Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,450 pages of information and 233,880 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Paul Martin Sebestyen: The Founding and Development of Radiospares

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search

Note: This is a sub-section of Paul Martin Sebestyen and Radiospares


THE FOUNDING AND DEVELOPMENT OF RADIOSPARES by PAUL MARTIN SEBESTYEN (1906-1978) from PERSONAL RECORDINGS made in late 1977

Transcribed by Paul Bryan at Chantry Sound in 2017 and edited by Amanda Sebestyen in 2018

PART I: From Hungary to Czechoslovakia to America to London

Paul Sebestyen started work in Budapest with his Uncle Louis, who had a kind of minor empire in leather. He had control of various leather and shoe manufacturers and was very wealthy. It was also intended that Paul read law at the University as an extra-mural student. Uncle Louis asked Paul if he wanted to become a businessman, and on being told “Yes”, Uncle Louis said the most important thing to know about was bookkeeping. After an hour’s lecture Paul was given the books of a leather manufacturer and told to take them away and bring them up to the trial balance stage. After six weeks he brought them back to his Uncle who was pleased until he came to a very small item which Paul had written off, whereupon he shouted at Paul with the whole workforce listening, calling him a swindler and a crook.

“I drew myself up to my six feet one-and-a-half inches, and told him that it was impossible to work with him. I got in touch with Richard Hitchman, a very good leather manufacturer near Prague, who gave me a job. I went there and registered as an extra-mural law student at the German University of Prague. These were my last years in Hungary since, apart from holidays, I didn’t get back again.

“The Czechs had an almost complete democratic regime unlike Hungary. Socially, everybody was more or less equal; though some people were more equal than others. I began with a small room and no cooking facilities. I ate lunch and dinner in a pub called The Red Crayfish. When I left in 1927 I could afford a small car. I got on well in the company and was given the task of entertaining foreign buyers since my English wasn’t too bad. That’s how I became friendly with Henry Wilkinson who was the company’s sole distributor in England. This contact enabled me to get to England in the fullness of time. I managed to pass the first part of the law exams in 1927, only with second grade honours. This was done on top of all of my other ‘extra curricular activities’…Never mind!

“Life was worth living at this time. Having passed my Doctorate [later] and having worked my way into the confidence of Henry Wilkinson, he very kindly offered me a job. His business was that of leather wholesaler and his main business was to act as distributor for Pfister and Vogel of Milwaukee who were the top manufacturers of patent leather in the world.”

Paul went to Milwaukee to be trained for three months for his job as Sales Supervisor for Eastern and Central Europe with eighteen countries beneath him. The three months in Milwaukee during Prohibition were awful. In fact, he had such a miserable time that for forty years he didn’t want to go back to the States. He was offered a good career there, but he said that he was a European with such values and he took his departure for England. “I arrived in London at about two thirty on a Monday morning at St. Paul’s station. It was pouring with rain and I managed to get a taxi to the Waldorf Hotel where Wilkinson had his suite. The porter wouldn’t disturb Wilkinson, telling me, who had a very good suntan, that ‘I’m sorry Sir, we don’t accommodate coloured gentlemen’. This was an introduction to some of the quirks of life in England!”

Paul learned from his boss, Richard Hitchman, to form personal relationships with customers, and this was the basis of any successful selling that Paul did throughout his career. His new boss, Wilkinson, lived in luxurious style in a grand house near Northampton. Paul’s job entailed travelling around Europe in some style, checking firms’ stocks and their books. He travelled by land or air and frequently travelled on the Orient Express.

As a result of the Wall Street crash of October 1929, Pfister and Vogel packed in the American operation and gave Wilkinson funds to pay Paul a year’s wages, but he was out of a job. Wilkinson was in very deep water, since all the trappings of luxury were a front. He committed suicide in 1930 and left behind debts of £500,000, which was a considerable sum then. Paul was now without a labour permit and faced the possibility of being pushed out of the country. He went back to Hungary and got agencies for all sorts of products for export: dried vegetables, salami, paprika and Hungarian beans. He also arranged contracts for English pea growers who wanted to grow their seed peas in Hungary.

