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Back to The Midlands - Part 2

We had a close relationship with many of the police force crime prevention officers and from time to time, received some very interesting leads from this source. One of the most interesting concerned the cash donations at Coventry Cathedral. There were many visitors to Coventry to see the burned-out remains of the old Cathedral, which had been destroyed during the blitz and stood alongside the new Cathedral. Donations from the visitors were collected on a large platter, inside a container with a slotted  transparent cover, so the day's donations were visible. At the end of the day, a sidesman, many of whom were overseas visitors spending a few weeks at the famous Cathedral, removed the cash and locked it away in a safe.

The officials at the Cathedral suspected that some of the donations were being stolen as the total amount received was dropping. They approached the Coventry crime prevention officer with their suspicions and he in turn contacted Chubb. Dick Clark, the representative for Coventry, asked if I would visit the Cathedral with him to determine how best to deal with the problem. After some consultation, a solution was very simple and we supplied a number of our transport safes which were, in fact, designed for a totally different purpose. These safes were fitted with a dual control key lock so two individuals were required to open the safes. At closing time, the sidesman of the day was merely required to carry the small transport safes to the vestry and lock them away in the large safe for opening the following day. This solution was completely successful and the Cathedral authorities were amazed to find the charitable donations almost doubled.

One of the more interesting problems I faced during my time at Birmingham was dealing with the unions. Under both Labour and Conservative governments since the war, the union had been treated with kid gloves until finally, the union leaders virtually became the de facto government of the country. This trend was greatly furthered by the Wilson government, when we had the union bosses meeting at 10 Downing Street to decide government policy. Like most other industries, Chubb was unionised, although in general, the Lock and Metal Workers Union were quite reasonable. With the creation of the Regional Areas, some of the service work, previously carried out from London, was distributed to the regions. One of these was a service contract with one of the large Banks. The security equipment in all their branches underwent regular checks by Chubb engineers. During the time that the work was carried out from London, two engineers with a van were employed full-time on this task. As the bank stipulated that the work could only be carried out between 10 am and 4 pm, these engineers were only employed six hours per day. By agreement with the union however, they were paid from 8 am to 7 pm, including overtime rates so that their wages would be similar to their fellow engineers on regular work.  

When some of this service work was passed to Birmingham, I instructed that the jobs would be shared between all the Birmingham engineers, who would carry it out as part of their normal duties. The union took a dim view of this instruction and the Birmingham engineers were advised to demand the same terms as had been given in London. This I refused to do and the job was held in suspense. I advised Reg Pilgrim what had happened and was told that as it was a union matter, I would just have to accept the situation. I was to determined that I was going to run Birmingham branch, not the union and for assistance, I went to the personnel manager at Wolverhampton, whose job it was to deal with the unions. I was greatly aggrieved, when King, the personnel manager, advised me that the Works Director, Charles Barton, would not allow him to offer advice to the Sales Departments.

In despair, I discussed the matter with Peter Keeble, the branch manager and told him my solution would be to give the engineers fair warning that if they refused to carry out legitimate instructions again, I would dismiss them and then resign myself, to prevent embarrassment for the Company. Peter Keeble was in full agreement, telling me that he also would resign, although I told him not to follow this course of action. One evening several days later, Peter was enjoying a beer at a local pub before going home. A little further down the bar were a number of Chubb engineers and the union representative, happily discussing the hard time they were giving me over this disagreement. Fortunately for me, Peter joined the conversation and told them intended solution. This obviously surprised them as the next morning, the union representative came to my office and asked me whether the matter could be resolved amicably. I insisted the work must be carried out as I had instructed and that no special deals would be struck. The only compromise he required was that the jobs would be allocated to the engineers on a lottery basis so that no one would feel he was getting the bad jobs!

Through Peter Keeble's good offices the dispute was settled to everyone’s satisfaction and the service work carried out on a profitable basis. Later on, King apologised for being so unhelpful and advised me how I should have dealt with the problem. This was to give an instruction to individual engineers, to carry out individual jobs. If they refused, I should send them home for the rest of the day, without pay. Whether this arrangement would have caused full-scale union problems within the company I do not know but I was very grateful the dispute had been resolved and never again suffered union problems at Birmingham.

The introduction of computer cabinet's to the product range provided a wonderful opportunity to increase our overall sales. As few of us had any great idea about computers it was decided each region would appoint a specialist computer adviser to assist the salesmen in dealing with computer managers. Barry Deadman was appointed in the Midlands and after specialist training with Bob Alderton and Mike Sharp, the research department’s fire expert, Barry did brilliant work for the region. I also arranged for Bob Alderton to hold training seminars at Birmingham for all the regional salesmen in order to increase their knowledge of problems in dealing with protection of paper and computer records against fire. Bob was extremely knowledgeable in this field  and gave us invaluable help.

