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Also Innovators

4

A taste of Northern bitter

Ted Jones had been an ally during my Remington House days. A Kiwi, from Wellington, and an accountant by training, he was a few years older than the rest of us, and wore his greying hair long and affected his own style with a quiet authority. He took the role of the first northern region director for Sperry+UNIVAC, although we were still using the UNIVAC acronym to sell products. His first recruit was Roger Notman-Watt. Audrey and I had been quite close to Roger and his wife Rita in London when we socialised outside of the business environment. Ted had an obligation to Roger from a few years back in Remington House. Ted had developed a relationship with a young lady from work, Joanne, who already had a boyfriend; a jealous boyfriend. The boyfriend came into Remington House one evening after office hours, and was met and challenged by Roger Notman-Watt. An altercation ensued that left Roger bruised and bleeding. It was never stated whether Roger claimed to be Ted, or was simply aggressive in denying the boyfriend access to the office. Ted subsequently married Joanne and they moved to Prestbury, Cheshire, when he took up the role of director. Roger moved with Ted as his administration manager, living just a few moments from the office in Hale Barns, Cheshire.

I knew that Ted had offered John Ware the job as Sperry+UNIVAC northern region sales manager, and that John had preferred to stay in the South with CDC. John and Margaret’s children were about 10–12 years old, and he enjoyed living in Croydon. I had been surprised when Ted called to offer me the role of sales manager, but was flattered to be asked. I was about to visit Carrington, also in Cheshire, on CDC business, so agreed to meet Ted and Roger after I had finished at the Shell refinery. It was not a job interview in any sense of the word. Ted and Roger enthused about how happy they were to have made the move from London, and were aggressive about the sales potential they were exploring. Roger took me to his home, a large family home with a fantastic open view across the Cheshire Plains, and told me that he was actually leaving Sperry to move to Brazil. The house was for sale and, because he was going overseas, he wanted to sell all of the furniture at what he claimed were very keen prices. I was certainly of a mind to consider a move back to Sperry. The closeness of Rivershill Gardens to the office, the availability of a home without the aggravation of an extended search, and the chance to take a sales management role combined to make it an attractive proposition. Audrey endorsed the move. I started six weeks later.

Whoever chose the office location in Station Street, Altrincham, chose well. The office was next door to the Lawnswood Arms, an upmarket hostelry, and was opposite the Ploughman, a spit-and-sawdust setting that became our home away from the office, particularly for lunch. The Cresta Court Hotel was the other side, towards Altrincham. Also on the town side, on the other side of the road, was a really nice smaller establishment, the Orange Tree, for Friday evening and quieter functions.

The first surprise was a sales director to contend with. Ted had not mentioned Peter Lea, who he had recruited from the customer engineering ranks. Unsurprisingly for an engineer, Peter saw things in black or white, and was at a complete loss in dealing with the greys of the selling process. Nor did he really have a sense of humour. But he did have a sense of honour, and gave up the big ground-floor office that was designated for the sales manager. He joined forces with Ted Jones when I immediately rebelled over the allotment of car parking spaces. I lost that fight. My ethic is always ‘first-come, first served’, although if the car park nearest to the door was left empty as a courtesy for Ted Jones, as the regional director, so be it. Peter was dark and mostly smartly dressed. He had the tendency to hunch his shoulders and with his thick dark eyebrows could look a bit intimidating.

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1: Ted Jones and myself at the Wig and Pen in Fleet Street, the pub used for Sperry functions.

Source: Author’s collection.

My first assignment was to attend a regional sales conference. It was a good opportunity to see each of the salesmen in my team presenting his sales plan for his geographic area, and to compare them with the salesmen from the Midlands Region who were based in Birmingham and in attendance. The Midlands team had outstanding salespeople who I knew.

Laurence O’Neill, a dark, well-groomed Welshman, gave a wonderful presentation that took every advantage of his natural lilt on ‘how to present’ by making every mistake in the book with a superb timing and just the right degree of embarrassment to have me asking ‘Was this for real?’ Alan Stevens, a tall, ascetic, bald, slightly stooped technician turned salesman, was our expert on the products of International Computers Limited, for whom he had previously worked.

