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Export is Fun

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


Almost all my funds were tied up in the house and apart from 1000 pounds, obtained for my share of my beloved leader Slingsby Dart glider in which I had spent many happy and exciting hours learning my trade as a glider pilot, I had very little money to take with me. Even so, the Bank of England still had exchange controls in force at the time so there were plenty of forms to be filled, especially as I was leaving an open account at the Midland Bank to receive my funds from the house when the sale was eventually completed.

My daughter Sue was particularly upset about our departure and there were many tears as she felt she would never see us again. I readily promised that I would bring the family home at least every two years. Eventually the day of departure arrived and despite some minor mishaps, we set off safely, arriving in Sydney some 22 hours later having experienced a horrific incident over the Cocos Islands, when the aircraft hit a huge downdraft whilst everyone was asleep. Being strapped in, the three of us suffered no

ill effects except for the stomach lurching shock of the sudden loss of height. Others were not so fortunate; one very large gentleman hit the ceiling of the 747 very hard and returning to his seat, smashed it flat, breaking several ribs in the process. A lengthy stop in Perth to check the air frame and remove the injured, delayed our eventual arrival in Sydney.

The company had rented a very pleasant flat in Kilara for three months, to give us time to find and buy a house and await the arrival of our furniture, en route by sea. We quickly settled my son Mike, at the local school, where he seemed to fit in very well. At work, I was introduced to my sales staff who all seemed very pleasant. I was made welcome by the senior management, two of whom, Peter Parkinson, Works Director and Deputy M.D. and Bruce Simmonds, the Finance Director, made me feel very much at home.

The evening before leaving England, Bill Randall and his wife had taken my wife and I to dinner and there privately, he warned me that Stanley Masters, the Managing Director, could be very difficult and asked me to be careful in my dealings with him. When I asked if Masters was nearing retirement Randall said he only had a couple of years to go. I assured him I felt I could keep on the right side of Masters for two years!

After meeting everyone in Sydney, I had no doubt that given sufficient hard work on my part and by training the sales force as I had done in Birmingham and Bristol, the commercial results the Group Board wanted would be achievable, in spite of the gloomy predictions Stanley Masters had submitted to them.

My wife had the job of finding a suitable home for us and this proved to be harder than we had envisaged; the job was made more difficult by the fact that our main funds were still tied up in the United Kingdom. Eventually we found a very pleasant property in the northern suburbs of Sydney. Only five years old, it had been allowed to run down but there was little doubt the main structure was sound and some hard work would quickly bring it back to standard. St Ives, like much of North Sydney, is built on rocky ridges and the real estate salesman, pointed out very proudly that Kamal, a fairly famous singer, lived at the top of the ridge directly above  our new home. As the weeks passed with no signs of our furniture, we began to worry and after extensive inquiries we discovered to our horror that it was still in the United Kingdom. Further inquiries indicated the shippers had no intention of dispatching it until their account was settled. This had been sent to the Company for payment before my departure. Our company secretary, John Potter (an amiable but ineffective character), had passed it for payment but failed to prioritise the invoice. Therefore it was scheduled for payment at the end of the month, following the month in which it was received by the accounts department. It appeared this was the end of November, some three months after our arrival in Sydney and there still remained a six to eight week transit time plus  7 - 14 days to clear Customs. To say I was not pleased is an understatement and the stress caused my wife some medical problems - something else I could have done without.