With my team of salesmen well trained, the whole region started to perform extremely well and without so much support from me. This delighted me enormously but at the same time, I found this success brought its own problems in that very soon, I really didn’t have enough to do. My colleagues, Ian Radcliffe in Scotland and Ted Hewitt in the North, both agreed that with the amalgamation completed and the regions running smoothly, there was very much less work for the regional manager. Ian even went so far as to advise that he had never remained in the office after lunch and normally toured antique markets in Scotland, looking for pieces for his home. For myself, I began to take a days leave during the week and go flying down at Shobdon, where my syndicates glider was based. To ensure I was in touch with the office, my secretary had the telephone number for Shobdon,  who would contact me by radio if she telephoned when I happened to be airborne.

A final irritating, but in the end amusing, incident occurred about this time, thanks to Johnny Johnston.  Johnny was at the city banking office and without advising me, had booked orders for two extremely heavy vault doors, which were to be installed at the Bank of England in Bristol. Again without advising me, he decided to visit Bristol with a member of the London service department to determine the cost of the installation work. These two gentlemen travelled down from London by train and according to the Bank of England staff, had wined and dined extremely well during the train journey. After a fairly cursory examination of the site, which I understand took less than 30 minutes, they returned to London on a train scheduled to arrive before 5pm, which was the end of the Company’s working day.

The first we knew about the installation of these two doors was when our Wolverhampton Transport Department rang to inquire when we wanted them delivered as they needed to order two special tractors with low loaders. The Bristol service department checked the installation and having contacted the Bank’s Premises Manager - something Johnny had not done - found that the very heavy trailers could not enter the Bank forecourt due to the presence of a very weak sewer in the area of the front gate. There was no access to the sewer so we couldn’t install Acrow Props which meant the only alternative was to lift the doors over the high perimeter wall. This would require a special crane with a very long jib arm and this meant engaging the services of Sparrows, a major crane hire company in the UK. The news we received from them was not very reassuring. Due to the very heavy weight of each door, Sparrows had only one crane which could lift the load and reach over the wall without the crane toppling. This unit was based at Southampton and the cost of hire for the two days which it was estimated to complete the job amounted to 2000 pounds. You can imagine my displeasure when I discovered Johnny had quoted the Bank of England, 2000 pounds to install both doors. I was furious and complained bitterly to my boss Reg Pilgrim. Unfortunately, there was little we could do about the problem as the banking division didn’t have a service department attached as did my branches. Therefore, the installation price given was the subcontract price from the London service department. In the end, my region had to stand the additional costs over the quoted installation price and even worse, we were not even credited with the sale of the doors. They had been booked in the previous financial year. The incident did little to increase my regard for Johnston.

The amusing part of the incident however, took place during the actual installation drama. The doors duly delivered, were offloaded outside of the Bank of England on a very grey November day. Several of my own engineers from Bristol and Birmingham were present, as the Birmingham lads had far more experience of handling these very heavy doors. In addition, there were quite a number of Sparrows people present, with the result that the vans, the extremely large crane and tractor and bulky doors made quite an impressive array around the bank. Television cameras for the local news, a number of spectators, and the Chubb personnel, were all engrossed with the spectacle of the crane teetering on the edge of balance as the door was lowered into the bank courtyard. Inevitably, along came a parking warden who proceeded to stick penalty notices on all the vans and crane. We protested that we had special parking permits from the police but he brushed this aside on the basis that he had not been told. Fortunately the police saw the funny side of the matter and the tickets were subsequently cancelled.

By the end of the financial year, the region had performed brilliantly and apart from the southeast, had the highest turnover of the remaining regions. I was extremely pleased as prior to this, Midlands had been a very poor third to the South East and North. Unfortunately, in these days of boom and bust, it was quite clear that there was to be a downturn in business. Nevertheless, Reg Pilgrim asked me to give the most optimistic business forecast possible, for the following year. After much heart searching and a little arm twisting, I put in a forecast which indicated I could probably maintain the record turnover we had just recorded for the region. Disaster then befell us which to this day I believe, was extremely unfair. Both the South East Region and the North had submitted forecasts, which suggested that they would not match the turnover of the previous year. When the factory budget was produced and compared with the sales forecasts, it was found the factory would make a loss. Unable to accept this situation, the Directors grossed up the sales forecasts to produce the figure required by the factory. When inflation was applied, running at about 10% in these bad old days, it was found that sales budget would need to be over 20% more than forecast. The accountants then took the lazy way out by rounding up each region's forecast by the necessary amount. For the southeast and North, this gave them a budget of the same as the previous year when inflation was taken into account but for the Midlands the increase was in the order of 25% on what had already been a record achievement. I protested but all to no avail. When we applied these figures to an individual representative’s target it was quite obvious that they were unachievable and both the managers and the salesman were extremely dispirited. For myself I felt extremely ill used. In spite of all the effort and training to achieve a smooth running, high performing region, my sales staff and I were being forced to accept a considerable decrease in our earnings to make up for the fact that Dewar and Hewitt had taken the easy way out by drastically reducing their forecasts.

