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Export is Fun

My Export Career Begins

Mr. D.R.E. Ibbs’ personal memories of his 41 years with Chubb

The Export Department, comprised Ron Holley, the Export Director, Bob Palmer - Export Manager, John Benton, representative for the Caribbean and South America, Mike Fellows (a brilliant salesman and an old boy of the same grammar school that I attended) who dealt with Africa and the Far East, and Garry Owen who assisted Bob Palmer with the Middle East. Roy Eastwood was the office manager and Eric Coles(always known as the Colonel) assisted as export clerk.

 I was given the task of understudy to Mike Fellows, whose paperwork could only be described as chaotic. We were all crammed together on the third floor of a very small office block in Tottenham Court Road and although desks and chairs were provided for all, no thought was given to secretarial work. We were left to plead with the very busy shorthand typists, who looked after Holly, Palmer and Eastwood, for work which they could fit in. The net result was any hope I might have had of organising Fellows of his work was simply nonexistent. To fill our time, Fellows, Owen and myself spent far too much time in the Mortimer Arms pub across the street. Not that the management seem to mind - it probably gave them more space.

I found Holley very strange man who, although he had a very high reputation within the company, always seemed to me to be in a very advanced state of alcoholism. It was not until some 18 months later I discovered he was suffering from a hereditary nervous disorder, which ultimately brought about his untimely death .

After the discipline and direction of the banking office, I felt extremely bewildered and unhappy. This must have been conveyed to Bill Randall, who instructed Alec Booker to take lunch with me one day and offer return to the city office. I was very tempted but deciding that things could only get better, I fortunately declined the offer.

After I had been in the department some four weeks, Holley sent for Fellows and myself and advised Fellows that it was time I went overseas. He instructed Fellows to organise a suitable trip for me but gave no additional advice. As an afterthought, he inquired if I had  tropical clothing. I advised that I did not. As we were required to wear a suit when working overseas, irrespective of temperature, he instructed Fellows to write a note to a well-known (and very expensive) London tailor, ordering a new tropical suit for me, which was to be charged to the company account. Armed with this letter I was dispatched to be measured and fitted. The suit cost over 32 pounds, an outrageous amount I felt as I never paid more than 10 or 12 pounds for my own bespoke suits.

This led to a very unfortunate situation as, after my return from that first trip, Holly sent for me, complaining bitterly about the bill for the suit stating that even Mr George, the chairman, did not pay so much his clothes. I was furious and stiffly stated that I would reimburse the company. Fortunately, Leonard Dunham heard about this and intervened as otherwise due to my very low salary, I would have been out of pocket of months. This example typified the situation in the department at that time; no clear guidance and help for the younger staff from the management. I was determined that if ever gained a management position, I would treat my own staff very differently.

BOAC Comet

Old Parliament Building - Colombo

As instructed, I wrote a call record every week which was dispatched to the export director. The only replies I received however, was an acknowledgement of my letter and a list of the orders received in the department during the previous week. Fortunately, Fellows wrote several very amusing letters, having nothing to do with business, which greatly lifted my spirits.

My next port of call was Singapore, traveling on the very comfortable but notoriously unreliable Bristol Britannia.

On the way we flew through very severe turbulence in the Bay of Bengal, during which time a great many of the passengers and aircrew were air sick. I suffered no problems whatsoever and was extremely fortunate that throughout my working life, I never suffered from travel sickness.

It was during this leg of my journey that a very amusing experience befell me. On the aircraft I was seated next to a young man who told me that he worked for the Distillers Company and was on a similar trip to my own. He gave the impression that he was vastly  experienced in overseas travel. He inquired how I was carrying my money. I indicated that I had travellers cheques. With this he said I was extremely foolish and pulled from his pocket a wallet stuffed with American dollars and Swiss francs. I inquired whether this was not very dangerous but he stated that bychanging his funds on the black market, he had plenty of money to have a "good time". We parted company in Singapore, he to go to Seoul whilst my next destination was Manila, which he was due to visit later and where we shared the same agent, Warner Barnes. Some 10 days later, I was most amused to find the Distillers man, waiting to see the managing director of Warner's, as I came out. He looked extremely worried and sorry for himself . I inquired what had befallen him and he explained in Seoul his good time consisted of employing the services of a local prostitute, who during the night had decamped with his trousers and wallet containing all his travel funds. His meeting with Warners was to obtain an advance in order to complete his trip.

