spinal pain at the time. Nice people!

By the mid-eighties the Wall Street vultures were circling over everything in sight, even over the Shapiro brothers' mighty Maryland Cup Corporation, by then a publicly owned U.S. Corporation and still the owner of half of Sweetheart International. One had a distinct sense that the roof was about to fall in on fifteen years and all the fears and tears of our Gosport endeavour. Although I do not remember feeling it too much at the time, looking back I must have been under a great deal of stress. In spite of my high earnings my bank account was for ever in the red and Joan's condition was deteriorating steadily, now requiring round the clock care. That placed a great strain on the rest of the family - both those still (on and off) at home and those now living their own family lives away from Gosport. To add to the generally surrounding unease Bates sold out to another and even bloodier financial entity headed by one Bill Fieldhouse with his deputy - then our brand new MD, the accursed Roberto Gasparini, a man of nil morality and a business intelligence straight out of Harvard and Pampers. He/they should have stayed in baby nappies and kept out of my bloody sight.

One day I asked to meet Chairman Fieldhouse and went up to the City so to do. That was a lunch which might have been orchestrated by Salvador Dali. My host started off on a long and rambling yarn about how he, as a teenager in backstreet Manchester, used to see his mother unlocking the front room door whenever visitors appeared. The room had one of those picture rails running all around, on it rows of ceramic plates. Mother, why put t' plates on t' picture rail, asked Bill, verbalising what the guests were thinking, he told me. Because it gives folk summut t' think about, responded mother. Bewildered but unbowed  I moved on to the reason for my request for the meeting but his answers were so vague, so arrogant, so uncaring and so convoluted that I might as well have been addressing him in the secure ward of a mental hospital. Nevertheless he can't have been as stupid as he had sounded for when we returned to his elegant offices I could not help noticing the four original Lowry paintings of the industrial north, each of them with their scurrying stick figures, I knew, worth six figures and up.

In 1985 Maryland Cup Corp, together with all we little fishes, was bought out in the States first by the bog roll company, Fort Howard. All too soon after that Fort Howard itself together with its eccentric founder, Paul Schirl fell to a pair of financial whizz kids operating under the wing of that thrice accursed merchant bank, Morgan Stanley. I had a great admiration for Schirl, who was said to have dropped out of Yale in order to create Fort Howard of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The multi-millionaire came to the UK at least twice, on both occasions turning up at a Gosport Board meeting without any papers, open-necked shirted, wearing jeans and with feet encased in gym shoes. In the next episode I'll tell you about this, and about The Last Supper - one that all present will never forget.

Anyone for libel?










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