This article was published in the No7 April 1979 issue of Tek Times.
It all began for me in May, 1963, when I was offered and accepted the assignment of setting up Tek U.K., and operating the new set-up from January 1st, 1964.
What a marvellous opportunity to start from scratch in the knowledge of past successes and failures and do's and don’ts! Such a creative opportunity to put together a complete operating unit to take over a well-established business position comes but rarely to any of us.
I had known Tektronix products, people and policies for over five years whilst at Livingston Laboratories Limited - indeed, I first met our President, Earl Wantland, in 1959 when he came to Europe to join the Guernsey manufacturing unit, and later to set up the Heerenveen factory.
ln the '50's Livingston were exclusive representatives in U.K. for many U.S. electronic instrument manufacturers, including Tek and Hewlett-Packard and this continued into the early '60's, when Tek and H.P. set up their own U.K. organisations, leaving many smaller companies still under the Livingston banner.
It was necessary to obtain a complete briefing on current Tek policies, outlooks, and methods before setting to work on my new assignment and I spent time in Guernsey and Beaverton for this purpose during June and July of 1963.
The first step was to decide on the area to be the base of the new operation: I lived at Wheathampstead at the time, and in later days, when asked "Why Harpenden?" I usually gave my local residence as the reason. Jokingly, of course!
Well, only partly joking!
Looking at the parameters of the business, it became clear that there was no better location than mid-Hertfordshire. Some 60% of our business came from the area within a 40 mile radius of Central London. It made little sense to be in Central London with all the problems of cost, congestion, and working surroundings.
It made even less sense to be south of the Thames because of the need to cross or circumvent London on the way to the rest of the country. Therefore, the area north of London was the obvious choice, and the chosen area was on the A6 close to the M1, close to the A1, and on a main railway line to the Midlands and the North with excellent commuter services to and from London.
We had access to every corner of the country except Kent and Surrey without crossing London and yet were very conveniently close to the Metropolis.
I put all these points to Don Alvey and Frank Doyle, and they agreed, subject to the finding of suitable premises.
At the time, the office and shop complex in Station Road and Station Approach, Harpenden, was nearing completion, and after negotiations with the owner, we agreed terms for a 21 year lease at a rent less than half that for Outer London, to a quarter of the going rate for Central London.
The office building of 8,600 sq. ft. was on 3 floors of 2,200, 3,200 and 3,200 square feet, with a loading area under cover below the lowest working floor. There was parking for 20 cars, some under cover, and all in all, the premises were very suitable to meet our needs apart from the need to have a goods lift from the loading area to the lower two floors of the building.
This feature was part of the deal, and was due to be installed in good time before our opening date. The next step was to start fitting out the two lower floors (all we needed initially) and starting our recruiting campaign. Incidentally, we were fortunate to let the top floor to Roses' (Lime juice!) for a year and thus help with initial costs.
Our first recruitment need was for Field Engineers and Field Support Engineers, as training would be needed over as long a period as possible.
Fortunately, three engineers currently based in Guernsey (John Thompson, John Bailey and Alan Clark) applied to transfer to Tek. U.K., and this was agreed on all sides. Just as fortunately, former colleagues of mine (Bob Garrett, Keith Retallick, Paul Smith, and Alan Hodgetts) also applied to join and by September we had our Technical nucleus earmarked and ready to go, including two new recruits (Chris Morgan, ex. Marconi, and Len Crouch, ex. Cossor).
Training sessions were laid on in Guernsey during the autumn, in preparation for the magic date of January 1st 1964.
Meanwhile partitions were being erected, and preparations went on for the goods lift and the telephone P.B.X. system and telex service.
A planning application to use part of the building for servicing was lodged, and we had every assistance from the local authority in this matter.
Going back a little, there was a time in August, 1963 when the local effort consisted of myself and Bob Garrett, two chairs and one table and a filing cabinet in a corner of the otherwise empty building! Oh yes, we had one telephone line, and part time secretarial assistance from a young lady working at home.