“In 1929 I went to Hungary twice. The second time I flew back and brought with me a creature called Nobby who was an Alsatian puppy. He turned out to be a splendid dog. I trained him and won with him the second prize in the National Obedience Test in Crystal Palace in 1932.”

Paul collected all his belongings and came back to London. For a year he lived in boarding houses near Russell Square where there were a lot of foreign people and Paul managed to have a good time. He established himself in a small office off Eastcheap. His business was done between 10 and 12 in the morning in coffee houses and he managed to earn about £1,000 a year for two years, which was very good money. He moved to a large top flat on Kensington High Street where his landlord was an ‘extremely queer but very nice’ hairdresser.

“In 1932 I was briefed by the Hungarian Government to organise the Hungarian stand at the International Poultry Congress and Exhibition. There was six weeks’ work and the pay was £250 which was not to be sneezed at. Of the wines of course the palm went to the Imperial Tokay which was the main feature. There were present six of the remaining bottles of 1789, which was the vintage of all vintages in beautiful eighteenth century bottles bearing the Esterházy coat of arms. I was instructed how to open a bottle and I was provided with two golden goblets, about thirty silver ones and innumerable crystal ones. On the opening of the Exhibition, which was carried out by the Duke and Duchess of York (afterwards George VI and the Queen Mum) I was to serve them with this stuff in the golden goblets, their entourage in the silver ones and the hoi polloi out of the crystal ones.

“At the closure of the exhibition it was my job to get rid of all the fowl that we had exhibited. Well, all the Hungarian turkeys went very quickly and the special sorts of hens also went very fast. Ducks went and the guinea fowl went particularly fast. But nobody wanted to buy our geese. Our geese were very heavy, huge geese which had been bred largely to produce outsize livers for foie gras and also a lot of fat for goose fat. I was in despair because in those days aerial transport was tremendously expensive and it was not worthwhile to send them back to Hungary. Nobody even wanted to buy these birds for slaughter. I was told that they were useless until, at the last moment, a little brown man came up to me and said, pointing at the geese ‘And would these be the famous Hungarian swans?’ Most dishonestly, I nodded, upon which he said ‘Would I be dishonouring you, Sir, by offering you £50 a brace for them?’ I said, ‘Insult away’, or something like that! It turned out that this was the Secretary of the Sultan of Johor, who was establishing a private zoo.”

Part II: Businesses before Radiospares

Paul met Heinz Weinberger [Herbert Waring’s older brother] through playing ice hockey, and through him “my mania with radio started.” Heinz was importing radio sets from Germany. It was the days when all-electric sets came out and Paul became absolutely fascinated by the medium.

He moved to share an office with Heinz in Holborn. At that time, besides being an importer, Heinz was making a business re-stringing tennis racquets. Paul lent £1,000 to Heinz to import radios in great quantity, but in 1932 there was a Buy British campaign, which made people reluctant to buy anything imported. Radio wholesalers were restricted to members of the Fair Trade Agreement, which restricted all imported radio sets. Heinz’s business became “more and more dicey.” Furthermore, a tariff was brought in on the produce Paul was importing and his business practically died. Heinz was in such trouble that he couldn’t pay back any of the loan, so Paul determined to move the radio stock by commercial travelling in the Home Counties and the Midlands. Paul gave up his business apart from the dried vegetables import, which was made into a Limited Company [Lampex] with Heinz and himself as Directors and nominal capital of £100.

In 1933, the whole Weinberger clan, being Jewish, left Berlin for London because old Max Weinberger decided that there was no future in Germany for Jews. “How right he was!” Paul moved to a large flat in Maida Vale with Heinz.

