Hufton, Neil (4 of 5). Food: From Source to Salespoint

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The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
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  • Subjects

    Manufacturers; Product developers

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  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Northampton

  • Interviewees

    Hufton, Neil, 1947- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Michael, Cos (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: NH describes becoming Manager of Purfleet [Pur] margarine factory, 1984. Outlines operations at Pur. Outlines failed attempts at food manufacture; margarine still 95 percent production. Explains VDB attempts to expand; mentions Flora Pro-Active. [4:05] Details legal definition of margarine; explains makeup of water in oil emulsion. Describes attempts to make margarine taste like butter. [6:49] Describes development of lower fat spreads; interest in healthier low fat products. Describes introduction of polyunsaturates; reducing cholesterol content. Mentions move from solid to tub margarines. Summarises product changes during1980s; mentions pack size changes. [9:55] NH outlines his experience managing change; had never made margarine. Mentions 5 year rebuilding of factory; describes briefing from Technical Director DP. Outlines moving family to Longfield, Kent. Mentions children’s educational needs; outlines Longfield schools. Outlines Unilever mortgage interest allowance. Describes Longfield house. Mentions Stephanie’s work; NH never integrated locally. [20:15] Mentions predecessor, Peter Reason [PR]. NH describes taking over established role at Pur. NH, Refinery Manager and Chief Engineer, Ron Renison [RR] reported to Site General Manager, Doug Nixon [DN]. Outlines SM team; describes DN’s background and management style. [26:00] Lists four managers responsible for transforming site; NH, Refinery Manager, Richard Jenner [RJ], RR, and Nigel Perry [NP] in HR. Mentions 1990-93 transformation of entire refinery; margarine factory regenerated in NH’s time. Describes brief to separate Bromborough and Pur processes; Pur focussed on UK retail manufacture. Describes necessity of physical and working practise changes. [29:11] NH describes his reputation for effecting change. Emphasises 4 years of hostility from workers. [30:40] Describes importance of improving efficiency; describes negotiating initial changes. Describes pattern of union protests. [34:00] Details developing perfect working arrangements, with RR, RJ and NP. Describes plans. Advantages of 7 day working; impact of removing overtime. Describes abolishing job demarcations; efficiency of multitasking. Describes reducing workers on production lines; aimed at doubling production without redundancies. [40:10] Describes implementing New Look Employment [NLE] union consultation process; describes integrating worker’s priorities. Advantage of evaluating total package at end of negotiations. [44:45] Describes closed ballot on NLE; carried by one vote. Mentions subsequent ill feeling. Describes new conditions of employment under NLE, including fixed salary. Describes extra shift requirements built into contract; workers encouraged to improve efficiency. [49:50] NLE negotiations included Transport and General Workers [TGWU], Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers [AUEW], Electricians, plumbers, and clerical workers unions; describes distrust between unions. [51:33] Stresses innovation of NLE: describes help with unions from Allied Breweries senior shop convenor. Describes uncertainty in Unilever senior management over NLE; total support belying immense anxiety. Outlines necessity of convincing VDB Board to back NLE: mentions DP and Guy Walker [GW]. Mentions similarly convincing Unilever HR Dept and the European margarine co-ordination group. Describes great deal for workers; act of faith needed to fix wage bill. Describes halving cost of margarine production. [55:50] Describes problems introducing NLE to supervisor group; necessity of creating trust. Outlines ensuring parity over hours; describes rota system. [59:50] Describes simplifying job grades; jobs defined in single sentence. Describes workers improving skills and grades. [1:00:50] Describes 23 margarine lines running across factory. Describes production processes; flexibility of multi headed proportioning pump. Describes risk of bacteria in water droplets, necessitating pasteurising units. Describes process within votator units; importance of annular space. Describes increased production from 2 – 7 tons per hour; 3 minute process from ingredients to finished product. Outlines complete automation. Describes automatic packing to palletisation process; automatic loading onto lorry. [1:11:00] Describes monitoring quality; shift tasters appointed. Describes 23 packing lines; mentions Hambar lines, Akrapak lines, packet margarine, white fats and bottled oils. Describes beautiful factory layout. [1:15:35] Outlines gradual conversion of factory over 4 years; outlines official opening. NH describes promotion to Factory Manager of Mattesson Walls [MW] meat factory at West Ham [WHa]. Describes culture shock; mess of making meat products. [1:19:02] Describes dreadfully neglected state of factory site; describes MW investing in Hyde and Trafford Park factories, but not in Durham and WH. NH describes brief from Jeff Demar [JD], Technical Director of MW; to save or close WH factory. Mentions MW CEO, Jeff Fraser [JF], based in Banbury. NH contrasts WH workers with Pur; co-operative workforce. Describes loyalty of ethnic workforce; describes West Indian meat boners. Describes boner’s protective chain