One continuous activity which went on when other distractions permitted was the preparation of a complete set of operating systems and procedures to cover such things as Order Processing, invoicing, accounting and reporting, staff policies, security arrangements, stores systems for main products and parts, despatch, import duty and 'duty free' arrangements, and so on.
This activity naturally included the design of stationery, business forms, record cards, order acknowledgements and invoices, etc., and these were ordered from the printers in good time to make our opening date.
Our past experience had given us knowledge of office systems that worked well, some which just worked, and others which didn't do the job at all!
We had the experience of modifying the not-so-good ones and seeing if they worked better. Often, they didn't, and we were back at the drawing board. All this gave us a good position to set some new ideas into operation, and this part of the preparation was most absorbing and interesting because we could start from scratch with no need to do other than benefit from past experiences.
Certainly, in the light of later events, the arrangements eventually worked well, though of course, no set of procedures and systems can endure for long without constant monitoring and the need for changes brought about by changing circumstances and, often, changes found necessary to simplify as our work-load grew even larger.
One policy we were keen to try was to deliver all or almost all, by our own vans, and use this network to collect instruments for repair and recall & re-delivery when the work was done. So far as we knew, no other company in our field did this at that time, which provided an alternative answer to the customer asking for service on site.
This could not be done immediately, as part of our arrangement with Livingston during 1964, Livingston would import, check and deliver to our instructions, and also that all service (warranty or chargeable) would be done by Livingston over that same period.
Of course, our Field Engineers were free to carry out first aid service when the need arose during their daily round, but always on a non-chargeable basis.
Other features of our arrangement with Livingston were that any orders reaching Harpenden in 1963 were to be handed to Livingston for execution; that during 1964 customers were free to buy either from Tek U.K. or Livingston; and that Tek U.K. and Livingston would use the Livingston mailing list to announce the new arrangements in the weeks immediately before January 1st 1964. The charges were also announced in advertisements in the technical press.
All this meant that we had plenty of time during 1964 to plan our own Servicing and Repair facility, our own importing arrangements, and our own delivery van service to commence on January 1st 1965.
So much for the interim arrangements!
Two further and very welcome recruits from Tek Guernsey were Birgit Thompson (Yes, John's wife!) and Brian Staples. Birgit was to take responsibility for Order Processing, having worked on this both in Zug and Guernsey, and Brian to take charge initially of our spare parts stores, having worked in a similar sphere in Guernsey. Brian was also briefed to take on Transport arrangements as time went on.
One of the problems we had that autumn was the noise, dirt and disturbance caused by cutting holes in the floors to make way for the goods lift.
This gave rise to a legend that I habitually interviewed "Young lady" applicants for employment in the privacy of my car!
I claim I was a fugitive from pneumatic drills, and I stick to my story.
Recruitment of Office and Stores staff went ahead well, and we started with our planned complement and a List of reserves for later.
The mailing shots and advertising programme were planned and executed; areas for our Field Engineers were planned and defined and customer cards prepared; here we had a great advantage in that all our four initial Field Engineers had operated in the areas allocated to them before joining us.
Keith Retallick took Southern England, North of the Thames; Len Crouch South of the Thames, Alan Hodgetts the Midlands, and Paul Smith the North and Scotland.
John Thompson was our Staff Engineer, whilst John Bailey and Alan Clark looked after Field Support. Chris Morgan was earmarked as Supervisor of our Repair Centre when set up, and until then, he worked with Field Support.
Other planning activities during Autumn 1963 included the selection and ordering of demos; ordering of Field Repair kits and operating manuals; Ordering typewriters and other office equipment including copier, filing cabinets, desks and chairs; ordering estate cars for the Field Engineers, and all those other items, large and small, needed to equip our growing organisation.
We also had to decide on our Publicity and Exhibition plans for 1963 and 1964, a most important feature of our marketing plans.
My partner in all this was Bob Garrett, nominated to take responsibility for all technical aspects as Field Engineering Manager.
He would be the first to agree that much of his attention during those build-up months had to be devoted to things other than Engineering!
So, in the last few weeks of 1963, things were coming together and preparations for the great day were well in hand and on time.