I later heard that the trip was in fact his first and his employers made little of his behaviour and fired him.

My a few days in Singapore proved very instructive. Our agents there, Sime Darby, employed many expatriates and one of these, John Woodhouse, dealt exclusively with our line. In view of the large amount of business produced from Singapore and Malaysia, Chubb made a contribution towards Woodhouse's salary, so that he could specialise in Chubb Security products.

As a salesman, he can have had few equals and although I felt that his product knowledge was somewhat poor, his confidence with prospects, his energy and work rate, made a profound impression on me. He realised that his own product knowledge was wanting, and the way that he brought me into his presentations to clients, gave me valuable clues as to how I could improve my own export selling techniques.

My journey to Manila proved to be unforgettable, mainly for the wrong reasons. The flight was on a PanAm Stratocruiser, the first of the double decker airliners, with a stop in Saigon, en route. Unfortunately, the arrival details given to Warner Barnes were incorrect as there had been a schedule change in early November, which resulted in the flight arriving one hour earlier than we had advised the agent. In addition, we had benefited from the effects of the strong tailwind , which resulted the aircraft, gaining almost another hour on new schedule.

On arrival in Manila, I cleared Customs and immigration and looked round for the reception party I had been told to expect. There was no one, Warner's staff having taken our advised ETA as correct, and not having checked with the airline that day. Undaunted, I walked across to the central bank money exchange desk and presented one of my convertible Sterling travellers cheque's. This was refused and I was curtly told that they exchanged only American or Hong Kong dollars at the airport. All other transactions were carried out at the town office!. I was stuck. My next thought was to approach a taxi driver, to be taken to my lodgings where I could obtain funds to pay. Unfortunately, when my trip had been planned, Fellows had requested Warners to make a booking at city hotel. During my trip, Warners had counter suggested that I should stay at the British Club, where many of the expatriate staff lived. They had failed to give an address for this club however, and I quickly realised that not all the taxi drivers had Manila knowledge and no one I contacted had any idea where the club was located.

Bristol Brittania

Singapore Cricket Club

Pan Am Stratocruiser

Feeling tired and looking absolutely lost and confused, I was approached by a very attractive young Pan AM ground hostess, who inquired whether she could help me. Unforgivably, I was curt and rude to her, my only excuse was that I was tired, confused and angry. Fortunately for me however, she persisted in her inquiries and finally, I advised her of my problems. She smiled and stated that the financial problem was easily solved and reached for her handbag and gave me 20 pesos (then 10 US dollars). She then escorted me to the taxi rank and speaking Tagalog, the local dialect, finally found a taxi driver who claimed to know the location of the club. Threatening the driver with dire vengeance if he overcharged me, she sent me on my way. I was joined at the club some hours later by some very embarrassed Warner Barnes staff, who having heard my story, insisted that the helpful hostess be taken to dinner at their expense as part repayment. This I duly did, in company with a young English manager, David Walker and his wife. David was head of the engineering department handling the Chubb line. During my off-duty hours, for the remainder of my stay, the ground hostess took me to see many of the sights around Manila and I had a most enjoyable stay.

Using the experience gained with John Woodhouse, David Walker and I planned a hectic 10-day visit and I was able to contact many of the major banks and large companies. I received orders for night safes from one large bank and a six inch vault-door from another. A very exciting start to my career. That the vault door was subsequently cancelled due to our inability to meet the forecast delivery was a disappointment but at least I knew I could sell overseas. The Philippines later became one of our largest Far Eastern markets and I felt I was largely instrumental in opening up what was almost virgin territory for Chubb products.

