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Export is Fun

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

The Final Years

Any thoughts that I might be considered for the job of Export Manager were immediately dashed as it was announced that Frank Morris, a fast track degree man, had been appointed. Naturally, I was disappointed as I had once interviewed Morris when I was Regional Manager, at Birmingham. Following his admission that he had no interest in working for Chubb, where his father was on the shop floor, I appointed Gerry Lewis as the region's trainee that year. Morris had spent some years in Spain as manager of a salt mine among other things, before applying again to Chubb where he joined the Home Sales Department. Subsequently transferring to Export, he spent a couple of years as the resident representative in S. Arabia, then moved to Spain before transferring again to Locks. At no time had he made a conspicuous success of his export career so I was confused as to why he had the preferment, particularly after the episode with Derek Langley before the shake up. I can only think it was the fast track syndrome at work again.

As the Export Prison Specialist I was automatically assigned to the new department, now housed on the Ground Floor of the Office Block, in offices previously occupied by the Personnel Department. Only Holliday, MacRoberts and Milne together with two lady administrators, transferred from Sunbury and at our first meeting in the new office, Morris gazed round at his small team and asked how we were going to run export. Seizing the opportunity I immediately volunteered not only to do the prison work but also deal with the West Indies and Central America together with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Morris was glad to allow this so Holliday was given his previous area of East Africa and the Middle East, MacRoberts the rest of Africa and Milne Europe. With only two administrators, extra staff had to be appointed. I was extremely fortunate to be allocated Jayne Hipkiss whilst I was overseas on business. Jayne was extremely efficient and we got on very well from the outset. She quickly became very popular with our overseas clients, particularly the Barclays Bank Premises Manager, with whom we transacted considerable business. Jayne later told me that on hearing who she would be working for, an ex school friend who worked as a senior secretary in the Company, told her confidentially that I had a reputation as a very tough and difficult person to work for. Although I had never suffered fools gladly, Jayne was so enthusiastic and diligent, there were very few problems between us during the years we worked together.

By applying my long held belief that regular face-to-face contact was the only way to promote good business, I quickly visited all my area countries whilst at the same time travelling to many other overseas countries in connection with prison business which was booming. Much of my area had been sadly neglected by previous area managers but by dint of hard work and wonderful back up from Jayne, the agents took fresh heart and business began to flow, particularly from Post Office Authorities, who had been neglected for many years. New business also came from previously virgin territories, Panama, Belize, Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma. In particular, Sri Lanka came back on stream after some difficult arguments with Chubb Singapore who insisted that it came under their sphere of influence, in spite of the fact that no sales staff had visited since Tom Hungerford returned to the UK some years earlier. Similarly, Thailand started to produce good orders for fire and data protection equipment, although their safe equipment was sourced from Chubb Companies in Malaysia and Indonesia.

To begin with, Lovett was still operating as Chubb Prisons International but was concentrating his time in the United States where he had appointed a local manufacturer as Chubb Prison Business Representative. I felt it rather strange therefore to be instructed by Frank Morris to attend a sales seminar in America with Morris, Lovett and Peter Gunn in attendance. I quickly learned how the various American Prison Lock Manufacturers serviced the enormous demand for equipment from the State and Federal Prison Authorities. It became obvious that the American reliance on electronic remote operation of locking systems and door operation, rendered our own electronic systems designed for the British prisons, totally unsuitable for use in America. It was also obvious that countless State and Federal Prisons which had old mechanical systems, desperately needed replacements for mechanical locks which the American manufacturers had no interest in supplying. I felt that this could become a niche market for Chubb as our own mechanical locks were very easy to retro-fit. In this way, we could obtain a foothold in the market with our mechanical locks and, as the authorities became familiar with our methods of doing business, our electronic systems might prove to be of interest. My address to the seminar on this subject was well received by all except Lovett.