My own sales team looked solid. I was pleased. The conference also gave me the opportunity to stand up and explain my motives for rejoining Sperry. My team included salesmen who worked from home around Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, and Sheffield. The Scottish representative was luckier, as he had the advantage of a Sperry manufacturing plant in Scotland, a base from which he could reference sell. Sperry was assembling card punches at the Livingston factory, obtaining government grants and the justification for claiming a ‘Made in Britain’ cachet. It became my habit to spend a week, sequentially, with each salesman on his territory while trying to maintain the flexibility of being available when required to attend to Manchester business and respond to Sperry’s needs. Each salesman was different, with their local accents, backgrounds, and ways of selling. Hands-on training had not been a feature of the northern region. There was also a sales team selling into local government. Central government sales were still conducted from London.

I knew two of the technical support folk from Remington House. Bernard Place and Dave Range were now based in Altrincham, living in Knutsford in new houses and enjoying new lives. Bernard was a conscientious software man, without having a particular flair. He had an IBM background and knowledge, and enjoyed arguing the toss with Barry Graham, who was to join us as regional software manager from the Birmingham office. Bernard had an interest in project management and the planning aptitude for that element of the task. He enjoyed a flutter on the horses and would spend time, over a coffee, in the mornings with the form guide. He claimed to beat the bookies, occasionally. David Range was large, fair, and impressed everyone with his gentleness. He was teamed with Bernard on a number of projects and they enjoyed joint success. When I met them again, Bernard was project manager for the Sperry 1100 site at Wythenshawe, and Dave was his assistant. (This was one of the computer systems credited to Ian Meeker from the real-time sales team led by Dave Streeton, as discussed in Chapter 2.)

At about the time that I left Sperry for CDC, Sperry had entered the card punch verifier business with its 1701/1710 products in direct competition with, and with a price advantage over, the IBM 026/029 alternatives. The thought of having to sell card punches was perhaps an additional reason for my looking at CDC. I had been proven wrong. With the right salesman, the card punch business could be good, and it certainly opened doors that Sperry would not have opened without this entry-level equipment. I had a good door opener on my sales team, an irrepressible character who would not and could not take ‘no’ for an answer, a team-player who alerted us when he made contact with a computer prospect. He wowed and feted the formidable ladies who seemed to fill the position of punch room supervisor in the Northwest. David was a hard worker and put in a lot of time to earn our respect.

We had a number of interesting customers to look after, including:

  • The Shell International Petroleum large Sperry 1100 installation. Ian Meeker’s PECTEN submission had recommended a two computer centre approach, with one in London and one in the Manchester area.
  • William Timpson and Son, a shoe manufacturer, with one of the UNIVAC second generation systems (featuring vacuum tube technology), a UNIVAC Solid-State 80. We wanted to sell them a third generation system.
  • Robinsons Brewery, the local Stockport brewery. This was an order previously won by Pat Cullen. This was a good customer to have at Christmas time as, every year, it allowed us to buy from the complete stock list at wholesale prices. The house port was particularly good.

My initial task was for Ted Jones and me to sell our first Sperry 1100 in the region. That determined an approach to the larger organisations.

Bob Brotherton, the head of data processing at Trustee Savings Bank, was still in the same position in Altrincham as when I had talked to him a few years before. The International Computers Limited (ICL) System 4 equipment (from the former English Electric Company) was doing all that was required of it in a very limited communications environment. Bob Brotherton knew that when Trustee Savings Bank moved to online banking, Sperry would be a contender for that business again. On my recommendation, Bob had been amenable to undertaking a regular presenter role for us at the Nice Sperry Management Training Centre, and we paid for his trip. The program seminar, held every six months, was sold to other prospective clients in the finance and insurance sector. Mr Brotherton undertook his presenter and consultant role, which he enjoyed, and for which he was paid a handsome fee. He justified it on the basis that it enabled him to keep in touch with new Sperry technologies and the other players in the sector. Eventually he was allowed, by the legislative changes to the Bank of England control of the financial services sector, to go to tender. Trustee Savings Bank ordered from Sperry 14 years after Ed Mack, Brian Lawrence, and I made the first contact from London — but that is another story.

