After Durham University, I went looking for a job. And the first job I ever had was with a division of General Motors, which was based in Dunstable, which is near Luton, which is where Vauxhall cars got made. The division that I worked for made car parts and accessories. Fuel pumps and thermostats, and motors and all the bits, spark plugs. So I joined there as a management trainee, and I worked the rounds in a factory in Birkenhead, and it was a factory environment. We started at eight, finished at 4:30. The whole thing started at eight, finished at 4:30. Because to use a phrase very in vogue at the moment, even then it was a just in time business. Stuff left the factories on lorries, and had to be on the production lines for Vauxhall and Fords, and anybody else by them, buy seven o’clock the next morning. So that was my introduction to work, and I ended up taking a place in the personnel department.
Now, General Motors was then an amazing company. It was the biggest car manufacturer in the world. Their slogan was… what’s good for General Motors is good for America. And it was a highly developed, hierarchical structure. Very good employers, and had a policy for everything. And I got there a very good grounding, I was thinking, in industrial administration, basically. But it was a bit boring, and I don’t much like cars. I’ve always had one, but you have to… and so, I think by this time, I was trying to sell them.
I picked up a newspaper one weekend, the Daily Telegraph, because the Daily Telegraph in those days was the jobs paper. And I wrote for four jobs, and I got interviewed for two of them. The advert was for personnel officer. The companies were Sainsbury’s, who as you probably know, they’re a London family owned group of grocery stores, who, one of the first supermarket arrivals on the British scene. And one such was in Dunstable, very impressive. So that sounded good. And the other one was something called Granada, based in Manchester. It said in very short hour, the note said, removal assistance given.
So I went first of all, for my interview in Sainsbury’s. And despite this startling modern supermarket on Dunstable High Street, the headquarters of Sainsbury’s is in Blackfriars in London. Very old, very dark and gloomy building. The man who interviewed me, was wearing a three piece suit with winged collar. And the whole thing reeked of Dickens rather than the future, but another great company as it turned out to be.
So then I went to Manchester and met the then personnel manager, Derek Roberts, very, very nice man. And when I arrived at the television centre, there was nobody wearing suits. There was an atmosphere, and it was cheery and very relaxing. And so I had my interview with Derek Roberts. Now, I had come from a personnel department with about 16 people in it. And my interview was by Derek Roberts who had two secretaries and a clerk, and was looking for a personnel officer. So, we got on all right.
Then they asked me to go for another interview in London, 36 Golden Square, which was the group headquarters then in London, and may still be. I was interviewed by a very tall, quite elderly man. He did have a suit, but he didn’t have the jacket. He had it on the back of his chair. He had braces, I’ll never forget this. He had braces and what’s called armbands, which was a thing that made sure just the right amount of cuff showed. He was very elegant, very courteous. And the first question he asked me was, “Have you ever fired anybody?” Anyway, I managed to convey to him that in a hugely hierarchical organisation like General Motors, it was slightly above my pay grade. I didn’t fire anybody.
And so, we had an interview and eventually quite quickly, I had a letter from him saying that they would offer me this job in Manchester. It would be a salary of £1200 a year, which was £200 a year more than I was earning with General Motors. And I could have an interest free loan of £200, to assist my removal. There was a strange paragraph at the end… ‘we hope you’re free to join us. And probably after about three months, you’ll meet the chairman, Sidney Bernstein.’ I thought that’s an odd thing to say in a letter, isn’t it? So, I accepted. I used the £200 interest free generous terms loan. To my amazement, I was able to buy a house in Manchester. Three bedroom detached house in a place called Offerton, which is just beyond Stockport, for £2,800. I have to say, that was a big factor, because you couldn’t aspire living near London even in those days.