Shortly afterwards, I was instructed to attend a Sheriffs Exhibition and Convention in San Diego where we were showing not only our various prison locks but also the Chubb Escort Handcuffs and the newly designed Arrest Handcuffs which had already proved extremely popular with the Egyptian Authorities. Peter Gunn and I discussed this possible business and decided that after the Convention closed, it would be a good idea to directly promote the handcuffs by visiting the various County Sheriffs Departments, who all purchased equipment individually. To this end I wrote to the British Embassy in the USA, requesting they supply a list of addresses and telephone numbers for the various Sheriffs Offices in California, so that we could write and advise our intention to call on a specified date.

The Board of Trade had decided by this time that the Commercial Attaches would only supply the barest minimum of information on a free of charge basis; any request for detailed information would be charged. To cover this all the Chubb Export staff were issued with a Board of Trade card by which means these charges would be levied. In due course I received a letter detailing twelve widely scattered Sheriff Departments in California and a hefty bill of three hundred pounds “for services". When authorising this for payment I wondered if, with so few Sheriffs Departments in the huge State of California, the calling campaign would be worthwhile. In the event, it was arranged that Peter and Steve Wood, the Manager of Chubb High Security Locks, would depart for N. Zealand and Australia, where there was significant demand for prison locks, as soon as the Convention finished. It was decided that the Prison Lock trainee and I would divide the calls as best we could and carry out the calling campaign. The Exhibition went off well with considerable interest in our handcuffs which were significantly better than any of the American models. After the show, Peter and Steve departed and the trainee and I collected our hire cars and set off on the campaign trail.

During my travels I was amazed to find that almost every County had a Sheriffs Department and tried to cold call a number but with little success. The planned calls went well however and I received several small orders for both the arrest and escort cuffs. On Peter's return to the office, as we all gathered to discuss the convention and campaign before submitting trip reports, Peter produced a magazine ‘The Sheriff’ which he had been given in San Diego. In it we were amazed to find a note from the editor to "all sheriffs" requesting them to write in with their department’s updated information so that it could be published in the following copy. Peter immediately faxed the editor to order the magazine and asking if he could fax us this listing. By return it came with an apology that it was to be updated shortly. The list confirmed my belief was correct in that I had passed through many counties with Sheriffs, that weren’t listed in the letter I received from the Embassy. In fury, I wrote to the Board of Trade stating what had happened and including a scathing comment on the standard of the information given which had caused us to waste so much of our time on the campaign. I demanded return of the fee and in due course we did receive a full credit but no apology. Once again it reinforced my belief that in many cases, our Commercial Representation abroad is virtually useless. There have been notable exceptions but they are few and far between.

Shortly after this, the first of the 'Prison Barges' came on stream and I became involved in the project in a rather unusual way.

Senior Management had been persuaded that the individual operating companies were incapable of handling "major" contracts themselves. A major contracts department had been set up with a number of highly paid, smooth talking individuals with limited capabilities. These included such luminaries as Hutton-Penman, who had once bragged to senior management that he had visited over sixty countries in the previous twelve months. My old friend Steve Phillips had replied scathingly "and pray Mr. Hutton-Penman, who has that benefited beside the airlines?"

Their prison specialist rang me one morning to request the delivery time on cell and pass locks. I replied truthfully that it was twelve weeks but then only if all details regarding handing, keying etc was available. I asked if I could help with these details but he merely told me that the delivery was "totally unacceptable" and rang off. Some hours later, Derek Whitehead, who was attached to the department as the technical specialist (he was also an engineer), telephoned me to ask what I knew about a contract for Bibby as one of their senior managers had telephoned regarding a barge conversion, which the "prison specialist" had surveyed some days previously and was supposed to give a quotation that day. The prison specialist had left the office for the day immediately after his conversation with me and had left no contact details. All I could do was to ask for the Bibby Manager’s name and telephone number, contact him, explain who I was and what I could do to help. The upshot was a request that I survey the barge again - it was docked in Tilbury - and give a quotation before the week end. I surveyed the next day, worked out how we could do the job in the time scale required. Thanks to much hard work by Jayne and myself, I faxed our quotation to Bibby’s Liverpool headquarters the following day in order to meet their deadline. It later transpired the prison specialist at Head Office had decided Chubb could not do the job and had gone out to see another security company and hand the job over to them!