I was extremely unsettled by this injustice and also the fact that my days could no longer be fully utilised except by interfering in the work of my junior managers. I sought an appointment with John McArthur, the managing director, telling him that I felt the position of regional manager was no longer justified and asking if he had a more challenging appointment. He inquired what I would like to do and knowing that the export department was not the happy place it had been, I asked whether I might return there as export director. John was very sympathetic but felt that as the export director, Don Fairclough, still had a number of years to do before retirement, he could not grant my request. He did indicate, however, that the job of sales director in one of the Group Companies, International Coin Counting at Enfield, was available.  

A former export colleague, Mervyn Williams, was the Managing Director and whilst I did not feel the coin counting division would be very exciting, agreed to visit Enfield to look over the job. On arrival there it was quite obvious that Mervyn, who had until recently been Sales Director, really wanted to have all the fun of sales director and all the kudos of a managing director. Whoever took over as sales director would probably spend much of their time being the surrogate managing director, whilst Mervyn acted as the sales director. I returned to Wolverhampton and advised John the job did not appeal to me but suggested that Derek Whitehead, whom I knew was not happy in export department, might be a suitable candidate. John thanked me for the suggestion and expressed his relief that I did not wish to take the job. The reason being that to maintain my current salary, which included bonuses, would mean paying me considerably more than Mervyn and John felt that this would have caused him great difficulty!  I then inquired if there were any other possibilities and he said that in the very near future, Group would advertise the job of Sales Manager with Chubb Australia.

Shortly afterwards, the post was advertised but at a much lower level than I had anticipated. However, I applied and was immediately granted an interview with Bill Randall who expressed some surprise that I had applied as he understood I was very happy and successful in the Midlands. I did not go into all the details as I felt this would be disloyal to John McArthur but merely said that I felt the time had come for a new challenge. Within a matter of days, my wife and I were flown down to Sydney to look at the job, which, although at a slightly lower level than I would have liked, was obviously a very demanding job. There was some history to this but at the time, no one gave me the facts.

Stuart Smith, the previous Sales Manager, had resigned without making much impression on the commercial sales figures in Australia. I knew that Randall wanted the commercial market increased and had instructed Stan Masters, the Managing Director, to do so. Masters had advertised for a commercial sales manager but without success so Randall stated he would send a commercial manager from the United Kingdom. It was not until I had accepted the job and transferred to Australia, that I realised the mistake I’d made. In the eyes of the Australian management, I was Randall's choice rather than theirs!

My final job at Birmingham was to move the branch premises from the very cramped offices which I had inherited, to a much larger building on an industrial estate in the Oldbury area. I made sure that there was plenty of office accommodation and a very large engineering and storage section. The new premises were finally completed in July 1975 and the move took place in August. It was a tremendous relief to have sufficient space for both representatives and engineers, and for me the relief of not having Chubb Alarms constantly nagging about accommodation, parking etc. One of the benefits of the new building was that we were initially approached by the factory who inquired whether we had any spare storage space. At that time we had plenty and were able to sub-let this to the factory which, to a great extent, offset our rental costs. Virtually my final function was to hold the official opening, which was well attended by many of our major clients and the insurance companies. At the end of this function, John McArthur presented me with a mercury barometer to commemorate my 25 years service with the company.

At the end of August 1975 my family and I made arrangements to transfer our home to Sydney, Australia. The omens seemed to promise much and the only problem I had was that Britain was now in the ‘bust’ part of the cycle and the housing market had all but come to a standstill. Finally, a few days before I was due to depart, I did make the sale but lost several thousand pounds in the process. I also had to accept the finalisation of the transaction would not be until the end of the year, some four months away. With this problem hanging over my head we departed for Australia, full of hope for the future and a new life in the Antipodes.

Export is Fun

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

CS074 Computer Data Cabinet

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