We were able to mount a combined approach to British Insulated Callender’s Cables (BICC), who was headquartered in Prescot, Lancashire, as it was in the market for card equipment, and David Swanston rapidly developed a good relationship with its punch room supervisor. I made a friend and ally of Frank Cunliffe, who was applications and programming manager at the main data centre. BICC was using ICL equipment in two centres and was a satisfied ICL customer. It is often easier to sell to the happy customer than the disgruntled user who is already looking for what might go wrong. Frank arranged for Sperry to make a formal presentation of Sperry competencies to a senior level management team. As BICC was steeped in ICL, we co-opted Alan Stevens from the Birmingham office to assist with the presentation. In these circumstances we worked with 35 mm slides, and the usual format would be to discuss hardware, then (our lack of) software, before a services segment during which we would show our (growing) understanding of the data processing aspirations of BICC. Perhaps Frank had agreed to the presentation a bit too early in the relationship. Ted Jones and I were not making any progress during our introductions; our audience truly was not interested. Alan Stevens was having an equally unrewarding response during his dissertation extolling the virtues of the hardware, with lots of facts and figures, speeds and capacities, until:

‘… and this slide, gentlemen, shows the new Sperry Uniservo 12C tape unit. It is very fast, with the industry’s smallest inter-block gap and f-f-f-f …’

Alan did stutter at times, but this was worse than I had seen him. He stopped, took several deep breaths and started out again.

‘Very fast and f-f-f-f …’ — another pause — ‘Very fast and f-f … fucking expensive.’

The room exploded with laughter and delight that he had mastered his problem. Alan now had his audience eating from his hand, and those who followed him were also given a good hearing. BICC acquired punch equipment and we continued to push the mainframe case with them.

BICC asked to visit Sperry customers. We were pleased to comply, and decided to visit London and put together a visit schedule for six senior managers. We travelled down one afternoon on the Manchester Pullman (a luxury rail service), having been driven to Wilmslow Station from Prescot in the BICC Rolls-Royces. That first evening, we visited the West London Air Terminal to view the still operational reservation system and talk future software concepts with the London Development Centre staff who had built the reservation system. We attended Rules of Maiden Lane, one of my favourite restaurants in central London, for dinner. The oldest restaurant in London, Rules is all polished wood and red velvet, and is very posh. We ordered three courses and, quite properly, the wine-list was brought to me as host. I ordered a bottle of every drink I knew I could pronounce, and was seemingly — given the interest shown by my neighbour, the chief accountant of BICC — doing quite well. I asked if he had an interest in wine. Quick as a flash, he had his diary out, opened at the wine vintage page. He complimented me on my order so far, and added two more bottles. I looked across at Ted Jones. His face was thunderous. Through head movements he indicated that he wanted to speak to me privately. We met in the toilet. There he told me: ‘Never, ever, do that again. You are the host. You order the wine — all of the wine.’ I thought that reaction was a bit over the top, but I had other concerns in making the trip a success. Our subsequent trip to the theatre, where we saw Annie, set us up in good humour for the next day’s visits to Shell and Abbey National Building Society, during which we heard only good news. The Pullman back to Cheshire was another gourmet close to the trip.

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2: Rules of Maiden Lane, London.

Source: Author’s collection.

BICC did not buy from us. Frank Cunliffe and his boss and I had developed a strict timetable against which they would recommend to their board that Sperry be considered to provide an additional technology specific system for the Prescot site. But, as it happened, another agenda intervened. Des Pitcher, the Sperry UK managing director, called the CEO of BICC, who he knew through the Directors’ Association, to ask for an early order offering a substantial discount. This occurred without any discussion with Ted Jones or me. It showed us up for what we were — desperate for the order. It disappointed the BICC team, who were already going out on a limb for us. We never recovered. BICC fleetingly considered us during upgrades to the installed ICL systems in order to keep us interested, but we had certainly blotted our copybook. Frank Cunliffe and I remained good friends, and he was adamant that we would have success, eventually, but he was seconded to BICC Australia, in a managerial rather than an IT managerial role, and I had moved on. It was Des Pitcher’s intervention that cemented, in my future business dealings, the realisation that the only real virtue of management was to give discounts.

I generally asked my team to meet with me on a monthly basis in Altrincham. Following Ted Jones’s comments to me at Rules, I arranged a 10-unit course in wine tasting which would conclude the business aspect of our meetings. Ted joined us for the final class and was in no position not to approve the substantial course fee, which he did with great humour.