Heinz and [his younger brother Herbert, known to friends as] Joghi were both born in Amsterdam where Max Weinberger had a wholesale electrical business which eventually went wrong in the early 1920s. Max had invented an early form of air purifier to cure respiratory ailments. There was little evidence that it worked, but, on the back of it, the whole family moved to Berlin. Paul went with Heinz to visit them in 1932. This was the end of Weimar Germany, with Nazis and Communists fighting each other in the streets. Paul, Heinz and Joghi experienced Berlin nightlife with three girls in tow. On naturalisation Heinz changed his surname to Winter and Joghi to Waring.

“In 1936, things became very serious through the crisis of Lampex, which was my Company. I worked extremely hard during all this time. I covered practically the whole country, mostly by car. In two years, I put up more than five thousand miles a year driving, because I had to take samples of our sets with me wherever I went. We exhibited in the Radio Shows in London and also, in the last year of our existence in 1935 at Glasgow and Manchester, as a result of which I had a nervous breakdown. There were considerable differences of opinion between Heinz and myself. Joghi was acting as our Works Manager. Heinz, of course, was more or less responsible for the inside work and it was due to his miscalculations that we never turned out any decent sets. All that Heinz was interested in was to blow the balloon bigger and bigger, and in the last year of our existence we had a production of nearly fifty thousand sets, which in those days was a tremendous amount. The sets were lousy; technically and in quality too. We did an awful lot of work for the people who gave sets away with cigarette coupons..

“The balloon got bigger and bigger - I sold more and more lousy sets. We were largely creditor-borne; we had very little working capital of our own and were not making profits of any magnitude. Our debts got bigger and bigger, and, in the end, my stamp collection, which I had not kept up since 1927 but had carefully preserved, was sent to Zurich to auction. I got fifty thousand francs for the thing, with which the fortunes of Lampex were not retrieved. The Company was put into liquidation, the creditors were paid up, and that was the end of that chapter.

“The clock by now struck 1936. In the summer of ‘36 I had £300. The joint flat with Heinz broke up about a year before this and I had my own place in Hampstead. It was a basement flat. The time came for Lampex to go into liquidation and very little money was left. I had £300 and the Weinberger boys and I shared things out. I saw to it that they had a similar amount to myself.

“What to do? Well, it was a very difficult job deciding. That was the Summer when the Spanish Civil War broke out and that was the start of a most passionate love affair of my life, Pam. She was still at the LSE and she subsequently graduated with a first in 1938. Pam was a Communist and I believe possibly still may be. Under Pam’s influence I was passionately interested in the Republican cause in Spain. It was Joghi who stopped me at Victoria Station - by hanging onto my jacket - from embarking for the International Brigade.

“We had no means of subsistence and the company was wound up. I couldn’t accept a job and neither could the Weinbergers , as none of us was naturalised and foreigners were not allowed to take jobs. On top of it, so as to prevent my expulsion from England, and in order to avoid my recall to the Hungarian Army, I’d had myself dismissed from Hungarian citizenship and was stateless. ( I forgot to mention that I spent three months in the Autumn of 1924 in the Hungarian Horse Artillery and came out with the rank of Lieutenant in the reserve). Altogether my situation was more than parlous.

“So there we were in that Summer of ‘36. One night I dined with a Hungarian who told me that there was a lot of money to be made on the dog tracks, so, my ears went up and I went to the dog races, studied the theory of the thing and came to the conclusion that there was money to be made by systematising and betting on the forecast; that means the first and second of the race. With six dogs there are thirty combinations, so I worked out that, according to the law of averages, each combination should come up one in thirty. So, stupidly thinking that the chances would be better to come up one in three hundred, statistics were initiated. Joghi and Heinz joined me in the enterprise with our last money. The system initially was extremely successful and we won about £6,000 in about three months. Then, suddenly, in five days, the Achilles heel of the system became evident, that, in order to secure our losses we had to back ourselves against ourselves and the odds were continuously shortening on those combinations that didn’t come up.”

