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Walter Phillips

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1906 Agents' Dinner to Mr. Walter Phillips. [1]

The dinner organised by the agents of Humber, Limited, to Mr. Walter Phillips was a splendid success, no fewer than eighty-seven sitting down to a most excellent repast. It is, we should think, the first time on record that the agents of any company have thus spontaneously honoured one of the officials of that company by organising a testimonial and dinner, absolutely "on their own," to show their appreciation of the excellent work he has done, and of the courtesy and thorough manner in which he has catered for the interests of the agents.

Needless to say, the toast of the evening was that of Mr. Phillips. It was proposed by Mr. Wright, of Lincoln, to whose initiative the evening's entertainment was due. He said he had known him for twenty-seven years, and briefly sketched his history.

He had started in business in 1869 in Wolverhampton. In 1876 he was at the great Widnes Works, Wolverhampton. On the death of Mr. Dan Rudge, Mr. Phillips commandeered the management for the benefit of his widow, and laboured loyally on her behalf. Eventually the business was conveyed to Coventry, just at the period when the watch trade was on the decline, and Mr. Phillips remained in it for several years. He then joined the Coventry Humber Works, the present abnormal success of which is mainly due to his ability. At the very height of the boom, when it was nearly impossible to get bicycles, the works were burned down, and the responsibility of meeting the situation rested on Mr. Phillips' shoulders. He put his shoulder to the wheel in his own way — Mr. Phillips had only one way, and few others have it. The factory was going in fourteen days. Now there are works Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4.

When the agents went to Coventry Mr. Phillips was the man they wanted to find, and sometimes it was difficult to find him owing to the extent of the works. They had learned that when they wanted anything done promptly and satisfactorily they had to go to Mr. Phillips. As a sportsman his record, too, was a big one. He had won championships, and had beaten the world's best. The present gathering was initiated by one or two of the prominent agents. When he (Mr. Wright) first took up the agency of the car he knew no more about it than the menu. They were now turning out a thousand bicycles and fifty motor cars a week; in the factory they had 2,000 men, and their wages were from £3,000 to £4,000 a week.

Mr. Mackenzie, of the Cycle Trader and Motor Trader, supported the toast. Mr. Phillips was one of his oldest friends; he had known him for seventeen years, and he had no doubt in his mind who it was who was responsible for once more placing Humbers on top. Originality, punctuality, and organisation were the keynotes of his success. He was a man who got up at five in the morning and was in the factory before six. Needless to say, the toast was most enthusiastically drunk, and when the cheering had at last subsided, Mr. Phillips made a very feeling speech in response. He said they made him feel too proud that night, and that he would be ever grateful for their great kindness, but could not find words to express his feelings. As long as he felt as young as he did he would not fear to meet competition.

Amidst great applause, a splendid silver salver was then handed to Mr. Phillips, with an inscription stating that it was given as a memento of good felling and respect.

The toast of the visitors was placed in the hands of Mr. Ace, and in replying, Mr. Staner (Autocar) made the best and most amusing speech of the evening. One of the secrets of Mr. Phillips' success was, he said, that he was a six o'clock man. The moral effect of an empty man talking to empty men had an extraordinary result with workmen. Phillips was a man amongst men; the men knew it, and liked it. Another point was that he was not afraid of employing good men in the fear that they might get on top. They had their friend, Coatalen, as designer, and his work spoke for itself. There was Mr. Verney, the works' manager. These men never hesitated to look upon their chief as actual chief, because they knew that he was a man.

Mr. Percy (MOTOR NEWS), in replying to the toast, said that in honouring Mr. Phillips they had honoured themselves and the whole industry. Phillips was a self-made man, and not afraid to own it

Mr. Albert Eadie, in replying, said that he did not speak as a visitor. He had known his dear old friend, Walter Phillips, for over thirty years. He had been fighting to beat foreign trade. He was a man of great aggressiveness, with wonderful command of British workmen, who believed in them, and by this means he defeated the French invasion of cheap French motors. He had done more for the automobile industry in this country than any other man in existence. He himself was a protectionist, but Mr. Phillips had gone one better, for he had shown them how to make motor cars, and how to make a profit against every competition. Mr. Phillips we had one of our greatest protectionists. A cordial vote of thanks to the Chairman brought a very successful dinner to a close. An illuminated address to Mr. Phillips was signed by all those present, and, knowing the man as we do, we feel sure that it will be retained as one of his most treasured possessions.


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Sources of Information

  1. Motor News of 1st December 1906