James Neill and Sons was a steel company in Sheffield whose products included specialised and cutting tools such as hacksaw blades. We sold to David Baker, the company’s recently recruited data processing manager, who was keen to implement a manufacturing system. We had to decide what to sell. Sperry had introduced a cut-down model in the 1100 family, the 1106, and the price was approximately £500,000 for a bare bones configuration and a limited number of terminals. For that money, we could bid a large model of the 9,000 byte family and a fair number of terminals. We decided upon the 1106 as the candidate most likely to replace ICL, and Pat Cullen and I were targeted to sell an 1100. We had an excellent pre-sales engineer, Phil Williamson, whose background was large systems, assigned to the account. Phil was an essential member in the sales team and built a formidable reputation with the prospective engineer users at James Neill. Hugh Neill, the son of the founder of the company, was a high-profile toolmaker in Sheffield; in the mid-1980s, he became the Lord Lieutenant of South Yorkshire. Selling a big system made sense in terms of growing the company’s prestige in the market. David Baker was malleable and was there to be sold. It was a matter of putting the time in with him. David was resolute that he would not accept lunches or any other benefits from us during the sales process, but did agree to a dinner after a contract was signed. ICL did not put the necessary time in and were finessed out of the business.

We were confident of a sale to James Neill when we were invited to meet its board prior to its formal decision. Des Pitcher, the Sperry UK managing director, was keen to join Pat Cullen and me when we presented to the board. We did not make a good job of briefing Des about James Neill’s business interests, and he was correctly annoyed to be exposed to James Neill’s aggressive expansion plans and the possibility that the Sperry 1106 we had proposed might need to be expanded to accommodate them. I accepted this as a justifiable criticism — after the event. Des was put in the unfortunate position of having to think on his feet, and he responded by increasing the amount of time we would buy back from James Neill as a part of the overall pricing package. We had proposed to buy back four hours of time per day for Sperry’s own use. Des increased that to a full shift at the same rate. We were assured of the order by Hugh Neill at the conclusion of the meeting. We left a contract for their signature.

We were, of course, part of the bigger Sperry+UNIVAC. I gained a certain notoriety from participation in the UNIVAC Users Association Europe Conference in Copenhagen. We were close to signing William Timpson up for a third generation system, and the suggestion was made that Bert Brownhill, the company’s data processing manager, might like to attend. Sperry used the conference for product updates and networking, and we were able to extend invitations as a recognised aspect of a full sales campaign. Bert was an older man. I had met him just a couple of times, and had enjoyed talking data processing management with him. He used training and customer visits as perks for his own staff and was delighted to accept our invitation. The conference was always very well organised, with full days and good food expeditions arranged for each evening. Bert and I got on well together. On Thursday he told me that he had never had a sauna and asked if I would take him to the sauna in the hotel. I had no problem with that. I had no problems at all and was enjoying the sauna until Bert commented, ‘I am not sweating at all’. I was perspiring copiously, but attempted to raise the temperature and humidity in the sauna. Still Bert was not satisfied. So, more water on the coals. Then Bert remarked: ‘Isn’t it strange, I have never been able to sweat?’

I looked at him for the first time, sitting with a towel across his thighs, and the start of huge water blisters on his shoulders. After all the years I had played rugby and shared baths and showers with other men, I had avoided looking at a naked Bert. I had him out of that sauna fast and into the dipping pool, but it was too late, he had burnt and had to spend a couple of nights in hospital. He was not on the plane with me when I got back to Manchester. I called Mrs Brownhill to explain what had happened and she was fine with the explanation. Not so Ted Jones, who suggested I might not be allowed to take customers on trips any more if I did not learn how to take care of them.

Ted Jones was keen on expanding his knowledge of selling and, after attending a training course conducted by the Kepner-Tregoe consultancy, came back into the office with an enthusiasm to put into practice what he had learned. The ‘scoring’ assessment of a probability to sell a system shown below is the result of some modification of the analysis system he had derived.

We attempted to determine whether selling was a science or an art, and asked if we could apply a scientific approach to help our selling. We put together a form that looked at 10 indicators that our prospective client was interested in what we were saying to him.

Checklist for appraising prospect probability

Score 1 to 10 (Don’t know = 1)

1

Your instinctive feeling we’ll get the order

     

2

The strength of our contact’s desire for UNIVAC

3

His status in the contract signature hierarchy (score 10 if he signs, 8 if once removed, 6 if twice, etc.)