mail; describes job and finish payment system. Describes completely manual processes at WH. [1:27:55] Describes 6 month assessment of WH; reasons for selling WH site. NH describes dread of announcing closure; immense support from workers. [1:30:12] Describes supporting workers towards further employment. Describes preparation for announcing closure; rehearsed process. Describes telling workforce; NH moved by warmth of reaction. Describes brilliant management team, helping relocate workforce. Describes backup from Unilever; advice and training. [1:36:45] Anecdote about media training. [1:38:30] NH describes releasing positive statements about closure. Impact of closures on NH’s reputation; known as fair. Describes consciousness of local workforce as victims; closures never their fault. Importance of sensitivity towards individual workers; personal tragedies of redundancy. [1:42:20] NH describes dealing with stress; mentions not sleeping. Describes compartmentalising work and leisure. Describes being angry over collective senior management incompetence; impact on shop floor workers. Outlines feeding back to team; teaching consequences of actions. [1:46:55] Describes annual appraisal process. NH mentions responding poorly to authority; prefers to give than receive orders. Describes positive qualities; effect of leadership and straightforward manner. Describes weaknesses; pessimistic outlook. Mentions learning to say thank you. [1:53:03] NH describes becoming General Manager for all 4 MW factories; based in Banbury. Anecdote about conversation with JF about relocation. [1:53:00] Describes MW becoming division of VDB; MW Board disappeared. Outlines amalgamation of VDB with Brooke Bond Oxo [BBO] into Brooke Bond Foods [BBF] [actually called Van den Burgh Foods Bond at Brooke House]; created single Unilever chilled and ambient foods group in UK, apart from Bird’s Eye Walls. NH became Business Unit Manager for entire MW operation within VDB. Describes new BBF offices in Crawley; NH describes his office area. Mentions hierarchy of office space; mentions sharing secretary with Business Group MT. [2:01:57] Describes working hours; NH didn’t take work home. Outlines regular visits to MW factories; NH never had chauffeurs. [2:05:11] Describes responsibility to MW and VDB boards. Describes VDB CEO, GW; DR was VDB Technical Director. NH outlines decision to sell MW. Unilever only sold branded products; attraction of MW factories to own label producers. Describes benefits of scale; MW bought by Kerry Foods [KF. Advantage of selling MW; preserved jobs for workforce. [2:11:20] Describes process of selling business; writing prospectus, employing merchant banks, etc. Describes approaching possible buyers. Importance of confidentiality; minimising anxieties. Describes announcing sale; Mentions Goldman Sachs [GS] Merchant Bank. [2:15:28] Describes bidding process; vendor providing open access to data for potential buyer. Advantages of competition between buyers; talking up bids. Describes guarantees required by Unilever; importance of underwriting pensions and redundancy terms. [2:20:48] NH describes giving presentation to prospective buyer; bids processed through merchant bank. Describes prioritising prospective buyers; balancing price and requirements. Mentions negotiating with Michael Griffin [MG], MD of Kerry UK. Anecdote about BBF UK Commercial Director, Ian Barnard [IB] offending Irish Vice Chairman of KF. Describes negotiations completed successfully at accountant level, between Bill Allen [BA] and Kevin O’Connor [KO’C] of KF. [2:26:50] NH describes preference to leave meat business; offered Pur General Manager job. Attractive offer; family reasons for accepting job. [2:28:52] NH managed Pur from 1995-99. Describes transformation under predecessor, John Coombes [JC]; success of NLE. Describes Pur efficiency; no 2 margarine producer in Europe, behind Dutch manufacturer, Nassaukade. [2:30:30] Outlines improvements in production costs and reliability; better attitude of workforce. Describes change in balance of yellow fats market; margarine sales vastly outstripping butter. Outlines VDB share of margarine market; strength of VDB brands compared to own label products. Describes innovations; mentions 6 versions of Flora margarines. Mentions I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and Olivio brands. Mentions competition, Utterly Butterly, Gold and Clover. Mentions competitors, Kraft and Unigate. Mentions decline in packet margarines; only used for baking. Mentions Stork SB. Explains introducing uniformity of tub shapes; rationalisation of production. [2:38:05] NH expected quiet time at Pur. Describes setting objective to become best margarine factory in world; biggest, cheapest, consistent quality and innovation. [2:40:22] Describes duties as Site Manager; to consistently improve on targets. Describes co-operation from workforce. Describes Pur site; size and buildings. Describes moving office to centre of margarine factory; close to lines and MT. [2:44:35] Describes changes in management; more egalitarian than earlier times. Outlines lunchtimes in canteen; mixing with various teams. [2:47:35] Describes improved relations with workers; much more equal. Recalls being on first name terms. Describes weekly MT meetings; reviewing past week and setting agenda. Describes controlling events through taking minutes; improving clarity. NH’s preference for keeping minutes within MT; describes giving 48 hours notice for meetings. NH describes collective decision making; importance of implementing decisions. Describes enjoyment of dissent during discussion; necessity of working together. Describes “The Hufton Look.”

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