In the event we were able to meet the delivery required by Bibby, by air-freighting our locks to New York whilst the barge was in transit by sea and flying our installation engineers over to fit the locks on site. Bibby were delighted and we made a very handsome profit on the project. Subsequently, Bibby converted a much larger accommodation barge in Germany which provided a very large body of work for Chubb without the help of the head office specialist, who left the company shortly after his first fiasco, only to be replaced by an even more useless individual who fortunately did not interfere. The New York authorities eventually sold off the barge to the British Prison Authorities where she served as HMP Weare, moored just off the British Coast.

A third purpose built prison barge was scheduled for construction in Singapore but at the last moment, Bibby pulled out of the contract due to the conditions which the New York authorities tried to impose on them. The vessel was eventually built by an American company in New Orleans and although I managed to obtain some equipment for the vessel, it was not the wonderful contract for which we had worked so hard.

Overall, I was achieving excellent results with both the prison items and more conventional equipment. My remuneration comprosed a fixed salary element plus variable commissions, based on control of my personal export expenses compared with my budget, performance against sales target and finally performance against budgeted contribution in my areas. I was being paid very well, or so I thought. This illusion was shattered however, when (via the ‘grapevine’) I received news of the salary given to the “Prison Specialist” in the Head Office Contract Department who, when it was wound up (how the senior management must have rued the day it was set up), was transferred to CSI as sales manager to replace Steve Phillips, who had resigned from the company. As the job was not advertised internally, a requirement under the rules laid down by Racal, I complained bitterly to Rod Bunyan, our MD, about the poor rewards for success compared with the Prison Specialist’s undeserved promotion on the winding up of his previous job. Rod was sympathetic and although he could do little, quietly doubled my commission schemes which helped financially but contributed little toward my final pension package.

The restriction of not having the opportunity to apply for senior management roles caused me to pause and consider what career potential I had left in the company. I was partially doing a job (export area sales) which I had first carried out over twenty five years previously and whilst I had the overseas prison contracts in addition and was being paid much better than in those early days, I had not made any significant progress. Shortly after Rod Bunyan became M.D., the post of Home Sales Manager had become vacant and more in an effort to make progress, I had applied. The post had been vacated by a man called John Pyatt, who had been a Southern Area salesman for some years; prior to that, his main claim to fame seemed to be that he had been a breadround salesman. He seemed to have brought with him the bread sales mentality as one of the changes he implemented, was to encourage the Home Sales Team to hand out stockist arrangements to any small office equipment dealer who cared to apply. There was no provision for minimum stock levels or the annual turnover required and the net result was that any Tom Dick or Harry could (and did) apply, and obtain maximum stockist discount terms on any item of equipment for which they had an inquiry. As many of them also seemed to have long settlement terms, the overall results were disastrous for the Home Sales Division and took us back to the dreadful amalgamation years of 1971, when the Area Sales Managers (of whom I had been one) had to sort out a similar mess which had been put in place by the Chatwood Milner.

Although I was not totally sure it was the right post for me, at least it seemed a way forward. My application, along with those from David Rees (my Australian trainee from 1977) and Peter Keeble, (my Birmingham Branch manager from 1973), was adjudicated by Bunyan and the newly appointed Personnel Manager, Garry Bird. Asked what I would do if given the post I said my first priority would be to train the home sales representatives to a high standard as no sales training had been carried out for some time (this ceased when Bill Enoch left to take up the Ministry full time). My second objective would be to sort out the mess regarding stockists by only giving maximum discounts to companies that produced a set turnover per annum. Other smaller dealers would be referred to main stockists, which I believed would be beneficial financially and promote direct sales. I believed on many occasions the sales reps were creating an enquiry but clients then shopped around to get the best deal the small dealers were willing to provide. This was obviously too radical for Bunyan; Bird, having just taken up his post, clearly did not have any great idea of our home sales. In the end Peter Keeble was selected, presumably as a safe pair of hands. He was not the greatest success however and went down the path advocated by the new Marketing Manager, buying in cheap mass produced products from Eastern Europe and closing down production of our own smaller items such as wall and floor safes. My attitude was, either we were a manufacturer and sold our own lines which were unique, or we became a merchant house and sold similar products, albeit with the Chubb badge, on a price basis. Under these circumstances we did not need a factory. This however was still a little in the future.