Part III: The idea of Radiospares

“There we were in early November, at the start of the Abdication crisis, practically penniless. The three of us had three motor cars worth fifteen pounds, and for five shillings a week rented a lock-up garage in Lanark Villas, which ran parallel to Maida Vale where all the Weinbergers were living. The technical design of radio sets had stabilised itself by that time and there were no revolutionary new models coming out. So we then thought that there must be a market for the repair of the sets. We were quite right in that assumption.

“We went round and approached some of the people who’d supplied us at Lampex, and who gave us a helping hand. The name of the Company was Whitley Works, taken from a dormant subsidiary of Lampex, which we kept out of the debacle. We invested our fifteen pounds largely in electronic condensers, they were not called capacitors in those days. We started going round finding a market for these. We went back to our suppliers daily, and bought for cash whatever we could sell. We loaded up our cars with such bits and pieces as we had, and went round. According to old Max Weinberger, who was horrified by this activity, we were hawkers, which is quite correct.

“Our catalogue was a type of price list of about ten items, typed out on one page. At that particular moment, all the component manufacturers considered the replacement market as one on which they could unduly enrich themselves, and, for argument’s sake, a five hundred volt condenser, which was the mainstay of the replacement business, was listed at eight shillings and six pence, thirty and a third to the dealer. We sold those at one shilling and six pence net. Consequently, we built up a business. We also got a reputation as being awful price cutters. Never mind. It was very hard graft indeed, but, from the word go, we made money.

“I still remember the first morning I had was in Wandsworth, and I made around fourteen calls in the morning just about being chucked out everywhere until, in the end, I got to somewhere called Backhouse and Longhurst at the top of East Hill and there was Henry Longhurst, who was a very nice chap. He engaged in a lengthy conversation with me. He also had a servicing problem on his bench and I was lucky enough to hit on the nature of the fault, which he could not diagnose. As a result of this, he bought six condensers at eight pence each and I triumphally collected four shillings from him. Many years afterwards in 1948, when we had a huge stand at Olympia to exhibit our products, I saw Henry Longhurst approaching, rushed off the stand, took him by the arm and showed him everything we were making. By that time we were of a reasonable shape and standard. I give him a very good lunch, plied him with drinks, and he said ‘Now do tell me Mr Sebestyen, why am I singled out for all this honour? I’m only a one-horse show and a very small customer of yours, indeed’. So I told him he was the Company’s first customer. Could he tell me why he bought those six condensers from me? He said ‘Well, I thought that the condensers were so cheap that they couldn’t be any good, but you seemed to be a very nice chap and I thought that four shillings was not too high a price to pay for half-an-hour of your time.’ This shows how fragile the reputation for grand salesmanship can be. Never mind!

“The years ‘37 and ‘38 were spent in back-breaking work, out on the road all day long and in the office all evening doing the correspondence and what have you. Meanwhile, the war clouds were gathering, and, being in London, no-one was pleased with the prospect of being exposed to German aerial attack. Both Joghi and I were still stateless. My efforts after Munich to join the Territorials were defeated by army regulations. They would not accept me. War broke out in the fullness of time. Occasionally, I took off Monday nights to go to the West End into the pit to see a play. Theatrical life in London was splendid and I followed it. On Sunday nights I usually went to the films in the West End and in those days you could get in for two shillings and fourpence which I thought was a gross extravagance. Usually, I managed to have high tea beforehand and then went to the last show. Anyway, we lived very cheaply, very modestly and at a very cheap rate because the one thing we wanted to do was make our business flourish because we had an eye on long-term success.

“Incidentally, not only have I failed to mention that we changed our name to Radiospares, but we adopted Radiospares as a trade mark, registered it, and got all our suppliers to mark every component with the Radiospares trade mark, which became quite well known. A very modest catalogue of eight pages was published by that time. We also, through some people called Hassett Austin who were the sales distributors in England, got a franchise to distribute Arcturus, American tubes, to the radio trade. Exclusively - Hassett Austin were only distributing to Industrial and Government users. The Army bought quite a lot of stuff from them.”

