Tales from the NZ Paper Industry, #3

Tales from the NZ Paper Industry, #3

The previous post in this series was all about humour, something which helped to keep us sane.  I have another example here. Unfortunately, it needs a bit of introduction so please bear with me.

At one point in my career, when I was Technical Manager at the NZFP Kinleith mill, I actually had two bosses.  One was Jack Henry, joint managing director of the whole company and the resident director running the Kinleith mill, while the other, Ron Hall, General Manager of the Technical Division, was up in head office in Auckland. It made life quite complicated at times.
To make matters worse, relations between Kinleith and head office were usually strained at best. Unfortunately, NZFP’s sales team were headquartered in head office too and vigourously defended their patch.  So for example the experts in the quality control group were never allowed to talk with customers. But that’s another story.

During Jack Henry’s time, the manager of the papermill was a large, bluff and tough Englishman called Eddie Taylor.  Eddie was a classic papermaker.  He had started in a Croxley mill and worked his way up through the ranks. Fine paper was his specialty.

He could be pretty direct. He told me about an incident way back involving a new, rather nasty boss at Kinleith (and there were a few of those)  who had bawled out one of his subordinates in front of everybody. Eddy asked if he could see him later.  ” If you ever speak to me like that” said Eddie quietly when at last in the mill manager’s office, “I’ll knock your head off”.  Apparently the boss never did.

So that’s the background. On the day of the story, I had a meeting at 1100.  It was the monthly “Technical Liaison Meeting”, attended by the technical department, papermill production staff and sales staff from head office and chaired by Eddie.  At noon I had a meeting with Jack Henry so I warned Eddie that I might have to leave if his meeting dragged on.  No problem.

The meeting did drag on so I started gathering up my papers. The topic was a technical problem with a customer who made envelopes.  “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the paper” said one of the head office guys. “All of the test results look great.”  “Well, if you can believe them” said Eddie. “Personally, I wouldn’t trust any of the rubbish that comes out of that department these days!”

Now that was a real surprise.  Eddie was tough, but he was fair.  I was certain he would never sandbag me like that, especially in front of Sales.  He’d not mentioned any concerns to me earlier. I thought I knew what was going on.

“I’m not going to sit here and take crap from you, Taylor!” I said, whereupon I picked up my stuff and walked out.  According to later reports, he glared at me all the way to the door.  “Wonder what they’ll make of that?” I thought to myself as I walked over to the next meeting.

When I got back to my office 40 minutes later, my secretary was looking very anxious. She explained that head office had called, wanting to know all about the fight between Technical and the Papermill.  “Mr Taylor said you were to report to him the moment you got back” she said, wide-eyed. “He sounded very angry.”  I responded: “could you please call Mr Taylor, tell him that I’m back now and suggest that if he wants to see me, he knows where I am.”  She took a bit of persuading, but eventually did so.

Shortly afterwards everyone could hear a pair of steel-capped boots thundering down the corridor.  Eddie stormed into my (glass-fronted) office, put both hands on my desk and leaned forward with his back to the door.  “We fooled the bastards, didn’t we?” he said with a big grin.  We certainly had! (phew)

Eddie was a great guy to work with, someone for whom I had a lot of respect.

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