Colin's Cornucopia

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The Business

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Chapter 11

The Business

Father gave them the business when he emigrated to Africa and he sold them the factory building for which they paid over the next ten years. All the machinery in the factory was driven by line shafting and leather belts. This method of power transmission had been old-fashioned when installed in 1928 but in 1972 the brothers still earned their living using the same machinery.

They had only three customers but they provided sufficient work to keep the business viable. Colin worked only in the evenings to begin with. He would finish his regular job at 5 pm and start again at seven and work until ten. Slowly they began to make progress. They both had young families and neither had any form of stake. They started quite literally with nothing. They had no overdraft facility, no money, fifty-year-old equipment, few contacts and their father’s tax bill for £1000. It never occurred to them that things might have been different. They had their freedom.

They put their parent’s house up for sale but the boom of the previous year had turned to slump and there were no takers so Colin bought it. The house was still in very poor condition by modern standards but Colin set to in his spare time to transform it into a highly desirable home. It took him twenty years to do it but he was never one to let a minor twenty-year project daunt him.

Colin joined the company full time in 1974 and in the summer they bought their first new machine. They agonised over the decision to spend £2000 on a brand new lathe. The next year they bought another, larger lathe and in the next ten years bought forty machines at an average price of £3000 each. In the early eighties the industry was transformed by the introduction of computer controlled machines. They bought their first one in 1982 for £85,000 and six more over the next ten years at an average price of £55,000 each. In 1992 they were amongst the top 5% of sub-contract engineering companies in Britain.

In the late seventies the traditional British industries went into rapid decline. All of the brothers’ customers ceased to exist. They had to look for new sources of work. The business was very demanding of personal attention and time and there was little spare time to go out looking for work. Fortunately, perhaps, this was rarely necessary. They quickly developed an excellent reputation and there was never a complete dearth of orders. One day in 1980 they bought paint and brushes and set the then two employees to work painting the factory walls. At lunchtime an order came in and the paint brushes were put away and not used again for ten years.

At about that time a man walked in and introduced himself. He was foreman of a company that made special machinery and he needed subcontract capacity. A fair amount of work followed over a period of a year. One day he came in to complain about a job that Colin had been struggling with for several days. He had got it very near, but not quite, perfect but the customer wanted it better. They discussed it for some time but somehow got to cross- purposes. Eventually Colin ordered the man out of the premises; the first and last time he did this.

A week later the man came back and an amicable agreement was reached. Bob and Colin remained firm friends for many years after. Soon after this Bob announced he was leaving to take up a post with one of their customers who had made him an offer he could not refuse. Soon the brothers were supplying large amounts of supplies to keep the machinery working. The machine was being pushed to its limit and suffered many breakdowns.

After a year Colin and Bob discussed making a new machine incorporating several features which Bob hoped would alleviate the problems he was suffering with the present design. Colin considered the problem for several weeks and realised that the problem was a mismatch within the machine that, with a new concept, could be solved by using the principles he had applied years before on the very high reliability helicopter. The objective was different but the overall system was in principal similar.

He sketched up a system and did some basic analysis which showed the system would work by synchronising sixteen different drive elements. As far as he knew no one had ever tried to do this before. He drew up a proposal that was accepted. The boss of the company concerned was taking quite a financial risk and Colin was taking a hell of a technical gamble. It took nearly a year to finish the first machine. There were about a thousand drawings involved, the design and development of the control system, and the manufacture of most parts and procurement and assembly of others. The firstmachine was assembled in their plant and tested and shipped within a month of first run.

Colin had provided means of switching the synchronisation off so that he could see the effect when it was switched back on. It worked perfectly. The machine was commissioned and worked well for a year. Then it started to give trouble. The drives kept blowing out. Colin discovered the machine was being used at about four times its design load. The owners insisted it was necessary for their business to run at these much higher loads so Colin designed them a much larger and more powerful machine. This too took a year to build and again was very successful. Once again the customer kept extending his demand until the machine was pushed beyond its design limit.