4

The degree of our contact’s personal antipathy towards IBM or ICL (insert the higher of these)

5

His opinion of our technical competitive position

6

Level of inside information

7

UNIVAC strength in the organisation or hardware area or aspect of the industry

8

Our competitive price position

9

Our degree of access to the man or body which makes the final decision

10

The firmness of the prospect’s implementation plan

Score:

In a sales meeting, I asked my guys to complete an assessment of their best chance to sell a system in the current fiscal year and come up with a score. I then asked them to consider whether we should concentrate all of our selling competences to secure the order rated as our best opportunity. Salesmen are sensitive creatures. There was not much chance that anyone would want to move from his allocated geographical territory to help a colleague. Nor did they want to be reminded too often of these 10 rules of selling. I used the prompt on a quarterly basis with my sales team, with the chart on a transparency projected onto a screen and completed with the responses of the salesman responsible for an account. The argument then would be: If the calculated probability of Alan Walton’s sale to Roneo Vickers has not gone up in the past three months, why are we bothering to continue to sell to them? What have we done wrong in the past quarter? Let us examine if our score has gone up or down for any factor. This type of analysis always created worthwhile discussion.

Ted and I considered it worthwhile to pursue these ideas. Within Sperry+UNIVAC, we were confronted with the requirement to complete monthly, quarterly, and annual assessments of whether a prospective customer was going to buy from us. The assessment was recorded as a percentage chance to sell. This could be a purely subjective single assessment, but the implications were huge.

For example, if we reported according to the below figures, the factory would decide from our forecast that it needs to produce 1100/60 product to the value of US$4 million (the extended figure in the last column) in quarter 6–9/72, and 1100/70 equipment to the value of US$1.5 million in the quarter 10–12/72.

Prospect

UNIVAC system

Value

Month of order

Probability

Extension

A Company

1100/60

US$2 million

6/72

20%

US$400K

B Company

1100/60

US$3 million

6/72

40%

US$1.2m

C Company

1100/60

US$4 million

8/72

60%

US$2.4m

D Company

1100/70

US$1.2 million

10/72

30%

US$300K

E Company

1100/70

US$1.6 million

11/72

50%

US$800K

F Company

1100/70

US$1 million

12/72

40%

US$400K

Product forecasting must be a horrendous task for a company working across the world. Does the factory only consider probabilities above 60 per cent? I do not want to examine that too much. What interested Ted and I was an examination of the validity of the probability figures we used.

Looking back to the 10 factors that we considered as influencers of probability, we recognised that if any of the 10 factors was not understood by the salesman and were acted upon, he would not reach a probability factor that would result in an order.

Is selling art or science? My belief is the salesman has to understand and empathise with the needs of the potential customer. He can then contribute his knowledge and experience in meeting those needs. The only obstacle to meeting that ideal is that, as a Sperry+UNIVAC salesman, I only had the UNIVAC portfolio of products to offer. The customer knows this. The brave salesman will walk away, saying, I cannot provide a solution. Please ask me back should your needs change.’ He will save himself time, the company money, and will have left a good impression. Next time, at least he starts with having left the impression of integrity. (It does not work that way, of course. But the principle is legitimate.)

It was about this time, 1971, when we were confronting the new IBM 370 computer family (which evolved from the 1964–65 360 range) that Sperry went through one of its habitual reorganisations. It came at a bad time. We had just implemented, for the first time in my experience, a formal company-wide performance appraisal scheme. We had no formal instruction on the scheme and only cursory notes about its completion. I had met with each of my guys, and we were agreed it was a step in the right direction. Performance was rated A–E in eight subjective areas. The job was done and seemingly forgotten, until a swap of marketing vice presidents between Europe and the US. The US won John ‘um-yeah’ Harrison and we got Ted Springstead, who was initially based in Lausanne. Um-yeah fired 200 salespeople in the US, so Springstead fired 201 salespeople in Europe. The criteria used for this was the performance appraisal scheme. Ted Jones’s secretary found me on a Friday morning in Leicester, mid-presentation at the East Midlands Gas Board, and demanded of its staff that I come immediately to the telephone. So I took the call, to be told:

‘A message from Ted Jones. You are required by midday to contact [three names] and tell them that they are given one month’s money in lieu of notice, but that they must leave Sperry employ at the end of today. And we want their cars back next week.’