Worse was to follow. I had left instructions with my solicitor, Stanley Brindley, to settle all my debts from the house funds and then deposit the balance with my Bank for transfer to Australia. I’d requested the Bank advise me of the amount in my account as soon as possible after it was received and I would then advise how much was to retained in the UK  for use when I returned on holiday.  I was frantically busy at this time, flying around Australia, getting to know the sales staff and state managers. The company had loaned me the funds to buy the house and it was not until February 1976, that I began to worry about the whereabouts of my own cash. I eventually received a letter from the Bank advising my account balance and was appalled to see the letter was dated some weeks earlier. The letter had been sent us by surface mail!  I immediately telexed a request for the amount to be transferred but before this could be accomplished, the Bank of England devalued the pound and I lost some 15 to 20% of my capital. My financial situation was now precarious and I could not repay the loan from the company. All that I could think of was to write to Bill Randall in London, who had overseen my transfer and personally given me my job objectives, to inquire whether the company might be prepared to increase the resettlement grant that had been agreed at the time of my transfer. Eventually, I received a letter from Don Potter, Randall having passed my letter to him for action. Don in his usual cautious way, wrote to Masters to enquire whether the request was warranted. Without any reference to me regarding my financial situation, Masters replied that he felt my request should be denied, the problems were of my own making as I had been currency speculating. To say that I was angry was putting it mildly!  I immediately sought an interview with Masters to set the record straight and wrote to Potter and Randall, setting out the facts. Fortunately for me, a top up of the resettlement grant was forthcoming but overall, the episode cost me a great deal of money. It was also the first ‘straw in the wind’ of the problems to come with Mr Masters.

The job itself was going very well and in most cases, I received nothing but kindness and assistance from the state managers who oversaw the day-to-day activities of the commercial salesman, though, with the exception of Sydney, they were mainly responsible for banking sales and general management. In New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, the state managers were very helpful. In Perth, Harry Blenkinsop was particularly helpful in spite of the fact that Masters and John Cracknell, the Sales Director, had warned me that Blenkinsop was very anti-english and told me that I would find him very difficult. The Victoria state manager, Rick Thorpe was an ex Chatwood man from England and in spite of a very awkward management situation in Melbourne, gave me every assistance. Alan Powditch in Sydney was only responsible for commercial sales and in this capacity was obviously prepared to cooperate in every way to increase sales by training the staff. My major difficulty occurred in Brisbane where the state manager, another Englishman, also ex Chatwood Milner UK, seemed to resent the fact that I was directing his salesman in to different lines from those he felt important. The reason for this was that I felt the major opportunity was in data protection equipment, an area which had scarcely been touched in Australia. It quickly became apparent that this would be a winner and quite early on, I forecast to Peter Parkinson, that sales demand for data cabinets would outstrip the factory’s capacity to produce. Within the year it had and we were forced to import units from the UK to make up the shortfall. As it turned out, this was yet another black mark for me in the eyes of Masters because it proved conclusively that imported units were more profitable than those made in the Australian factory. Everyone else from John McArthur, the UK MD to Randall in Group HQ seemed to be delighted and this probably contributed to Mr Masters irritation.

All too quickly, my first-year passed by and I seemed to settle into the Australian life very well, as had the rest of the family. I began to make plans for a six-week break with Sue and her husband Philip in UK over the Christmas period. The leave arrangements were agreed with Masters and tickets booked when, a few days before my departure, I received my first inkling that all was not well with my career in Australia. Mr. Masters’ secretary was a middle-aged Australian lady, with whom I got along very well. She knew I was interested in gliding and it seemed she had a boyfriend with similar interests. Shortly before leaving, I was chatting with her and saying how excited the family and I were, at the prospect of Christmas in United Kingdom. Out of the blue she asked if she could speak to me privately in my office - a most unusual request from the managing director's secretary. Naturally, I agreed and a few minutes later, she appeared and suggested that I watch my back during my leave. I was upset and inquired why. She went on to explain in some detail that Masters was determined to get rid of me and my absence would be an ideal time to start laying the poison. I protested that this could not be so as I had already achieved most of the tasks I had been set and therefore there seemed little reason for Masters' dissatisfaction. She quickly explained the principal problem was that I had done well and was obviously well thought of at group board level. This could pose a major threat to Masters’ plans for his son to follow him as managing director in Australia. She backed up this assertion by giving me the history of Stuart Smith's departure from the company a couple of years earlier, under different circumstances but for identical reasons. This information meant I departed on holiday in a somewhat uneasy frame of mind.