In a very bullish and confident mood I made my way to Hong Kong, where we had two agents; Jardine, at that time one of the great hongs, who dealt with our burglary resisting equipment and NCR, who handled the office equipment. Fellows had warned me that I would find it very difficult to persuade the Jardine expatriate staff to leave the office to make sales calls and so it proved. The best I could get them to do was one or two calls in the morning and a third call, after a very substantial lunch. I was disappointed to find that I was not allowed to sell during these calls, which they said were ‘contact calls’ only.

Selling, they felt, was not the done thing and they assured me that the Chinese clients would not tolerate it, as we would lose 'face'. This I could not understand or accept as only a few days previously, I had been dealing  with senior Chinese executives in Singapore, who seemed to accept and value my advice. In Hong Kong, it seemed, Jardines expected any client with potential business to contact them, after which all negotiations, particularly financial, would be handled by their Chinese comprador. He would be given the selling price which Jardines required and add on his own margin, or any 'squeeze' or 'tea money', which he felt was necessary. The resultant price bore little resemblance to the Jardine figure, sometimes being up to 100% above their asking price and although they accepted that much of this money remained in the comprador's pocket, they were not prepared to end the practice. This arrangement led to a very difficult situation for me.

Whilst in Singapore, I had been taken to see the Chinese managing director of a large Chinese bank, who were very loyal Chubb customers. During our discussions, he had demanded to know why our prices for equipment for their Hong Kong office, with which Jardines were negotiating, was so different from what he was paying in Singapore. Naturally, I was unable to give any satisfactory explanation but after a few days in Hong Kong, I quickly realised the source of the problem.

During a discussion with a manager of Jardine’s engineering department, which handled our equipment, I mentioned this and asked them to consider offering comparable prices for this contract. I was curtly told to mind my own business and not to interfere with their business practices.  Rather than lose the contract, I made the decision to recommend that we took the contract from them, negotiating in Singapore and pay them commission as we entitled to do. The valuable contract was finally awarded, much to Jardine’s fury I understand, and led to a most spiteful letter being sent by Jardine to Holley, stating they felt I was too immature and naive to do business in Hong Kong. A secretary showed me the letter and Holley's reply, in which he agreed with the sentiments expressed; Holley never raised the matter with me and I was furious, feeling very hurt and let down by this lack of support from my director.  

Following my time with Jardines, I spent a week with NCR calling on potential customers and their work and business ethos made a great impression on me after the ‘old school tie/colonial gentleman’ attitude of Jardine.

After a further short call in Singapore, I finally arrived back in London eight weeks after my departure, tired but elated at my first overseas adventure. The difference between the effusive congratulations I received from Leonard Dunham and the almost cursory greeting from Holley, amazed me, and I wondered if I would have much future in department under his managership.

My next overseas trip in spring 1960 was to British East Africa, comprising the independent countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Zanzibar. Our Representative in all these countries was Gailey and Roberts, a company within the multinational Unilever group. A great many of their expatriate staff had joined them following the groundnut fiasco of the late Forties and early Fifties. Like so many of these large organisations, they were divided into divisions; in East Africa, Chubb was handled by the Building Materials Department. Under normal circumstances, an agency receive very little attention as virtually all their business occurred by inquiry. On a typical morning, the staff might find inquiries for cement, reinforcing steel, agricultural tools and possibly a safe. Naturally, the staff tended to work off these in their order of probable success and value, so that unless the day was fairly slack, the safe received little attention.

In Kenya, the Gailey management decided to allocate a young English manager, Harry Seago, to be with me during my few days in Nairobi and as result, I was able to make a good many prospective calls, which undoubtedly opened Harry's eyes to the potential business available. It was during these few days, that I first came across the idea of late-night cinema shows, which in retrospect, was most amusing. One evening, Harry inquired whether I would care to join him and his wife for a bite to eat, followed by a visit to the local cinema. Now to a British lad from the sticks, the last showing at the cinema was 7 - 7.30 at the latest. Consequently, after an extremely busy day when our lunch had been a sandwich, consumed between calls, we arrived at Harry's home, close to the Queen Elizabeth Game Park, to be met by Harry's wife who made me most welcome.