I asked to speak to Ted and told him that I would be unable to carry out these instructions, as I was committed with customers for the day, and that if these instructions were real, he would have to do the dirty work.

I was able to reflect during the weekend that maybe I could agree with one of the three names, but would argue strongly for the retention, if possible, of at least one person. I called Ted on the Sunday and he told me that the selection had been made from the performance review, and that anyone who scored a C was on the list for dismissal. This was Des Pitcher’s decision, as he was required to lose something like 30 staff. Ted admitted the anomaly of the criteria, as I had nominally lost three people, but any manager who had evaluated his people more sympathetically might not have lost anyone. More power to Ted in that he had not spoken to the two people about whom we shared a similar enthusiasm. After a fraught week in the office, I lost only the Liverpool-based salesman.

Ted Jones was promoted to marketing director of Sperry back at UNIVAC House in London. The new regional director was Alan Campbell, a feisty Scot who strode with broad-chested aggression. He had played top-level soccer with Glasgow Celtic and was all action, with a very defined set of rules and methodology. He was built like the soccer inside-forwards of his era, short and defiant — you could almost call it pugnacious. He had a softer side that took some searching for and a tradition of attending Ladies’ (Final) Day at Wimbledon, which in the 1970s was on a Friday. Alan had held the same position of regional director at Honeywell, and his declared intention in joining Sperry was to replace the Honeywell systems he had sold previously. He brought a number of managers with him. I remember a count reaching 19 ex-Honeywell people working in the region. That number rather unfairly included a couple of people who were indeed ex-Honeywell but were not a part of the exodus instituted by Alan.

Alan took me to one side and explained that he was going to move me sideways in the company, with Liverpool being my sales patch until he was able to convince Sperry to adopt a vertical, industry-specific selling strategy. He wanted me to be his industry sales manager in the new structure.

Alan took time to explain the influx of former Honeywell employees as being necessary — he had accepted such a tough sales target that he needed to work with an established team of people who knew how he worked and whose capabilities he knew. There was nothing new here. David Streeton had taken a group of us from UNIVAC to CDC for the same reason, and I would see it again, for sure.

Alan had strict rules. He had an open-door approach for any salesman in the region, provided that the salesman’s activity was meeting his criteria of three sales calls per day, submission of one proposal per month, and three outstanding proposals at any time. His theory, which he claimed had been proven at Honeywell, was that any salesman who did not meet this profile of activity would fail. Any salesman who met these targets would be successful, and if all salesmen were successful, so was he.

Alan had not been able to crack the J. Bibby & Sons account while at Honeywell. He asked me to take him in to meet Geoff Codd, who had replaced Bernard King as data processing director in Liverpool. Alan insisted on a very detailed profile of the people he was going to meet. He wanted to know about their age, marriage status, spouses’ names, age and names of any children and where they lived, personal preferences (such as food), smoking habits, favourite restaurants, business history, companies worked for, and the computer manufacturers they were familiar with. Alan’s briefing and notes were something I could cope with.

After I effected Alan’s introduction to Geoff Codd, I was promptly dismissed from the meeting to move Alan’s car, even though it was adequately parked in a public car park. I had a look around the bookshop downstairs before rejoining them, and we went to lunch. I later learned from Geoff that Alan had explained his priorities and need for fast business in straightforward terms, and that his door was also to be open to our prospects if they were going to be able to order quickly. Obviously Alan believed he was the person to close any quick business deals in the region. The two of them obviously had spoken heart-to-heart and Tom Williams, Bibby’s top technical man, joined Sperry soon after.

I quite enjoyed my stint looking after Liverpool. The insurance and shipping companies were based there, so there was an obvious market for larger systems. The Merseyside branch of the British Computer Society was active, with regular monthly meetings. I got myself elected as secretary, and then deputy chairman, in order to get access to the British Computer Society membership lists and make the best use of that information. Eric Williams, of the consulting house Fraser Williams, was the branch chairman. He and I became quite good friends. A particular interest in talking to Fraser Williams was to reach an agreement whereby Sperry might base proposals on the Fraser Williams software set. Alan Campbell and I sung from the same song-sheet in knowing that software would drive future sales — not hardware.