We had greatly enjoyed the planning of operational systems and procedures to our own satisfaction. The only immovables were the need to operate Accounting to mesh in with Beaverton systems, to report financial details in set form each operating period, and an obligation to operate personnel terms, conditions and benefits in direct line with the worldwide practices of Tektronix Inc.
On January 1st, 1964 we were all ready to open the shop.
27 employees were there on that day, and five of them, Bob Garrett, Keith Retallick, Paul Smith, Brian Staples and John Thompson are still with Tek U.K.
On that day we received our first two orders - one from Hughes International at Glenrothes for a 575 Transistor Curve Tracer, and one from B.T.R. Limited at Taplow for a 545A Oscilloscope and a CA plugin.
These first of the very many were welcomed by all 27 members of the staff and provided the first practical test of our Order Processing, Invoicing and Despatching systems!
Now was the time when the policies and plans had to work and work well.
A cardinal feature of all recruiting activities was to stress that this was a Sales Organisation of the leading Company of its kind in the world and we had a very great deal to do to live up to the standard of the equipment we were selling.
Everyone was requested to be a real salesman (sales person?) for Tek U.K., and although this was obviously true of Field Engineers and Field Support, it could be just as true for all those having any kind of contact with our customers.
The Telephonist/Receptionist was often the first direct contact for a customer or prospective customer, and here we always had a first-class service, often the subject of customer compliments.
It is just as important for all in Order Processing, Stores, Accounting and Publicity, and all our van drivers were particularly briefed on the importance of their impact on our customers.
In all these activities, the speed, efficiency, enthusiasm, and customer-consciousness displayed by Tek people could make new customers and cultivate established customers. I think we were very fortunate throughout my time in Tek U.K. to be able to recruit people who understood this reasoning and acted upon it.
What more is there to be said about the beginning?
Certainly, I found the first 18 months from May '63 to Dec '64 to be the most interesting, exciting and rewarding period of my business life. Of course, there was great interest and satisfaction over the years beyond 1964, but nothing quite touched the creative satisfaction of that first year and a half.
In 1964, our first target was to make contact in every way open to us with as many customers and potential customers as possible. This covered calls, telephone contact, Publicity and mailing and by holding an Open House week which was very successful.
We had one special target never achieved by Livingston to sell quantities of 'scopes to the British Armed Forces, and we started on what turned out to be a long road before we received our first contract for 647. Next, we had to plan and prepare for our Repair and Servicing Operation. Although the official date for opening was January 1st 1965, we set up a small unit for warranty work from the middle of 1964 and expanded it gradually to cope with full-scale activity in 1965. If my memory serves me right, Vernon Foster was one of the first to join the embryo unit.
Another project to be planned was the collection and delivery service mentioned earlier, and yet another to plan a glossy brochure on Tek worldwide in general and Tek U.K. in particular. The reasoning behind this was that customers in U.K. knew Tek products well, but knew little about the Company itself. We also wanted to stress the "U.K." part of our name by claiming to offer "British Made" in the island of Guernsey.
In those days, and perhaps even today, there was a resistance to buying foreign electronic equipment, and this was particularly true of Governmental and Forces procurement agencies.
The booklet eventually appeared, under the title "Tek in a Nutshell", and I don't doubt copies are still around in the hands of those employed at the time. I certainly have my copy, which I treasure.
At the end of 1964, Rose's moved out of the top floor of Beaverton House, the offices moved into the vacant space to leave the middle floor free for the Repair Centre, the Dem. Room, and the Conference Room.
And so, I come to the end of my tale of the beginnings of Tek U.K.
Now, 15 years later, it is a new generation of Tek people carrying on the ever increasing volume of business, on an entirely larger scale than in the early days.
The enthusiasm, the excitement, and the high level effort from the founder members of Tek U.K. was marvellous to see, and from what I saw recently at the Torquay meeting, those attributes are there in the present day team, and there in very good measure.
May the successes of 1963 and 1978 be only the precursers of much greater successes in the years ahead!
Harry Sellers, retired