Part IV: Radiospares during the War

“The outbreak of war at first was a terrible blow. I tried to get into the Air Force, having a licence, but they turned me down on my night-colour vision. So, the War was on. At the first stage, a tremendous run for our goods developed. All the wise guys in the trade were stock-piling, because they thought that production, mostly for military purposes, was going to be in short supply. We took advantage of that, and were practically sold out. By the end of September 1939, we were having the greatest difficulty obtaining supplies. But, as for a while there was a great deal of dithering by the Ministry of Supply and the awarding of contracts, most of our manufacturers came to their senses and supplied us very freely, thus replenishing our stocks.

“During the phoney war period, we made a great deal of money and established ourselves even on a broader base. Call-ups did not bite yet, since our Representatives were all in their thirties, and we were doing very nicely, thank you. When, of course, the proper war broke out in the spring of 1940, things started changing radically in every way, and for Radiospares as well. The importation of American valves, which accounted for about forty percent of our business and of our profits for civilian purposes, was stopped. At the last moment, I tried to arrange for replacement supplies, by going to Paris in late 1940. I came back utterly depressed because the collapse of France was then predicted.

“We went on faithfully supplying our customers’ needs as long as we had them; executing every order the same day that we received them. Also, with a view to the War risk, we converted the whole business into a COD [Cash On Delivery] organisation and would not give any credit any longer. Up to that time, we had run a ‘journey account’. That is, anything a customer ordered in-between the Representative’s calls was payable to the Representative on his subsequent call. We organised all this quite successfully, but then we packed it in.

“Then, of course, that Summer of 1940, with the collapse of France, had a terrific impact on us. They were interning foreigners left right and centre, and at any moment we expected that for no reason whatsoever we would be transported to the Isle of Man. In any case, we were not. But at that time the friendship of John Diamond, who from being our Accountant had also become a personal friend, became very valuable. He agreed to join our Board in the capacity of Director, and agreed to take over the running of our business should we be interned.

“I had an old friend in England called Arthur Stewart who was a very successful architect. I met him during my time at the boarding house in Grenville Street and for a time we were very good friends, then drifted apart. In his house in Beaconsfield he had the tremendous luxury of a swimming pool, and ten of us were sitting round it for a whole Sunday. This was the Sunday after the fall of France and we were discussing the formation of the first Quisling cabinet of England. There was only agreement on who would be the prospective Prime Minister: we all nominated the then Archbishop of Canterbury [Cosmo Gordon Lang] for this post, who was a well-known fascist bastard. It was an interesting atmosphere of approaching storm; that sort of closeness. Anyhow, the thunder cloud opened and emptied itself in the shape of the Blitz, which in a way was a situation of tremendous relief because we were expecting it and we hadn’t known what shape it would take. We could see that we could survive.

“The Blitz was an interesting experience. I was bombed out towards the end of October, myself. I had a small basement flat abutting onto Hampstead Heath and nobody during that Blitz period would go out in the evening. I would, and I was completely fearless of any consequences because I had an inner conviction and feeling that nothing could or would hurt me. It was a curious feeling, particularly when all your friends were scared to death. Each evening I had to go to bed early, listening to the radio or reading when suddenly, one night about quarter past nine there was a near miss and the ceiling came down on top of me. I did not like it. It was a filthy mess and, being a bachelor, I would not clear it up. I had a Mrs Kelly coming in every morning to clean up my flat. So, I packed a small grip with my shaving tackle and what have you, and cleared off to the Cumberland [Hotel] which could only offer me a small room on the top floor, facing the place where Speakers’ Corner is now. They apologised for the inconvenient room, to which I said ‘It is perfectly all right as far as I’m concerned’, having that feeling of invulnerability. On the strength of my experience, I had a second dinner in the grill-room which was still open and went safely to bed. I got up very early so as to go back to my flat to give Mrs Kelly her instructions about cleaning up. The road was closed off, and the policeman at the barrier asked me what I wanted so I said I wanted to go to number 6. He said ‘Well, I’m afraid that it’s had it during the night.’ It had had a direct hit and everything that I was possessed of was lost. Unfortunately, my gramophone collection of about five and a half thousand records and my library, including some rare books which I was very fond of, they were all gone, but I laughed because I was alive and all that lifeless matter had gone.

