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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The Holdings Building - Insurance

Peter Williams remembers his time in the Secretariat;

"I joined Baker Perkins Holdings Limited on 1 October 1975, moving to Peterborough from Sheffield, where I had been working as an insurance broker. For the first two months I lived during the week in Mrs Gaulton’s digs in Northfield Road; my wife and son, who had only been born on 9 September, stayed in Sheffield until we moved into our house in Longthorpe on 5 December.

My job title was Insurance Manager. I worked in the Group Secretariat, reporting to John Hardy (JSH), the Company Secretary. He was also assisted by his deputy, John Lewis (HJL), and the legal executive, Peter Dodd (PWD). There were three secretaries: Angela Palmer (later Sewell) worked with JSH and PWD, Julie Wildman (later Pidgeon) with HJL; and the late Denise Gunn with me. The secretariat was an open, airy space. As all the filing cabinets were hidden away in cupboards, there was none of the usual clutter associated with a busy office. Each secretary had a desk in the corner near the door leading to the offices occupied by JSH, HJL and me. The empty fourth desk was by the door of the room occupied by the photocopier and telex machine. PWD occupied an office some way down the corridor. (Within a few years he left to work at Baker Perkins Limited as the company secretary.)

As I was 29, only a few years older than the secretaries, they were given special dispensation to call me Peter and refer to me as such in conversation. Otherwise all managers were always referred to and addressed as “Mr”. A year later Denise left to start a family and Miranda Turnbull (later Boughton) replaced her.

At the end of every day carbon copies of each manager’s memos and correspondence were circulated to the others. This enabled everyone to know what was going on in the group. Often something I read would cause me to take action regarding the group’s insurances.

The secretariat had a very wide range of responsibilities, including the organisation of AGMs and board meetings for the holding company and subsidiaries around the world; the issue of all group staff notices; property matters; shares and share options; agreements with banks, advisers, customers and group subsidiaries; the annual report; company registrations etc, etc.

In those pre-computer days the key to the efficiency of the Secretariat department was the “tickler card” system, which consisted of a drawer full of index cards reminding one or more of us to do something at a particular time. I seem to recall that there was a card dated 1 April 2061, relating to the expiry of a trust deed for the sports and social club – I guess that won’t be of much consequence now.

As the insurance manager I worked closely with the group’s brokers, Bartlett & Co (Northern) Limited, who were based in Leeds. Our relationship with Bartletts was such that the managing director, Bob Rattray, attended my job interview. The group’s insurance portfolio comprised the following: property, business interruption, public and product liability, employers’ liability, motor, professional indemnity, marine, contractors’ all risks, engineering, personal accident and a host of minor policies. Some policies covered all group companies worldwide, but in addition we had to ensure that overseas subsidiaries were adequately covered in respect of local insurance needs.

In those days a great deal of work was necessary to keep the insurers informed of business changes – acquisitions, closures, new ventures, significant contracts (especially in the Soviet Union), etc. Whilst the management of claims was obviously an important aspect of the job, the most urgent matters always seemed to be those involving damage to company cars!

Although I spent most of my time managing the group’s insurances, I had a number of other tasks, including: the group directory; charitable donations; subscriptions to trade organisations and professional bodies; employees’ personal insurances, ordering Dun & Bradstreet reports on companies; obtaining carnets in respect of equipment taken abroad etc, etc.

The annual group directory was an enormous task: the last one, published in December 1986, contained 76 pages, with details of 48 companies, over 600 management positions and 500 home addresses. It could never be completely up to date and was often delayed to allow a new acquisition or reorganisation to be incorporated. We constantly agonised over all sorts of issues: whom to include or exclude; the order in which names appeared; how to present telephone numbers (with or without brackets around area and country codes) etc.

Although the last Baker Perkins annual report stated that the group gave £25,965 to UK charities in 1986 (out of a worldwide total of £37,103), this did not remotely hint at the amount of work that went into processing the hundreds of appeals received every year by the company. Every single one was answered, mostly by a standard letter from me. Those that warranted special attention were referred to a holding company board committee, of which I was the secretary. This committee met after every board meeting; I produced a short resume of every appeal. My abiding memory is of the time when Sir Kenneth Barrington was the chairman of this committee. His very scientific technique was to divide the appeals into “sheep” and “goats” and then decide how much we should award to the favoured ones."

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