Money in and money out

January 1990: It's after midnight and I'm in Riyadh airport awaiting my flight home to England having just finished my second assignment for Almarai Dairy. Consulting work is now beginning to open up for me both in Saudi and in England; a veritable sunflower opening up to the new light of a new day. Sipping a coffee I begin a casual conversation with an Indian businessman, a total stranger. I tell him of my hopes. What will you be calling your business ? he asks. Bryan Islip Business Industries, I say. He shakes his head. It is too much. The acronym Bibs is better. He makes a peculiar kind of humming drone deep in his throat, then says,. yes, 'Bibs'; It is good karma. Thus is born Bibs-industry Ltd, co-owners Bryan and Delia Islip of Winchester, UK and wherever else we wanted to base ourselves, especially in the Middle East; downtown Riyadh for a start.

All money is real but several times in my self-employed consultancy career in the late eighties and nineties I generated opportunities to make what is often called 'real money'. In 1990 'Bib-seal' was the first. A contact had let me know that Coca-Cola was on the lookout for promotional ideas. I looked again at the familiar paper Coke cup with its essential hollow base. Could I think of a cost effective way to enclose that space? If so something 'promotional' could be encloses; perhaps a party balloon or Christmas cracker type gizmo, joke etc? The cup was made of PE coated paper. Perhaps I could heat seal PE coated aluminium foil to the PE coated bottom rim of the cup? Dee and I did a lot of kitchen experiments on our ironing board. It worked! Through a Coca-Cola marketing agency I presented my concept. They went for it straight away - an order for five million Bib-tabbed 12 ounce cups, foil underseal specially printed with a one in a thousand prize number for the upcoming World football Cup to be held in Italy. I hot-footed it to London's Chancery Lane and the dusty old office of John Orchard, a wonderfully intelligent man and one of the country's leading patent agents. Just for my interest John took me around to the massive UK Patents Office, showing me some of the old documents appertaining to historically important inventions, James Watts' steam engine amongst them. The Bib-seal patent was duly applied for and the required world-wide searches for conflicting patents began to take place .

It was only a few months months to the World Cup. Not having half a lifetime ironing Bib-seals on to five million paper cups I drew up the outline of a small rotary machine. Perhaps it would do the job. Dee and I went up to Cheshire to a suitable machinery manafacturer and persuaded them to rent us five of their specially modified machines with a promise to purchase them later, if and when the Bib-seal concept worked. Next I short term rented a factory in Devizes. I had got to know and to like a bright young man called Tony when I'd worked at at Dolphin. He agreed to come on board to manage our operation. We then hired twenty or so young students plus other unemployed males and females - enough to run our unit round the clock, seven days a week for two months.

Everything worked, if not exactly to plan. Much nail-biting in fact but we met our Coca-Cola deadlines. True, our costs exceeded our income of £93,000 by a few thousand. It had been a very steep learning curve but now at least we were in business. I had begun to negotiate new Bib-seal orders home and abroad when the ceiling fell in. A friend in the USA, Dick Folkoff, who had been in the cups business as long as me, pointed out some what is called 'prior art'. Apparently a US patent twenty five years old. Although it had proven redundant for technical reasons it was close enough to obviate my UK application. Anybody could do what I had done without paying me a penny. In fact the patent holder could sue me (but luckily did not) for a lot of money. Goodbye Bib-seal. Nothing new under the sun?

Altogether the early nineties were for me a relative calm after the furore of the eighties and the earlier pressures of the seventies. I was spending most of my time earning a good and most satisfying living in the Middle East, based first in Riyadh, next in Al Khobar and latterly in Bahrain. But my consultancy business also took me to every part of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to all other parts of the Arab world as well as to packaging and packaging related machinery companies all over Europe. Quite early on I needed to bring in some of my old business friends to help me establish 'Bibs' both at home and abroad. For Saudi Arabia in particular Tim Henderson-Ross joined us, and in our newly implanted Winchester office, Jane Green, ex buyer for Marks & Spencer agreed to manage things mostly with Delia. Several others also came on board, most often on an irregular assignment basis.

