Chapter 27 - Life at Drummoyne & Babcock Head Office
My move back to Head Office in September 1974 after nearly twelve years in Brisbane Office was not without its tensions. I had been very much my own boss in Brisbane and had all the advantages of making most of my own decisions, working in the centre of a large city with resultant shopping and social advantages, and able to pass back to Head Office many of the problems that looked too difficult for me to solve locally. Back at Head Office, however, I came under the constant scrutiny of several Senior Company Executives including the Sales Director, Doug Brazier who had not really endeared himself to me in the contacts that we had so far had, although we were not on bad terms by any means. I soon found that virtually every decision I made had to be either approved or vetoed by someone senior to me, whereas I was used to making up my own mind on most matters. Furthermore, the Head Office was still at Regents Park which I had left twenty-five years before to move into the Brook House Office in Sydney and then to Rex House in Kent Street and finally to Brisbane. Regents Park had always been a bit of a commercial desert, 16 km from the City and 8 km from Parramatta. When I started work there in 1936 the Babcock Works were surrounded by scrubby bushland. There were a few shops and a hotel near the Railway Station but not many houses within easy walking distance. Nowadays the bush is replaced with numerous factories and warehouses and are surrounded by working class residential areas. Local shopping facilities are still rather limited and places to get a decent meal are more or less confined to the adjacent town of Auburn, the Carnarvon Golf Club at Lidcombe or driving all the way to Parramatta. It was quite a change from working in the central city areas of Sydney and Brisbane.
I soon found that many of the fears I had about moving back to Head Office were justified, but I realised that at nearly 54 years of age, and older than most of those to whom I would be answerable, I had little choice other than to make the most of the situation. So I made a conscious decision to go quietly, do my best, not cause trouble, and get on as well as possible with the people I had to now work with. I knew that I had a great deal of experience within the Company and the industry in which we worked and this should be a useful basis on which to carry out my new duties. I felt I had always worked in the Company's interests and would continue to do so in every way possible. One thing I definitely decided, and that was to avoid running with complaints to Hugh Weir every time I felt put out, but rather to solve my own problems my own way, with whatever tact and confidence in myself that I could muster. Often this involved “turning the other cheek” and not allowing myself to get angry or upset. I was not alone in reaching these conclusions as I had one very sound ally, Les Espin, who had been through similar situations himself. He proved to be a good and wise friend. Les was Chief Project Engineer, responsible for Company designs and I was to be in charge of the Sales Department, responsible for preparing tenders and maintaining good relationships with customers, so we were able to work together and formed a happy and, I believe, very effective team.
The first problem that had to be solved was that of my title now that I was back at Head Office. This might sound rather trivial but it was an emotive issue!
I had been “Queensland Manager” and expected to be titled “Sales Manager” of the Engineering and Contracting Division. But some thought this was too similar to Doug Brazier's title of “Sales Director” and so a compromise of “Manager - Sales Administration” was agreed upon. In fact that wasn't a bad description for what I was doing. Allan Prior who had previously been “Chief Sales Engineer” and who could well have retained that title, was re-titled “Manager - Field Sales” which was not a very meaningful title but it gave him some added status, I suppose, as compensation for the fact that he had been moved sideways to make room for me.
Actually, the question of title was raised again relatively quickly because it soon became apparent that there was too much duplication of responsibility between Doug Brazier and myself. On 24th April 1975, six months after I returned to Head Office, Hugh Weir announced that Brazier was to be put in charge of the marketing of “Utility Boilers”, (that is those for very large Power Stations), the design of which was largely carried out by the Engineers in London Office, although the actual tenders were prepared and submitted locally. This effectively divorced Doug Brazier from the operations of the normal Sales Department which I had been trying to run under his overall direction. Moving Brazier to this new position, meant that restructuring of the Boiler Sales Department was necessary, so Les Espin was appointed “Chief Engineer”, a well-deserved and popular move (previous Chief Engineers had been appointed from the London staff) and I was appointed-at last-“Sales Manager” while Jack Toomey became “Chief Buyer”. Doug Brazier moved into an office in the Executive Block, well away from us, and I moved into the office he had previously used, a spacious room at least twice the size of my previous office. This change gave all of us more freedom of movement. It not only gave me the authority I needed to do things my way, but also enabled me to re-arrange staff, change systems without veto, have unimpeded access to Customers and direct access to Bill Jones who had recently been appointed General Manager of the Engineering & Contracting Division.