“I managed to get myself a roof over my head in Sutherland Avenue, Maida Vale, and fortunately enough I had a suitcase of clothes at the office and another suitcase of clothes at Joghi’s flat, so I wasn’t without clothes to wear, and I could have some suits made. I had a wonderful tailor in Kingsway and suits were ten guineas, and God were they well made. Anyhow, the financial pressure was off from the moment the war started. We were each allowed to withdraw £2,000 as Directors for living expenses, which in those days was a considerable amount of money, and I started living very well. I frequented good restaurants and went to the theatre when I could. The only concerts were at the National Gallery at lunchtimes. The whole National Gallery was evacuated and the pictures stored in some secret places in the country.

“But we could see our supply position becoming more and more difficult. Also, our Representatives began to be called up. So we made the decision not only to convert the whole business for the duration into a Mail Order Business, but also to impose a rationing system of our own. Some of the things, for instance electronic condensers, became extremely scarce and other people were charging as much as twenty-five shillings each, whereas we were still marketing them at the pre-war price of one shilling and sixpence each. Any orders were now severely rationed: each customer had three units per month, irrespective of size. However, this built up tremendous good will for us [as Radiospares kept to the old prices and did not take unfair advantage of the wartime situation].

“We also started advertising and were looking for other means to keep going. We bought control of a small condenser manufacturer who was making paper condensers, not electronic, which we sold back to him after the war. We managed to buy a share in a very small cable factory and also in a very small transformer factory. Both of those were liquidated after the war. We also bought another distributing company called Franklin Electric, together with its then Director who was called Murray Stewart, and marketed the self-same components through Radiospares direct to the retail user. We marketed as Franklin through wholesalers. By those means we managed to survive the war in very good shape. In fact, we managed to increase our goodwill to such an extent that we had customers all over the country who thought we were absolutely wonderful.”

Part V: After the war, from Kilburn to Fitzrovia

“There were setbacks, of course. We first moved from Kilburn to five houses in Fitzroy Street. They were Adam houses, and one of the houses had a beautiful ceiling. There were some tenants in it, but these were only minor troubles. In ‘48, we had a big setback through the attempted restraining of inflation, which was to be partly achieved by restricting hire-purchase and jacking up purchase tax rates, which got us into a very bad state indeed. We were over- extended, with a very short range of merchandise. After the War, everybody was trying to buy what he could, because everything could be sold. Anyhow, there were difficulties also with my making terrible selection mistakes in engaging [Sales] Representatives. We had a colossal staff turn-over, which was largely my own fault. My faith in myself was restored by my going to Joghi and saying I wanted to be quit of the task of selecting because I was useless, upon which he suggested that modern methods be used by letting a doctor and a psychologist have a look at the suitability of applicants. This was done, and the first man selected by me and vetted by both of them, and considered by the experts eminently satisfactory, was suspect to me as he had been a Fighter Pilot during the War, and he was shot-up and hospitalised for nine months, which I thought might leave some scar tissue. In any case, the man never started the job. He accepted and confirmed the contract, and two days before his starting he did not turn up. So, as I had this bloke suspect, and experts said all lines green, my self-confidence was restored!

“Fitzroy Street also brought with it the departmentalisation of the Company. Heath became our Office Manager. He is still with the Company at this moment as Personnel Manager. Hart became our Stores Manager and served us very faithfully right up to almost the day of my retirement. Within six months, he was killed by cancer. A new man came in to run the Accounts Department. Many years afterwards, it was found out that he had pinched quite a lot of money, and the matter was irrecoverable. This was of course the Achilles Heel of Joghi’s single entry book-keeping, which in the end had to be changed to double-entry so as to avoid further problems.