Tea and delicate triangle cut sandwiches were duly served by the houseboy and having a very healthy appetite, I quickly made short work of the food, somewhat to Mrs Seago's dismay. She inquired if I wanted more. I indicated that I would and finished off another plate of sandwiches. By this time it was 6.30 and I felt we would soon need to be leaving for the drive to Nairobi. 7.30 arrived and still no move to leave when, to my consternation, Mrs Seago made some remark to Harry, the gist of which I missed. Harry nodded, whereupon Mrs Seago rang a small silver handbell and to my amazement, the houseboy rolled back the partition to reveal a dining table set for dinner. Having consumed a full roast dinner with all the trimmings, we departed for  Nairobi about 9.45, where we had reserved seats in the Cinema.

During the remainder of the trip, I visited Mombasa, and Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and Entebbe. I found them all fascinating although I was faced with the main problem of how to get the agents staff to pay sufficient attention to the Chubb line. During my final call I contracted some form of food virus and suffered a severely upset stomach, only controllable using a proprietary remedy, which I’d been advised to carry for such ‘emergencies’. The pill was certainly effective but I suffered severe side effects which continued for the rest of my life. On returning home, I saw my GP who prescribed an alternative drug which I used until it was withdrawn towards the end of my career.

Following my East Africa trip, I was gratified to receive a number of inquiries and finally orders, based on the prospective calls I had made. It was as a result of one of these orders, placed direct with the company, that I saw another, rather disappointing side to my export director.

Based on our standard agency agreement, we could take orders direct from a client but were then required to credit the agent with the territorial commission. Having received my first direct order, I spoke with Mr Holley to advise how I intended to handle the job. I told him I had written to Gailey advising of the order and the commission which would be credited. I was amazed to be told the commission should not have been paid as Unilever was such a huge organisation that the small amount payable would mean nothing to them. I indicated that I felt a principle was at stake and if we did not abide by the letter of our legal agreement, we would be in a very weak position.

It was a point I never forgot and as a result, felt able to enforce the terms of our agreement, especially when I found the agent was back sliding in some manner and even to the point of changing agents when this proved necessary.  During my first year with the department, it became clear that unless business was placed by one of Holley's favourite countries, basically, the Far East trio comprising Hong Kong/Singapore/Thailand, or Norway, all of which he like to visit regularly, then he showed very little interest.

This initiation into the world of export produced a very steep but good learning curve and formed my outlook for the remainder of my export career.

Chubb Night Safe

The trip which Fellows mapped out for me, comprised a three-week visit to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), followed by a few days in Singapore, two weeks in the Philippines and a final three-week stay in Hong Kong. The outline plan was immediately approved by Holley and with that I was plunged into a whirlwind of inoculations, visas and currency arrangements, for at this time we had both convertible and non-convertible sterling. Letters to agents advising them of my trip and gathering together all the literature and details I would require. Of advice, there was none. Fellows had never been to Ceylon or the Philippines, so could give me no guidance although he did tell me of the situation in Singapore and Hong Kong.

On 19th October 1959, I was put aboard a Comet 4 airliner at London Airport by Mike Fellows. The adventure had begun!

After a very comfortable leisurely journey out, flying first-class, which was a perk we kept for many years, I eventually arrived very late the following night, at Katunayeka airport, Ceylon, there to be met by a junior member of the local agents staff, Aloy Perera. On arrival at the lovely old colonial hotel, the Galle Face, I discovered that my passport was missing and had presumably been left at the airport. I made a frantic call to the night operator requesting a connection to the airport. Unfortunately he connected me to the domestic airport where I spoke with the night watchman. As a result it was a very tired and worried young man who reported for work next morning at the offices of Walker & Sons, our local agent.

It immediately became obvious that Chubb did not feature highly in importance with the Walker management and I was advised that my time would be spent with Perera, who would organise any calls or visits I might want to make. It was here that my days of calling in the city stood me in good stead. I made appointments with all the banks listed in the telephone directory, together with all the government departments who might want to buy security equipment. I quickly realised that Perera had no knowledge of our product line and had never been asked to deal with it previously. The end result being my visit was in the main wasted, as no preparations had been made by Walkers for the trip.

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