At the same time I was very happy with the staff I had inherited from Doug Brazier and Allan Prior. Several of them including Allan himself, also Ron Sunderland and Allyn Robbins, had been with me in Brook and Rex Houses before I went off to Brisbane and we had always been friendly and respected each other's abilities. One of the last things I did before leaving Sydney for Brisbane was to give Ron and Allyn leadership responsibilities in the Sales Department and this had continued in spite of the fact that Ron had left Babcocks in the mid-1960s to go to a position in New Guinea and had returned at a later date when he became disillusioned with the New Guinea scene. The remainder of the Sales staff I knew less well, but by-and-large I was happy with them. One thing I was surprised and delighted about was that since I left hardly any procedural changes had been made in the operation of the Department! When I took over I instituted a lot of changes, standardising terminology, commercial conditions and operating methods, even to the way tenders were set up by the typists. None of these had been changed at all which made it easier for me to pick them up again and gave me some satisfaction in knowing they had withstood the tests of the twelve years I was away! I must confess I also thought that no-one had shown much initiative while I was away as there really had been a need for some changes which, in due course, I instituted.
The situation with the typing staff was not quite as good as with the technical staff. There were two typists, one of which was looked on as Doug Brazier's secretary and who was also expected to do my work as well as Alan Prior's. By a strange set of circumstances, however, I was about to get a Secretary of my own, and a very good one too! While I was in Singapore with the Trade Mission to South East Asia I was asked by the Deputy Trade Commissioner if I could find a job in Australia for his Secretary who was wanting to migrate and had to have a job available to qualify. I had already met her, a petite and pretty little Singaporean of Chinese extraction named Marie Chan, as she had typed a few letters for me during the Mission. So I wrote to Ray Clack, the Secretary of Babcocks, and he agreed to find her a position at Regents Park if she migrated to Australia. A year later, after all the formalities of migrating were completed she arrived in Sydney and, as no-one else was needing a Secretary at the time she became mine! So again, my good fortune with Secretarial Staff continued. She stayed with us until we moved to North Sydney, about which I shall have more to say later, and then returned home to Singapore for family reasons. It wasn't long, however before she was back and working, this time in Perth where, indeed, she is still living and from whence she sends me a card at Christmas and an occasional letter.
While all this was going on, the Works at Regents Park had been closed, the machinery sold, and a deposit paid for the Regents Park property by a developer. This sale actually fell through, the purchaser defaulted and Babcocks kept the deposit. The property was later sold again, this time to the State Superannuation Board who developed it into an industrial estate. The Company was therefore looking for another place from which to conduct its business. The first proposition was to put up a fairly large office block not far from Burwood Railway Station. This fell through because of unrealistic restrictions imposed by the Burwood Council. The next proposal was to lease space in a new building at Milson's Point recently erected for the Legal & General Insurance Company. Arrangements advanced to the point where the Company actually announced in December 1974 that the Head Office would relocate there in March the following year. However, these arrangements fell through too, and it was not until December 1976 that we actually moved to North Sydney at 140 Pacific Highway. The building was named “Babcock House” as part of the leasing deal.
This relocation suited most of the staff, including me, as I hadn't really enjoyed the environment of Regents Park. North Sydney was also a reasonably good spot to get to from where we were living at Drummoyne, having moved into our own unit at 12/58 Bayswater Street in September 1975. This block of units was only small, with twelve units, half of them 2-bedroom and the remainder (including ours) with 3-bedrooms. Ann was still living with us and so we had a room to spare to use for sewing, storage and my small desk. We had a very pleasant view over Parramatta River and a short walk to the shops, buses, and the park and sports oval on the other side of Bayswater Street. There was only one car space for the unit we bought but Ann, who had bought a Mini while we were living at St George's Crescent, leased a car space from one of the other unit holders, so we were pretty comfortable there. Our unit was on the top floor and so we were able to install ducted air conditioning above the ceiling, which made for year-round comfort.
After living at “Baywest” for about a year I was elected to the Council of the Body Corporate and soon became Chairman, a position I retained until the year before we moved to Bateau Bay. Although there were a few personality problems, there was very little trouble between the owners of the units or their tenants and we enjoyed not only the view but also the environment. There are some special features in the kind of living that Home Unit dwellers need to adopt for happy and harmonious relationships. Not only do they need a sense of “community” but also there is a need to be sensitive to the rights and convenience of others. Not everyone, unfortunately, who decides to live in Home Units has these qualities.
At about the same time as I came back from Brisbane to Head Office, the Australian Office of Woodall-Duckham Pacific was also transferred to Regents Park. It had previously been in Melbourne and was a subsidiary of the British firm Woodall-Duckham who had been taken over some time before by Babcock. W-D Pacific's Manager and some other staff didn't like the transfer to Sydney and soon found other jobs back in Melbourne. The remainder of their executive staff carried on but work was short and they have had a continual struggle to survive. As a result, not long after moving to North Sydney, I think it was in 1977, they were amalgamated with our Engineering & Contracting Division. This left an over-supply of senior marketing people and there was a re-organisation of the Estimating and Sales areas. A very experienced Engineer, Harry Steele, was put in charge of estimating and tender-preparation and Doug Sowden was given overall marketing responsibility. A short time previously, Andy Buttfield had been appointed to replace Bill Jones as General Manager of the Engineering & Contracting Division. Bill Jones had become responsible for Company Development.
