1989-1999: The Lost Decade


When I left Iscor and South Africa in 1989, I left on a high, professionally speaking. I had been part of the Mossgas team, aimed at building an offshore platform off the coast of Mosselbay, and the steel delivery for that project was complete in my final months with Iscor. But more satisfying was my contribution to the Mossref project, where I had helped concoct the recipe which landed us the contract for the pressure vessel steels to be used in the on-shore refinery bit to the Mossgas project.

Then, back in Britain I soon found a job with Allied Steel & Wire, and even had the luxury to choose them over lesser paid offers with Inco Alloys in Hereford and British Steel in Scunthorpe. But over the next 5 years I never had the satisfaction to feel that I had substantially contributed to the welfare of the company. I did some work towards creating a high-strength Tempcore steel, but never was part of the team when it came to implementing the resulting product in tie bars.

By that time I had already moved to the Contistretch department, where the job was more of a QA nature, writing the QA manual, and trying to keep the various auditors happy. In some way of interest, but not exactly the type of job where there’s any call for your metallurgical skills. I remember a recruiter once stating that he had never managed to place anyone with AS&W, and called them “a company run by accountants, who wouldn’t know what to do with a metallurgist if their life depended on it”. And so it proved in the end. Their ambition to be the cheapest rebar producer in the UK became laughable in the face of cheap Spanish imports, and would have been absolutely nonsensical today when faced with even cheaper Chinese imports.

As mentioned elsewhere I managed to find a job with British Steel Tinplate R&D based in but not part of Welsh Labs. There the job was unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, one of which was that it called more on mechanical rather than metallurgical engineering skills. It also showed that my man management skills where I tried to use my experience in South Africa as a template did not match the work force and their expectations, and this put me off in subsequent jobs from being in charge of and responsible for the performance of other people.

But the main reason for this whole episode being unsatisfactory was that the manager in charge of Tinplate R&D was a bully and a control freak, who made many people leave when they no longer could put up with his antics. This was in the days before emails were widely available, and the fact that we were on a different site from the tinplate works in Trostre and Ebbw Vale made it easy for him to control the information going in and out of the department. And woe befell anyone who dared to go behind his back and talk to people in authority without his permission.

It was only after I had left for Ebbw Vale that I realised how unhappy and stressed I had been, when you never had a feeling of achievement and the best you could hope for was a “phew! we got out of that tight spot intact”. It’s sad that some of the people who work for you have to tell you that “it doesn’t matter what you think, because if it doesn’t match what Dave thinks, then he’ll go over your head and push his opinion through anyway”.

All I can say is: a good thing that the temporary secondment became permanent, because as soon as I was out of the pressure cooker I thought: I should have left ages ago. But how the move to Ebbw Vale became permanent is the subject of a different story.

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