Some time later, Bird sent for me to discuss my pension arrangements; I was very close to the 40 years qualifying period for maximum pension, although I still had several years left until my 65th birthday. He pointed out that I would still be paying my pension contribution for the over 40 qualifying years which would not increase my pension pot except on the basis that my salary would be a little more for calculation purposes. I told him I was aware of the situation and discussed the number of times in the recent past, that I had been ignored for more senior posts for which I felt I was well qualified, often in favour of the "fast track degree candidates" who’d not exactly covered themselves in glory. I explained that I now felt that although I had a job, my career prospects were non existent and I was actively considering early retirement. He suggested I should look on the bright side as "something" might turn up but added that had he been in post for longer, he would have recommended me for the Home Sales Managers job as he now realised the objectives I gave during the interview, were exactly what was required. This however, was scant comfort to me!

Shortly after this, it was decided that Chubb needed to reduce manpower and voluntary redundancies were canvassed to achieve this. One of the sweeteners being an extra five years service would be granted for pension calculation purposes; in my case this was a major factor as such a grant would take me within about eighteen months of official retirement. I applied and was rejected. Bird again sent for me and said the decision was based on the fact that I was far too valuable to the company as my experience and engineering background were almost irreplaceable. I protested that it was a bit late for management to make this judgment when those very attributes were ignored when senior posts were being considered!

Life went on very much the same. Due to the help I received from Jayne and also the fact that I was following my old principles of visiting each overseas agent regularly, my export figures were excellent and well over budget as was my profit contribution. This, coupled with the fact that my expenses were in check, gave me all the plus figures I needed for bonus calculation and from that point of view, I was flying. This was not achieved without some cost to me and with the added travel caused by the prison work, much of which was still in Egypt, I was away overseas almost as much as I was in the office. My Bupa ‘Tropical’ checkup, which we were allowed to have, identified the cause of a long term "mystery" ailment was a parasite. I probably ‘collected’ this due to poor food in either Bangladesh or Burma. The check up also showed that I was suffering from a prostate problem which began to cause me some embarrassment.   

Every two years,  the Export Department organised what we termed "The Roadshow". Put simply, we transferred The Research Department’s Customer Demonstrations, normally held at Wolverhampton, to an overseas destination. The purpose was to show Chubb’s defences to methods of attack on safes and how Company records could be protected from fire. Our audience being overseas clients who simply did not have the opportunity to visit Wolverhampton.

This time it was decided that the West Indies, Central America and North America would be the destination. Jayne and I were plunged into the work of organising the event in collaboration with Ray Sands, the Research Director and his senior manager John Skelton. I elected to hold the event in Barbados which was central to the area we wanted to cover and one of my favourite destinations. With the enthusiastic help of  the local agent, Geddes Grant, we arranged for the show to be held in the grounds of The Barbados Defence Force, thus preventing gatecrashers and enabling us to use weapons, explosives and fire, without risk to the general public. Hotels were organised and on site feeding arrangements, together with the thousand and one details needed to produce a seamless event. Probably our most difficult task was the provision of the very brissant explosive which John Skelton always used - not dissimilar to the dreaded "Semtex", much loved by the IRA and favoured by terrorist groups such as those responsible for the Pan-Am atrocity over Scotland.

We quickly found that although John had a good supply, we could not export it as we were not the manufacturer. ICI, the British handling agent for Nobels, were similarly banned by the Board of Trade from exporting and the Scandinavian Government had also banned further export by Nobels, following the airline tragedy. As the explosive was unavailable in the West Indies and North America we faced an impasse until I had the bright idea of contacting our local Tory MP and explaining our problem. Within five days, thanks to intervention "at the highest level", or so we were told, the B.O.T. issued ICI with an export license for one kilogram of the required explosive. ICI expressed their amazement at this outcome but immediately complied. There remained only the tricky task of persuading the skipper of one of the West Indies "Banana Boats” to carry the explosive (apparently they are allowed to decide whether or not they will carry explosives) - Jayne managed to do this on her own. It must have been quite a sight when the ship docked in Barbados a few days before our party arrived. The Barbados Defence Force provided a fully armed escort for the ‘cargo’ as it was transported by road to their Headquarters and paraded through the town.