The holiday passed off very well and Bill Bannochie, my former export manager and now Managing Director in England, arranged a loan car for me, which was most welcome. One amusing incident occurred during my visit. On Christmas Eve, I was motoring down a lane near to my mother's home where I had been visiting, when I passed a police car parked in a lay-by. I took little notice as I was not travelling very fast and was therefore surprised, several miles later to find a police car following me and flashing his lights, to signal me to stop. I did so and walked back to the traffic car in the drizzling rain. The police driver inquired if I had recently driven down Orton Lane. I agreed I had and he then inquired how fast I had been travelling. I volunteered about 40 mph. He further inquired of the speed restrictions in the lane and I suggested it was unrestricted. It turned out that I was wrong on two counts. Since leaving England, this part of Orton Lane had become a restricted area and his radar scanner showed my speed was 52 mph. Trouble!, I produced my British license which I still retained, giving Sue's address as my contact but advised that I was an Australian resident and on request produced my New South Wales license to prove this.The license was clearly marked $10. The police officer inquired whether this was the lifetime fee and on learning that it was an annual payment, handed me the license with the words, "$10 a year, away you go you have been punished enough” !

On my return to Sydney, there was a very disturbing note from one of the best of our New South Wales salesmen - a Hungarian called Steve. He told me that during my absence he had been dismissed for some past sin which he denied. It was in a very thoughtful frame of mind that I returned to work - was Steve's dismissal the start of the campaign about which Flo had warned me before leaving?  I immediately saw John Cracknell, my immediate boss, regarding the dismissal. The reason he gave was an alleged prison sentence some years previously. This had been brought to Mr Masters attention by a police officer , who had just 'happened' to see Steve in the office, during a factory visit. I was unhappy at this news which on the face of it, was irrefutable - I certainly had no access to criminal records - but if true, why had it not been found before he was employed. I knew that all UK employees were checked for a criminal record at the time of engagement. To this day, I remain uneasy at the dismissal for if it was true, under current British law, the conviction was long since spent, and if not, it was certainly a diabolically clever way of reducing sales and getting at me.

Part of my remuneration was based on commercial sales profit and one of the points which constantly irritated me were the amount of state expenses that were allocated to commercial sales - rather more than 50% from memory. As each State Manager’s working hours were mostly devoted to bank sales, including the rather flamboyant ‘bank entertaining’ (which was very much the norm) and the branches also handled fire and coin counting machine sales, this seemed rather unfair. A point of view with which the Chief Accountant would agree but no one would sanction alteration. I was prepared to hold back on this point however, whilst I built up the commercial sales, which grew by over 80% during the period of my incumbency.

One of the very early problems I encountered, related to the number of calls made by each salesman per day. I was astounded to find that the State managers had no record of this vital statistic and we were appalled when after checking, we found that the average for the month was less than two effective calls per day per salesman. Naturally, this was corrected very quickly but it took quite a lot of field training before the number of acceptable calls reached a satisfactory total. Initially, there were far too many calls of the type “my name is David of Chubb and I've called to see whether you want any safes or anything”. Gradually, with much help and encouragement from Mike Sharp in Chubb Research and Bob Alderton, I persuaded the sales staff to target their calls on the computer managers and to discuss data protection unless they had inquiries for safes.

The field training necessitated a lot of flying around Australia and this was mainly allocated as first-class travel, which at that time in Australia, was the only class giving a meal service - a must during the four to five hour flight to Perth. An edict was given out by Mr Masters, that henceforth all flights were to be tourist class on economy grounds. This was not unreasonable for flights to Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane but in my opinion a total no-no for Perth flights. I made this point immediately, telling John Cracknell I was not prepared to fly to Western Australia, which meant leaving home at 5:30 am and not arriving until after lunch, without a meal en route. Nothing was said in response so I felt that the matter was agreed but it was not so, as I found out later.

As the commercial sales gained ground, I gradually took the lock section under my wing; this was run by a somewhat strange man, originally from the UK , called Gordon Simmonds. He believed that he was an ace lock man and was always fiddling about with locks in unauthorised ways, the result being that a great many problems arose. He was responsible for any prison sales and as he was always switching locks from one customer to another, the key registration held at Wolverhampton was made completely inaccurate, laying up trouble for the future.

