Westwood Works 1903-2003
After WW2, Britain found herself with a major balance of payments problem. The War had cost her dear and there was an urgent need to replenish her depleted coffers with foreign currency. It was a case of "Export or Die".
The Government urged all businesses to resume their export trade at the earliest possible moment and to develop new markets around the world. Help was available - businesses who manufactured substantially for overseas markets were given priority by the Ministry of Supply in its allocation of raw materials and the employees of these companies were also given access to the new post-war housing being built (See Housing).
Baker Perkins was no stranger to overseas business, the Bakers having three-quarters of a century of exporting experience. Europe, with its need to re-create its shattered industries, and the USA, with Britain's need for dollars to repay War Loans, were obvious key targets. Despite the heavy expenses and lower profitability of export sales, but backed by substantial increases in home trade, Baker Perkins was one of the first British companies to get the flow of products to overseas markets started again.
By 1948, exports had increased to a level that would have seemed impossible two years earlier. Only one year later, it was estimated that export trade was nearly four times higher than it had been in 1938. However, import restrictions and currency problems varied from country to country and were liable to sudden changes. The Directors felt a need to take a fresh look at the company's foreign trade.
It was decided to form a new company to be responsible for all overseas sales. Harold Crowther was appointed Managing Director with H.S. Hargreaves as his deputy. Young members of existing Westwood staff were transferred to the new company and were soon involved in learning the intricacies of exporting while attending foreign language courses (See Language Training).
Mail from the four corners of the earth came into the Export Company at Westwood Works each day. In early 1954, among this flood of paper were two very special items. Jack Rowe, an export sales correspondent at the time, treasured two envelopes that had experienced an unusual journey.
The first, postmarked 08/01/1954, is also stamped - "Damaged by sea water - Comet Mail". It had been put on a BOAC Comet flight at Singapore airport on 10/01/1954. The Comet was the world’s first jet airliner and was, at the time, fairly new. It flew from Singapore to Rome on its way to London. Shortly after leaving Rome, it suffered a catastrophic decompression, exploded and crashed in to the sea just off the island of Elba killing all 35 on board.
The implications for the future of jet passenger aviation were enormous and the whole Comet fleet was grounded. Because it was vital that the cause of the crash was found, despite the wreckage being in relatively small pieces and in many fathoms of seawater, every effort was made to find as much debris as possible.
The Comet was re-designed as a result but sales of the aircraft never really recovered and the market for passenger jets was taken over by the Americans – particularly Boeing.
The second - a larger package, the original of which was severely damaged by fire - was on a BOAC Constellation mail flight carrying mail from all over the Far East. It had 32 crew and passengers on board when it left Sydney, Australia on 13/03/1954 to fly to Jakarta on its way to London via Singapore, India and Pakistan. Coming into Singapore’s Kallang airport, it landed short of the runway, hit a sea wall and burst into flames. All on board were killed. The cause of the crash was thought to be pilot error.
Exports eventually represented one-third of Baker Perkins' turnover and it was decided to transfer the headquarters of the Export Company from Peterborough to London. The logic for the move was to be closer to shipping, banking and insurance companies and to be more convenient for receiving the ever-increasing number of foreign visitors. The move was made in 1956 to offices in Swallow Street, near Piccadilly.
The Swallow Street Offices
With increased participation in major trade fairs held in key continental centres, export business continued to increase. Each year saw new records broken and, by 1961, eighty agents were operating in overseas countries. Larger offices were needed and the business was transferred to Stanhope Gate, Park Lane.
In the following years, exporting became much more complex and competitive and the need for a greater understanding of the real needs of customers by those responsible for producing machinery and process plant became clear. Direct contact with the end-user was necessary if the company was to remain internationally competitive.
In 1971, the responsibility for international sales was given to the operating divisions and many of the Export Company personnel moved back to Peterborough. Existing Westwood sales staff began assimilating the necessary expertise in the techniques of international marketing and selling, together with the relevant commercial exporting procedures. Much use was made of both internal and external training courses to accelerate the change (See Training).
The food manufacturing business has developed over the years into a truly international market, dominated by large multi-national companies. Baker Perkins continues to meet this need with food process plant being exported to all corners of the World from the new facility at APV Baker, Paston, Peterborough.
NOTE: More background information on the development of The company's export business will be found in Augustus Muir's book - "The History of Baker Perkins". (See - "Where to find more information" in the "Appendix")
History of Baker Perkins (Exports) Ltd
History of Baker Perkins International Ltd
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