“As we are going back to those early days, there were also very considerable alarms and excursions with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, which caught me in the middle of a business trip in Scandinavia, on which I’d done fairly well, and I was in Stockholm when the news came through that the war broke out. This, of course, created very considerable shortages. We were landed with quite a lot of material which we had over-bought in the period up to ‘48. We managed to get rid of all the surplus stuff very profitably when there was a very big run in 1950. At the same time in 1950 we started our costing system. The system was simply to apply the money values on all merchandise passing through, at the moment when it went in bulk into hand stores, and comparing the values with total invoice values which passed through the company’s books monthly, with a differential of up to two and a half percent in either direction. Everything was considered to be in order but when the differential was greater, then it was considered that the matter needed further investigation, which we did, and in each of those instances we did feel that there was pilfering going on. How successful we were ever in stopping it God only knows, but we had less than most of our other contemporaries.

“So, with the passing of time, the premises got too small again and we had to look for new premises. Franklin, having served its purpose, was carried on as a purchasing company in the new premises which we acquired, numbers 4 to 8 Maple Street, which were far beyond the wildest dreams of our imagination. They were too big for us when we moved in. Franklin was moved into the rear of the premises, and they did the purchasing with all the storage in bulk. Radiospares took over all the requisitions for hand stores, so the book-keeping, and keeping the two companies apart, was quite easily arranged. In fact our system worked so excellently that practically in those early days, on the 2nd of each month I knew at my desk not only what our sales were during the previous month, but what our gross profit rate was overall, and I also knew what our overheads were, and, consequently I could, by the 2nd of each month know what the previous month net profit was, which, within point one-one percent was proved to be correct at the end of each financial year, when the auditors did their stuff.”

Part VI: Growth of the Sales Force

“Well, let us leave the Radiospares office at the removal to Maple Street. Up to that time, we were typing our invoices and our paperwork was rather rudimentary. When we return to that, we’ll see what Joghi did with all of that. Meanwhile, of course, the Sales Force build-up continued, and by 1953 it was necessary to re-arrange the force because we had too many customers, and Representatives were no longer able to cope. So, the first two re-organisations took place in 1953 which meant, as I carried out all those jobs single-handed, a tremendous amount of work for myself: re-designing the new territories, laying out the new Representatives’ itineraries and getting the Representatives together to switch the control material and to let them talk to each other about customers they were taking over and customers who they were passing on to colleagues of theirs. It was at first disliked by the Representatives, but, as growth took place, it was impossible to do without it, and it was still the right measure to expand.

“During this period we also had another great crisis through petrol rationing, which was re-introduced in 1951 when Mossadegh was nationalising the British-owned Persian oil fields. When that petrol rationing finished, stocks from the cars our Representatives were carrying, and the whole thing, turned round so that all goods had to be dispatched from Headquarters. But, we maintained same-day dispatch of all orders received on any one day. Our Representatives’ orders from the previous day were in the mail in the following morning and had, of course, absolute priority of dispatch so as not to let the Representatives down. We coped by that means. By the time we got to Maple Street, we had through-put of something like four to five hundred invoices a day, which we considered quite terrific. We were still working, right up to 1957, a five-and-a-half-day week, but it was getting more and more difficult to get the staff to work willingly for those hours.

“Exports started to come in. I mentioned already that in 1950 I was messing around in Scandinavia. There were abortive attempts to find out if we could establish a brand in France, which was negative on account of the lack of dispatch facilities. We could not duplicate the services of the British Post Office which carried our entire organisation in England.