So I again found myself with a bevy of “bosses” and a lack of direct control. Nevertheless I made the best I could of it and Doug Sowden and I did a lot of work together, he to get a bit of an idea about the boiler market and I to become familiar with cement handling and similar equipment. At the same time I worked rather hard trying to develop the sales of some newer equipment lines, particularly a range of electronic combustion monitoring equipment and also a range of non-metallic expansion joints. The former was slow to start but eventually was very successful. The expansion joints weren't a huge success but we sold enough to stay in the business. I also assisted the Manager of a new acquisition handling lubricating oils and greases to get to know the people in the power station and sugar mill industries. The promotion of these lines led to a lot of travelling and opened up a whole new field of commercial contacts that I found very interesting.
After the Utility Division had been set up under Doug Brazier, a lot of effort had been put into trying to get some Power Station work, with people coming from United Kingdom to assist the preparation and presentation of major tenders. These people were, in the main, senior personnel in the London Boiler group. One of these, Robin Wilson, liked Australia enough to stay on and join the Australian staff, backing up Doug Brazier as a permanent member of the Utility Group. However, they were not very successful and the time came when it was necessary to regroup, amalgamating the Utility Group with the Engineering & Contracting Division and moving the ex-Woodall-Duckham people into a separate group again, largely because although they had received a few orders for cement handling plant it was found that their methods of operation didn't mix very well with the Boiler-based people's methods.
So here I was with Doug Brazier breathing down my neck again, added to which I also had Robin Wilson in an undefined relationship but proving to be difficult to work harmoniously with. This could have resulted in great tensions, but again I decided to cooperate as best I could and not “rock the boat”. The alternative of having a showdown would simply have resulted, I think, in a great deal of unpleasantness and little support for me because Robin had youth, great self-confidence and strong determination, together with extensive experience in London Office and the ear of Senior Personnel both in Australia and United Kingdom. There ensued a period when I carried on with my work as best I could while being largely ignored by Robin Wilson and a coolness developed from one or two other of the younger men who were technically answerable to me but who Robin was now cultivating. Robin is a brilliant young engineer blessed with abundant self-assurance. I think he found it difficult to believe that I and some others like Les Espin had much to contribute because we were a bit “past it” and he invariably neglected to consult us or take our suggestions seriously when we did become involved. There were quite a few heated exchanges with Les Espin who was much more volatile than was good for his health and perhaps contributed to his long history of heart trouble. At the same time, neither Robin or Doug Brazier were averse to letting us handle some pretty difficult assignments that had got out of control one way or another and needed tactfully sorting out.
While this new alignment of personnel settled down I kept on with the new product lines, was active on a Standards Association Committee drafting new Standard Contract Conditions, handled many, many enquiries where people who knew me preferred to deal with me rather than the newer people or, sadly, they had found it difficult to deal with. To make it more difficult for me, my old friend Les Espin had retired in 1977! (Actually, I was still to see a good deal of him as he remained as a part-time Consultant to the Company until his sudden death in June 1980.)
From about 1981 I realised that conditions were not likely to improve for me, and I was concerned as to how to deal with the situation. I don't think my salary or conditions were affected to any great degree by the situation, my title remained as “Sales Manager” so I was not suffering any embarrassment when dealing with people outside the Firm, and I still had good relationships with virtually all the Company personnel, including the top management who, I think had retained some respect for my experience and ability. There was, nevertheless, a good deal of restraint in my association with Doug Brazier, Robin Wilson and one or two of their “intimates”, although this didn't lead to any unpleasantness. Andy Buttfield, who you will remember was General Manager of the Engineering & Contracting Division was experiencing rather similar frustrations as I was as he was suffering open defiance from those mentioned above. As a result, he was sympathetic to my problems and had been a source of support to me. But he had had enough and resigned towards the end of 1982 to take a position with Wormald Bros. So I lost an ally there! I had taken over the handling of a couple of rather difficult jobs that had got out of hand and needed putting back on their rails by a combination of tact and persuasiveness. When these were successfully fixed up and several projects in which I had taken a special interest resulted in orders for the Company I decided it would be a good time to retire.