This “Roadshow” was a superb success and both Sands and Skelton said it was the best they had ever done. I’ve no doubt the location played a big part but the clients complimented us on the first class organisation as well as the demonstrations. I was delighted that Jayne was allowed to attend and although she worked hard whilst there, it was a very well deserved recognition of her excellent work in organising much of the detail. The finale of the show when John Skelton destroyed the remaining explosive made a lasting impression on all who witnessed the huge explosion (of less than half a kilogram). It virtually vaporised the heavy safe in which it was located. The video of the event "Blasters in Barbados", still fills me with awe.

Immediately following the "Roadshow" we were plunged into the extra activity of our Export Distributor Conference, held at Wolverhampton every two years. Fortunately, neither Jayne or I were responsible for the organisation which was ably conducted by Milne, but I was required to give a number of lectures both on prison work possibilities and commercial sales. Again, all went well but by the time it closed, I was really feeling the strain.

Not long afterwards, the Company again decided redundancies were the order of the day - quite why is difficult to say as our Export results had never been better. Again I applied and was firmly rejected. That Autumn, the Department took on several school leavers for training and in my opinion, they were some of the brightest and best we had ever had. They quickly settled in and became useful members of the department. A few weeks before Christmas however, the final blow fell as yet more redundancies were called for. The shop floor had been pared to the bone - less than two hundred staff remained - and the word went out that this time, Export Department, despite its excellent performance must share the cutbacks. By now, I was not in the best of health and it had been decided that I would require a prostate operation in the New Year. The specialist had advised that following the surgery, I should not travel overseas for at least six months.

In spite of my previous rejections I spoke with Frank Morris, telling him that I would apply again and I hoped that if I went, the new recruits would be allowed to stay - it had been indicated that their jobs were at risk. Frank indicated that this would be the case and also confirmed that if I was successful, he would ensure Jayne was not affected in any way as she was such a valuable member of the department. I lobbied Bird and told him of my specialist’s advice which meant I would be prevented from travelling until at least June the following year. On the ‘grapevine’, I heard my application would be accepted this time as the Group Board had stated that in order to keep peace with the Unions, regardless of the individual’s position, no application would be rejected.

The news broke just days before the Christmas (1991) shut down. In Export, all our trainees were axed - a most short sighted policy I felt as the cost saving was minimal; my departure was confirmed together with Peter Keeble and John Glazzard, both senior managers. Although I was pleased, for most it was a somber Christmas. However, I felt very sorry for the trainees and was furious to learn that Jayne's job was discontinued and she now depended on getting a post with another manager. I had a very heated discussion with Morris reminding him of his assurance to me regarding Jayne but he gave his usual disinterested shrug and told me he could not prevent it.

Within days we were due to close for Christmas, a long break normally as the factory always saved their odd days to add to the statutory days off. The factory and offices did not reopen until 2 January 1992 although export staff were on hand on a rota basis to man the office. This meant that as all redundancies took effect from 31 December, my time as a Chubb employee was finished. At the final pre-Christmas departmental drink, Frank spoke a few words and stated that as a long serving and highly valued member of the Department, he could not allow my retirement to pass without a party and presentation which he would organise in the New Year. (That it never happened was to my mind, perfectly symptomatic of Morris. Some time later when he was dismissed - the last of the "fast track managers", I felt it was a suitable close to the whole unhappy experiment.)

So after just over forty one years of employment, I was retired. I had enjoyed virtually all of my time with Chubb who had kept their promise that I should see the world. There had been friendships, excitement and good times a-plenty and yes, Export had been fun!.

HMP Weare in transit

Mr.Ibbs receives his Long Service Award from D.Langley

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