“So, the great adventure went over the top. After a year of mailing our catalogues to people who enquired from us for supplies, and supplying them by mail order, by the time we had a few hundred of these industrial people we sent out our Area Manager for a week too, and had reports as to what the needs were, and in what way they differed from the needs of the radio traders. The next stage was to up-grade all our products to industrial standard requirements, and to put in the Sales Force. Originally I intended to run this absolutely similarly as the trading business, but in a short while it was found out that the frequency of four weeks’ calling was far too great for industrial users. So, it was first decided to change the calling frequency to eight weeks, then to twelve, and then to four times a year (an issue of the catalogue with it), and, ultimately to sixteen weeks’ worth three times a year, which, as far as I know, it is still running now.”

Part VII: Becoming a Public Company

“By this time - ‘58-’59 - we had made substantial profits, and the possibility of turning into a public company was discussed. The question of floating the Company became of primary importance, but it was negatived by the fact of our having established secret resources, hidden resources, in reserves by undervaluing our stocks. This had to be declared in the City, because for considerable earning power we had very few assets shown. So the time came for a cleaning up operation with which I had help from John [later Lord] Diamond and Harold Lever, now Lord Lever. In the early months of 1960 at the cost of eighty thousand pounds [£1.7 million today. PB], we put the whole thing into a white sheet. From that moment onwards it was only necessary to acquire the results of the new basis, which, after six years in 1967, enabled us to float. Curiously enough, we floated by public tender during the worst possible juncture; during the week of the Six Day War. Even so, the venture was a tremendous success and we have never done a thing wrong as far as the City is concerned.

“1961 brought with it a very great shock. Joghi’s coronary landed the whole caboosh in my lap, and with very little help. Roy Gibbons joined us in ‘54 as my Personal Assistant, but drifted over more and more to the technical side only. So, after Joghi’s recovery, as a matter of priority, in rapid succession Ron Marler and Don Turner were engaged, and the last ten years of my life, to a considerable extent, were devoted to training those gentlemen to refine our internal systems, and my success in this undertaking seems to have been demonstrated by the terrific progress that the Company is still making under its second generation management.

“One exception was Reading Windings factory, which we acquired from its former owner Mr Witt, very stupidly in the Summer of ’55. For future development I was thinking in the early ’50s in terms of vertical integration; of buying up producing units. Fortunately enough, not being a public company, in retrospect I can say very fortunately, we did not succeed. Our only result was Reading Windings, and that turned out very badly. However, once we became a public company, I was once again thinking of growing by takeovers. This time, my idea was of horizontal extension by buying up our would-be competitors.

“Well, this turned out a complete lemon. The only one where there was a prospect of a turnover was Eagle Products, and I regret to say that when I pursued it to their sources in Japan we found that Eagle’s director was not of the standard of integrity to join the Board of our Company. So that fell through. I concerned myself with private investments, because since the early ‘60s I was convinced that the outlook for sterling was a very poor one. I was absolutely correct, and the monetary remission that sterling is enjoying at the moment (I’m dictating this during the last days of ‘77) is just a false signal, I fear.

“Of course, I did plenty of business trips. Each year I absented myself for almost six weeks for that reason. Besides Africa, it was India, Ceylon, Australia, Hong Kong, United States, Japan, Mexico; whenever there was a chance of turning an honest penny and getting paid for the thing. I was not, of necessity, always successful in selling, but I got plenty of experience from it and managed to see the world. Also, I managed to get myself out of office tensions which were gradually brewing up. With a growing organisation, all the bitchery that is associated with large companies appeared in our organisation too. I was no longer as interested in money making, I was not with it spiritually any longer. I had less satisfaction out of this fulfilment of our dreams.

“The time of my retirement was pre-conditioned by putting a clause into Articles of Association, making retirement at 65 mandatory. The retirement date drew nearer and nearer, and, during the last 6 months of work for the Company, I managed to put out a plan for reorganisation of the Sales Force which showed very considerable savings and probably has been one of the mainsprings of their continuously increasing success since my retirement.

“I do not want to criticize anything they have done after I left. Their success so far has been tremendous, and I’m taking my hat off to them. “


See Also

Loading...

Sources of Information