During my leave in the United Kingdom, Bill Randall had been keen for me to explore the potential sales of commercial locks in Australia and asked to be kept informed of progress in all aspects of commercial sales. This I did in the form of a very informal letter to him every month or so and to which he replied in warm and encouraging terms. As these letters contained the same information that I gave to the board at the monthly meetings, I could see no harm in them although, apart from our secretaries, their existence wasn’t general knowledge. However, I later learned they were another black mark against me due to Mr Masters paranoia regarding any information given to the main group aboard other than by him. Another failing, was my decision not to participate in the heavy drinking sessions that occurred almost nightly in the managing director's office unless, as happened from time to time, I was invited to join the magic circle for drinks and gossip after working hours. Ostensibly, the meetings were to go over the day's activities but generally they degenerated into golfing yarns, jokes etc. and were an excuse for drinking excessively on the company account. After a day's work, this was something I could do without, as I had a fairly long drive into northern Sydney. This, I later discovered, was yet another black mark against me.

The culture of heavy drinking was an image which Australians had cultivated for years and in many cases it was true, although I know that many of my work colleagues were against excessive drinking. Unfortunately, my boss Cracknell, belonged to the heavy drinking school; on many occasions he would be ‘missing’ from the office after lunch, whilst he boozed with his cronies in the banks, police or insurance industry. The net result of this was that more and more decisions which should have been taken by him, devolved to me in his absence. One memorable occasion related to the American Express Bank in Sydney, where John failed to meet a deadline in respect of a quotation, because he failed to return to the office from lunch. His absence necessitated me preparing a large quotation and delivering it by hand in the space of a single afternoon. This I could not have done without the fullest cooperation from the works estimator and our secretary. Although we obtained the order, I received no credit whatsoever, a situation which I found particularly galling.

I began to realise that in spite of booming commercial sales, there was really no future for me in the Australian Company, whilst Mr Masters held the chair. Warned in advance that I would find Masters a difficult man but mindful he only had a couple of years left to serve, you can imagine my dismay to be told by Bruce Simmonds, that Mr Masters still had four or five years until retirement. My response to Randall’s advice had been that I felt I could cope with the situation for two or three years. So it was that I began to actively scan the newspapers for alternative situations. Finally, in July 1977, the post of sales manager for the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation was advertised. I applied and was successful at the interview. This meant that I would have to move to Melbourne, if I decided to take up the post.

During the month of August a computer exhibition was to be held in Perth and Mr Masters felt I should attend for it’s duration. Mr Randall was scheduled to visit Australia during this time and the visit to Perth meant that I would miss him. In view of the new job, for which I was awaiting the formal offer, I did not feel that it really mattered whether or not I saw him. The exhibition passed off well, with great interest in our range of computer protection cabinets and I returned to Sydney in a good frame of mind. On arrival in the office, I was immediately contacted by Peter Parkinson, the deputy managing director, who said that Bill Randall had instructed I was to remain in Sydney until his non-scheduled return. Confidentially, Peter advised me that I was in "big trouble” ! Quite what that trouble was Peter was unable to say but it was with a heavy heart that I made my way home that evening. Discussing the situation with my wife, she inquired if I could think of anything which might have caused “big trouble".

I spent several days, kicking my heels in Sydney until finally, on entering the office one morning, Randall himself greeted me without any apparent sign that he was angry with me. I asked at what time I should attend in his office and was surprised to be told that he could come to my office when it was convenient for me. My mind in turmoil, I replied that I had kept the morning free for him. After about an hour he came into my small office, sat down and said kindly "Mr Masters has made a number of serious complaints against you - what you have to say". I asked for details and was amazed to learn that the matter of flying first-class to Perth had been quoted, as had my non appearance at the nightly drinking sessions and even the fact that on one particular day I failed to say “good morning” to Masters. If my situation had not been so serious, the complaints would have been laughable.