Another adventure occurred when David Baker of James Neill called in the invitation — made as an inducement to recommend Sperry — to dine in Paris. The offer was put on the table during the selling of the 1100. Ted Jones had been aware that the offer had been made and had turned a blind eye to it. We now had Alan Campbell as regional director and Pat Cullen was not prepared to raise the issue with Alan, who had just been promoted. So it was left to me to argue the case for the travel and expenses for David Baker and someone to accompany him. I had not expected to, or wanted to, win that distinction. It was not going to be a straightforward trip. David was a private pilot and his plan was to hire an aeroplane and fly us to Paris. The economics of £8 per flying hour made sense as Pat outlined the plan. I was not a participant in the planning exercise. Pat just prompted me to be ready to travel from an airport in Sheffield early next Monday morning.

I paid for a two-day hire of the plane, a two-seater Piper Cherokee, and David and I were soon strapped in and he was talking to the air traffic controller, seeking permission to take off. He was perspiring quite heavily, but we had soon taken off, and I was beginning to enjoy the trip. David advised me that he had been taking time off from work to be able to swot for his pilot’s licence extension that allowed him to navigate by radio. He had passed that test the previous day. I still had no concern, and learned the art of locking into a radio frequency, which we would follow until the next tower, to progress into Dartford. We landed to refuel and were advised not to take off as fog was expected across the channel, so we stayed in Dartford.

We were again delayed the next morning, but eventually got away about lunchtime and headed for Beauvais in Northern France, again to refuel. Our next target was Versailles, but somehow we got lost. The trip then started to take on surreal dimensions. David found a railway line and flew at a very low level over a couple of railway stations in the hope I might be able to read the station signs. I am left with the impression that French station designers do not position the signs to be read from the air — more likely that they should be legible from train level. We flew around for perhaps an hour, with David making continuous radio requests seeking help from anyone who might be listening. Eventually we got a response from Versailles, who had been tracking our machinations across the countryside on radar — and what a good job it was someone who had excellent English. We were talked down into Versailles just before dark — what a relief, and it was still only Tuesday.

We booked into a hotel, cleaned ourselves up and went into Paris. We found the perfect place for the evening in Montmartre. Not quite the Moulin Rouge, but next door. I have never seen prettier girls than those who entertained us in the cabaret. I am sure the food was fine. Girls approached us, not unexpectedly. David took a shine to one of them, who asked for some money. I definitely thought I was going to see (or not see) another side of my companion. He engaged her in conversation: ‘What is a nice girl like you …’. Unabashed, he must have negotiated a deal and asked me for cash, which he passed over to her whilst we were still in the restaurant. David left the table with her, the money firmly in her possession. They were gone for no more than three minutes. David had had second thoughts. His bluff had been called. My reaction was to pursue the girl for restitution of the money, but David was satisfied. He had tested himself and not been found wanting. Oh well. We spent two days at Versailles Airport waiting for permission to take off for the return trip, again delayed by fog in the South of England. Suddenly it was Friday. But we did get away early on the Friday and with two refuelling stops were back in Sheffield late Friday afternoon.

My conversation and justification for a five-day trip and unreceipted expenses with Alan Campbell was not easy, and did nothing to endear me to my new boss. However, with the stewardship of Phil Williamson as project manager, the James Neill installation was a success and became a reference site for us.

Within my Liverpool sales area, Hygena, the manufacturer of excellent kitchen furniture, was an ex–Alan Campbell customer with a Honeywell 200 system installed. Alan aggressively targeted his old customers as potential Sperry customers and used past contacts to get us talking to the decision makers. Hygena signed for a Sperry 9400 system and the Sperry Universal Manufacturing Information System (UNIS) software toolset for implementation of new applications after conversion of the existing software to the new equipment. We had some software tools but it also required a dedicated programming effort. Despite this sale, I was obviously still not Alan Campbell’s favourite salesman. He instructed me that I should pay half of my commission to Mike Hall (another Honeywell recruit who had taken over as pre-sales support manager), as it was Mike who had actually won the business. It was not something I was prepared to make a stand about. I was upset though when Alan told me that he wanted to invite some of the new Honeywell recruits to the Sperry 100 Per Cent Salesman’s Club in Marbella, Spain, and would be sharing my credit from the James Neill and Hygena sales with selected engineers. I was still entitled to attend the club, but not in the high percentile of achievers.