There were other factors, quite apart from work, that influenced my decision to retire. One was a growing concern for my sister, Lois, who had been fighting a long battle against cancer. She was unable to keep on at the family home at North Avoca Beach that she had inherited when Mother died and was planning to sell and move into a Retirement Village at Bateau Bay. Lois had many friends who were wonderfully kind to her, but I believed she needed some member of the family to lean on. Jean and I had been coming up to Avoca pretty regularly to help with her lawns and other odd jobs that needed doing and I could see that the trauma of moving, with all its organising, packing and unpacking would be a great strain on Lois. And so it proved to be, even though, in the event, we were there to help her. She did a terrific job of furnishing her new unit with a high proportion of new furniture, paintings and ornaments, and she was able to live there for about six months before her final days in hospital, but the strain was very great and her general health deteriorated quite quickly during the eighteen months we were close to her.
So, when I considered my position in the light of the above, knowing that under the Company's Superannuation rules I could elect to retire at any time after I turned sixty if I wished, and also realising that both Jean and I were beginning to have signs of some deterioration in our own health, on top of which the Government decided to tax superannuation lump sum payments at a higher rate from 1st July 1983, I decided to give notice of my intention to retire.
Hugh Weir was away at the time, so I discussed the problem with Derry Shaw, the Company's Finance Director who expressed disappointment, as did Hugh Weir when he returned. But it was agreed that I would retire on 1st July 1983. There were one or two, I am sure, who were pleased to see me go, as my departure opened an opportunity for their advancement. Amongst these was Graham Salter, a bright young engineer who I had been trying to help prepare himself for added responsibility. He had been appointed Senior Proposals Manager in January of that year. But in fact, everyone was very kind to me when my intentions became known. I had several farewell parties, a very handsome presentation from the staff and a Board Room farewell party from the Management as well as a lunch at the Royal Yacht Squadron Dining Room hosted by Hugh Weir.
In deciding to move up to the Central Coast we, of course, needed somewhere to live, and reasonably close to the Retirement Village, Kiah Lodge, that Lois planned to move to. So, one Saturday when we were visiting her at North Avoca and had finished the lawns and other odd jobs, we took a look at some houses at Bateau Bay in the $75,000 to $85,000 range. We had looked at about half a dozen without being impressed when the Agent drew up in front of a neat brick house fairly high on a hillside, close to a heavily wooded area of bushland, far enough from the ocean to be not worried by the sea-spray, and with a pleasant view towards the Tumbi Range of mountains. As soon as we stepped inside we knew that this was it! We made an offer and it was accepted and, to the surprise of the Estate Agent who seemed to think it was too good to be true that he had made a sale so quickly, we exchanged contracts in record time! Our choice has stood the test of time and although we have often been asked why we haven't moved back to Drummoyne (where our Unit is leased to tenants that appear to have been very good) we are so happy here that the idea has little appeal at all. On looking back to the day we fell in love with the place, both Jean and I have thought that one reason is that 39 Keats Avenue is like a smaller version of 50 Binowee Street, Aspley, where we spent so many happy years while in Queensland.
The Company was very helpful by advancing a loan to help pay for the house we were now committed to buy at Bateau Bay until such time as my Superannuation Lump Sum came through. As part of a Retirement Package they paid for Jean and me to attend a retirement seminar, which was quite helpful, and also arranged to foot the bill for some advice on my financial affairs and taxation from the Company's auditors, Coopers & Lybrand. They let me buy the Company's Falcon car I had been using at the price at which it was shown on the books after fairly hefty depreciation provision, all of which was very generous of them.
During the several interviews I had with Hugh Weir about my retirement one or two things were mentioned as matters I would have liked to have seen happen but I hadn't had time to finish. One of these was the introduction of Word Processing into the Sales Department as I could see tremendous advantages in the preparation of tenders, specifications, standard conditions, and the like. This had been an aim of mine since rejoining Head Office as I had seen it operating in a couple of places in Brisbane and been very impressed. As an interim measure, after a lot of persuasion on my part, the Company had leased an early model IBM “Magcard” machine which, although rather primitive and cumbersome by present standards, showed something of what could be done. The other thing I had hoped to see established was a set of Company Archives, properly stored, researched and indexed. Now, one of the things the Retirement Seminar leader had stated was to never continue working in a part-time capacity for the same Company after retirement. But I ignored this advice when Hugh Weir suggested I act as a Consultant to the Firm to finalise the things I had mentioned. Terms were agreed upon and the result has been a happy relationship involving about six or seven days each month dealing with these and many other matters relating to public relations and publicity. I have enjoyed this work which hasn't been too demanding, and which has been quite different from the work I was previously doing. The acceptance by the Babcock top management of my continuing consultancy provides a happy contrast to some of the tensions faced in the last pre-retirement year or two, and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see my name now listed under “Group Management” on Company Directories.
At present, after thirty months of this part-time consultancy, there seems to be no wish on the part of the Company to terminate the arrangement, and I am happy to continue while I am able and while it involves me in such pleasant and interesting work.