My replies to the ‘complaints’ obviously amazed Randall. To the most serious regarding the class of air travel to Perth, I pointed out that I had made it clear why I would not fly ‘tourist class’ to Perth but had no objection when travelling to the other destinations. However, I felt that the edict was aimed at making my life uncomfortable as it did not apply to young Masters, the Sales Manager of Chubb Fire, even though he did a fair amount of flying. In explaining my position on the drinking sessions, I was confident I was on a good wicket as many years previously, Randall had told us all at Cannon Street, that he wanted us to do a good days work and then go home to the family. If we needed to work overtime on a regular basis, he needed to be told as it would show that we were either overworked or inefficient!  As to my not saying "good morning", I explained that on that particular occasion, Mr. Masters was speaking with an important visitor and rather than interrupt, I merely inclined my head courteously, in greeting.

Randall sat without speaking for some minutes and then asked me what I was going to do about the complaints. I immediately replied that as Masters felt it was necessary to save all this up for the visit of Mr. Randall without previously speaking to me about the problems, it was quite obvious he did not want me there and I would resign immediately. Hearing this Randall grew quite angry and smashing his fist into my desk, he retorted that I should never, never, resign but make them fire me. With some heat and almost in tears I pointed out that I had a wife and young son to support and being fired, could make it difficult to find a suitable position in Australia - particularly if a prospective employer checked my references with Chubb. Randall immediately said that while he was Managing Director of Chubb, he would ensure I was given employment within the Group. I thought this would be the end of the matter and that Randall would say he was transferring me back to the UK or elsewhere but no, he advised that he would consider the situation and speak to me again.

Some days later, he asked me to call at his hotel apartment and told me that after discussions with Master and Parkinson, it was made clear to him that I was a valued member of the Australian team and under the circumstances he felt it would be best if I stayed on. Somewhat reluctantly I agreed although I felt that once he left Australia, this would not be the end of the matter and so it turned out. Within weeks Masters sent for me and advised he felt the job was "too much for me" and that he was going to break the job down, allocating Brisbane to John Cracknell and Perth to Harry Blenkinsop. As this was back to the old regime and all the previous problems, I could not see it working but I agreed to give it a go.

My premonition proved all too true and after two or three months it became quite obvious that although I no longer had full control of the commercial sales, I was still held responsible and part of my salary depended on the results achieved. It seemed quite obvious to me what was happening. For part of the sales force it was back to the old regime which had not worked - hence my appointment. I had to decide whether I would look for a job in Australia or in view of the service I had already put in and the pension benefits I had built up, should ask Bill Randall if there was a job for me in the UK.. I decided on the latter and in due course received his reply that he would ask Bill Bannochie to re-employ me - Bannochie now being Managing Director of the Lock and Safe Company. Shortly afterwards, Masters sent for me and was clearly displeased that although I was leaving Australia, it was not on the terms which he had planned. He instructed me that I was to have no further management role and was to stay in Sydney until I had sold up and left. In fact I was kept quite busy what with quietly filling in whenever Cracknell went 'absent' or helping out with Coin Counting Machines. In due course the house was sold, arrangements made to have my household goods packed for shipment and, as instructed by Randall, flights booked to the United Kingdom. Fortunately, it was January by the time all this had been arranged and my son, who had completed his primary schooling, was on Christmas leave. I decided to fly home via the Pacific route in order to take the family to Disney Land in America as a small recompense for this further upheaval in their lives.

We arrived home and went to stay with my daughter and her husband in Somerset and immediately experienced one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record in those parts. I tried to get to London to see Bill Bannochie as instructed but to no avail as we were completely snowed in and the snowploughs were not clearing our country roads. In due course I did manage to get to Head Office where Bannochie advised me that he had a job in mind for me and that I could decide whether to be based in Wolverhampton or London. He said that he would prefer me to be in Wolverhampton for reasons he would advise later but in the meantime, I should set about buying a house and getting the family settled before I returned to work at Easter. We finally settled on Newport in Shropshire, mainly because they had a good Grammar School which still had a boarding house - my own Wolverhampton Grammar school no longer had this facility - and I reasoned that if we needed to move home again, I could arrange for my son to board, thus avoiding the necessity of changing schools again. After some weeks the new house was ready and although it was not ideal, it was a comfortable base and immediately Easter was over I reported to Bannochie in London.

Click for Mr. Ibbs’ resume on Dart 311

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