One day Colin was asked to visit the machine because it had stopped completely. He went there and was baffled for a while. The machine would not run but nothing seemed to be wrong. Then he discovered the customer had put the wrong material into the machine. The installed motors of around 16 horsepower were doing a job normally reserved for a machine of around one hundred horsepower. The machine had run correctly for three days despite this gross abuse and Colin was very impressed. The customer was not interested in the technicalities and Colin was never able to make them understand that you cannot abuse machines in this way and expect to get away with it.

On some occasions the abuse of the machines by both overloading and operator negligence was considerable and Colin spent many hours repairing the machines and attempting to train the operators to set the machines correctly. On one occasion he had to complain about an operator who had removed several protective guards and was standing inside the delicate machinery hitting it with a hammer. A few minutes later there was a loud bang and the machine shut down. The man, who a week earlier had been an untrained dole signee, had stood on a cable harness and wrenched the complete assembly from its terminations. No action was taken against the operator. Numerous such incidents were observed by Colin but no action was ever taken to prevent or correct them.

The blame for all the problems was laid on Colin and as he was not there 95% of the time he had little opportunity to discover just what was causing the problems. A great cover-up went on and Colin even had reason to believe that at least one operator was deliberately sabotaging his machine. The pressure on Colin became so great that he spent the whole day with his head buried inside a failed machine while his family were burying his father six thousand miles away.

Colin was installing the third machine during the summer holidays and took his children to see the new machine. They were very impressed and Nick told Amanda how proud he was to have a dad who could design and build a machine hike that. Father was rather more proud of both his own achievement and his children’s good sense.

The customer later decided that he would like to manufacture these machines and sell them and a joint venture was setup. Three machines were manufactured, Colin providing the design and the parts and the customer assembling the machines under Colin’s supervision. None were ever sold; they were all used by the customer. Eventually he had five machines installed and over a period of seven years made around five million pounds profit from their products. The brothers made around £25,000 total profit from the machines.

One evening Bob came to Colin’s house to tell him he was leaving the Company. Colin was not pleased but not surprised as relationships within the company had obviously been strained. A few days later Colin was asked by the son of the owner to visit him. They discussed Bob’s departure and agreed to set their relationship on a more formal basis. Colin submitted a quotation for his services maintaining the machines. He based it on an hourly rate approximately half that he was himself being charged by others to service his own machine tools.

A few days later the works foreman arrived and asked for any spare parts that Colin had. A week later the writ arrived. Colin had always been aware that the owners of the Company were likely to sue at the drop of a hat. They had sued Bob’s former company. Colin was well prepared. He had ensured years before that his trading company was always insolvent. The assets were held in a holding company that did not trade and had no contracts so could never be successfully sued. Even if this misguided case were to succeed the litigants would get exactly nothing. That was the value of the company. But Colin had not yet begun to fight. The 'Old Man' he had dealt with for six years understood the difficulties of technical innovation but his son was an arsehole.

When Colin’s wife was discussing it with Bob’s wife she said only one thing. Complimenting her husband she said” He’s chosen the wrong one to fight there.” For the next six months Colin stopped work every afternoon at four o’clock and worked until six pm writing a complete, and very detailed, history of the project on his new word processor. He assembled every piece of paper and read and summarised and interpreted every one of them. Every Sunday afternoon he and Bob and their wives went walking and they discussed at length every facet of the events of those seven years. Colin learned a lot and it was all written into the report.

If an independent observer had compared Colin’s effort and the results of his work with the pathetic rubbish produced by an technical ignorant solicitor for the prosecution he would have laughed. The case for the litigant was not only technically rubbish, it was untrue, insubstantial and in part direct lies.

Colin finished up with one hundred pages of carefully prepared arguments that would have effectively demolished any case brought against him. But he had to put in an enormous effort and hundreds of hour of time just to answer a case that was at best vexatious and was actually malicious. There is something seriously wrong with a scheme of law that will allow one man to so beset another without any need to show his case for several years.

His Barrister said he didn’t have a case. Colin Picked up the papers and walked out one Friday evening. The next Monday morning he walked back into his office with a ten page document. By the end of that week it was all over. Colin was able to prove fraud against the litigant who disappeared with his tail between his legs never to be heard from again. Colin’s technical ability had beaten to a standstill the perverse whim of a vengeful and evil multimillionaire who’s motivation was to try to enslave Colin’s ability.


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