The guest motivational speaker at the club that year was Walter Schirra, the only NASA astronaut who had flown Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. I had a five-year-old son who at that time had a real fascination with the space program, and he gave me a space textbook and two postage stamps that featured Walter Schirra, asking that I get them autographed. After the formal dinner at the club, we were invited to meet the great man. Many asked for his autograph, but it seemed that my lad had been the only one who had prepared suitable material for signature, as Mr Schirra was pleased to notice. After the dinner we talked a bit and he suggested we might go into Marbella for (even more) drink. This we did, getting back to the hotel in the small hours.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3: Two autograph souvenirs from the meeting with spaceman Walter Schirra.

Source: Author’s collection.

Mr Schirra was booked on an early flight back to Houston as a commentator for the Apollo 13 mission, and back at the hotel I watched him consume vast amounts of black coffee to get himself in shape to travel to the US. He left the hotel at something like 4.30 am, by which time I was pleased to get the chance of some sleep before the next day’s activities. It was a good event, and when our wives met us at Manchester airport, all rather the worse for wear, we were able to hand over leather briefcases containing sherry and brandy. Walking through customs, we must have looked like refugees from the Freemasons, or even the Mafia, all carrying similar cases containing booze rather than guns.

We experienced a tragedy during the Hygena program conversion exercise when, after an all-night session on the 9400 equipment, an engineer died on his early morning trip home. He had a wife and very young family. I was proud of the way that Barry Aiken, the human resources manager in Altrincham, handled the situation. I thought that it was great that he had been able to visit the widow that same morning and hand her a cheque for 10 times our engineer’s annual salary. But he had made a mistake. Had he read the HR manual correctly, he would have seen that the company did insure its employees for accidental death at the rate of 10 times the individual’s annual salary, but kept to itself the option of deciding how much of the insurance money would be paid to the family. Barry had made a mistake in doing what everyone else in the office believed was the right thing. Barry was good though. He survived his mistake and was transferred shortly afterwards to London head office. As many as 20 of us attended the funeral. This was a time when it was fashionable to wear photochromic lenses in spectacles and I was very conscious that the company representatives could have been mistaken for a Mafia outing — we were all short, wearing black suits and dark glasses.

Alan Campbell came good on his anticipated ‘vertical marketing’ organisation. I had an interest in the manufacturing sector since looking after Bibby’s and Hygena’s accounts. Alan recruited Bob Devine as my knowledgeable pre-sales engineer, and we got ourselves ready to do battle. Tom Williams from Bibby’s was allocated to my small group. Sperry had acquired a software system — Universal Manufacturing Information System — that was managed at the UK level by Alan Bellinger, a most conscientious engineer.

As an additional responsibility, Alan asked me to supervise the in-house development of the sales database. Bernard Place, the ex-Shell project manager, was the lead technician for the development, and he had recruited two young trainee software engineers. I made the decision to structure the hierarchical database around the UK postal codes — originally based upon established postmen’s walks — some of which were granted the postmen’s initials when they were defined. Alan Campbell wanted a system that monitored his three golden rules of salesmanship. He was also convinced, by market research conducted by Honeywell, that computer salesmen did not fulfil 80 per cent of the obligations they made to prospective customers to maintain contact with them. The number of calls made to any prospect, time spent, and expenses incurred were also entered into the database. Putting a salesman in charge of the project gave it a higher profile. We used computer time bought back as a part of the James Neill business for database development and I even construed an acronym for the system — TOPSY: territory-oriented planning system — and developed a formal presentation of its capabilities. We were testing the system. Alan Stevens, by now the sales manager of the Midlands branch, had volunteered his sales team as reporting guinea pigs when Des Pitcher, the UK managing director, learned about TOPSY. Des also had a scheme under construction. He told Alan to suspend development of TOPSY. We did not, but we did adopt a lower profile. Terry Duffy, the UK technical director, also had an interest in TOPSY and was looking to use it as a platform for a skills database for his department.

Interestingly, it was through TOPSY that I was introduced to Eddie French, the managing director of a new service bureau customer in Galway to which I was seconded. That secondment was a life-changing event that took me from Altrincham at very short notice, and I never worked from that office again.


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