Exciting times but I think, on reflection, the good old trap of one bridge too far. In the course of my consulting work I had several opportunities to become exclusive agent for European packaging and packaging machinery companies. I had the contacts and these companies had the needed products. Very rewarding of course. An agent's ten percent of  a machinery installation that could easily run into hundreds of thousands of pounds sterling is not to be easily ignored. But the problem for my consultancy in becoming an agent for a packaging or packaging machinery manufacturer was that in so doing I might all too easily compromise - or at least appear to compromise - my consultancy position. After all, as genuinely hard as I tried to be impartial in giving my advice, one can hardly be seen to be totally pbjective if one has potentially a large reward for favouring one potential supplier's product over another's when one is agent for the former! Especially so if said agency is 'undeclared'. I decided early on to restrict Bibs-industry to only four agencies but even so it is fair to say that although these agencies yielded me a lot of money, in the end they landed me with more problems than benefits. Oh well, we all make mistakes. Don't forget I was operating in a region where all kinds of commissions and what we (and Sepp Blatter) would call back-handers was the perfectly normal order of the day!  Having said as much, I can add with hand on heart and not wishing to appear holier than thou that I was myself neither giver nor receiver of any such unearned largesse. 

Typical of this dangerous dichotomy, Almarai took my advice to re-equip their milk bottling plant with stretch-sleeving (i.e. labelling) machinery made by a French company called PDC. Dee and I had become good friends with the owners, Jean-Claude and Margaret. We were now the Middle East agent for PDC as well as for the actual stretch sleeve material as made by Bob Barratt's UK company, EPS. That proved to be a very good investment for my Saudi client and an equally good one for Bibs-industry. My mistake was that I did not declare my interests in PDC and EPS at the beginning, which led to a nasty situation with my Irish management friends in Almarai. By that time I had become virtually part of the Almarai family, often accompanying them to rugby matches in Paris, London and Dublin, playing poker and brag and partying with them in their residential compounds in Riyadh and so on. Although |I continued for years to work with Almarai, especially on the packaging innovation and design front, the relationship and degree of trust could never again be quite the same. Not helping matters as regards my impartiality, my consulting services were soon in high demand by virtually all of Almarai's Middle Eastern dairy competitors and half the plastics packaging manufacturers trying to get a foothold in the region.

Life for expatriates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could be extremely pleasant. The authorities make sure that each residential compound is home only to those of similar nationality or culture. Therefore you would find a compound for say Pakistanis next door to one for Europeans, although never the twain shall meet. I remember walking around his compound one evening with Brian Mullally. Noting that an adjacent compound for Asians I remarked on how surprised I was that the Pakistanis had such a love for dogs, several of which were chained up outside the huts.  Brian looked at me strangely. Bryan, he said, they certainly do like their dogs. They like to eat them!

A European or American compound would be very well appointed with its own restaurant, swimming pool, post office, shop etc.The air-conditioned houses were generally of a high standard and many expatriates had their wives with them, some even their children for whom special schooling was provided. Weekend parties were the order of the day. Of course there are two things that are not permitted, even on the compounds. Alcohol is one and any religion other than Islam is the other. Discovery of being in possession of an alcoholic drink or a Holy Bible leads to prison and a quite terrifying entanglement with Shariah Law. A senior manager friend (not at Almarai!) fell foul of this and it was his experience in a Saudi jail that formed the start point of my first published novel, More Deaths Than One. Yet, (would you believe!), alcohol was commonly distilled in the compounds and mixed with Pepsi Cola to produce a noxious, fairly powerful drink they call 'Sid'.

I remember one hilarious occurance on a compound when dozens of fermentation glass bottles actually exploded. The roof of the bungalow literally lifted then settled down about five centimetres out of place leaving the window curtains trapped half inside the building and half outside. As for religion, of course the internet covers all and any religion in which one could possibly have an interest, try as hard as the locals might to censor it.

By 1993 Tim and I had our own villa in the Dwidag compound, he living there more or less full time and myself commuting to and from Winchester. Life was an adventure new each day. Our Winchester office was well up and running under Jane Green - Delia's O Level accounting skills to the fore! The consultancy was doing well, having branched out into packaging design and associated graphics and our agencies were lucrative and blossoming. All seemed set fair. Then I flew home to meet my friend and mentor Bob Barratt at EPS in Leicester. My proposal; why not set up stretch-sleeve manufacture in Saudi Arabia close by the dairy and soft drinks markets instead of importing the product into Saudi Arabia from the UK with all the attendant hassle? Bob agreed to make me a director of his company and I would manage the new venture in 'The Kingdom'. All we needed was the right Saudi national as sponsor. Enter Sheik Faisal. 

Not content with being agent, business consultant, packaging inventor, designer and super salesman I was now to become a manufacturer. A bridge too far? Delia thought so but I was able to talk her round to the idea of becoming rich instead of merely earning a good lifestyle. I should have listened to her.

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