Oral history of British science
Wood, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey (Part 5 of 11)
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Interviewees' home, Abingdon
Wood, Sir Martin, 1927- (speaker, male), Wood, Lady Audrey,1927- (speaker, female)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 5 [1:00:19] Remarks on business in 1970s: departure of MD and some staff; MW taking over running remaining loyal staff; AW discussions with tax people over corporation tax, cash-flow problems; value of business and personal partnership, AW role sorting finances and legal issues; MW organising productive side; overmanning in 1970; story about being approached by staff scientist John Williams with idea to run company; support of solicitor and accountant family members; decision not to take Thor to court; [06:00] Comments on: growth of company under Frank Thornton, value of superconductivity, growing too fast on overdraft; problems caused by superconductor famine of 1960s, ended by Imperial Metal Industries [IMI] supply of new superconductor niobium titanium. [09:20] Comments on investment from 3I, Investors In Industry: 3I history as Technical Development Capital [TDC] until take over by Industrial Commercial Finance Corporation [ICFC]; Macmillan funding gap; quality of long term 3I support, eventual long term pay off; family contacts to ICFC; meeting with ICFC, good treatment. [13:30] Story about changing banks to Midland at shorting notice to avoid bankruptcy, difficult bankers. [16:30] Remarks on: ways of convincing financiers, conductivity changing the world; over-trading and cash-flow problems; dealings with Air Products company, who they sold Oxford Cryogenics liquid helium company; Will Penfold, brother-in-law and accountant; discussion with Air Products boss Leonard Pool over selling OI in 1960s; differences in English and American English causing break in negotiations; value of ICFC support, including individuals such as David Ellis and John Bevan [23:20]. Remarks on: small size of initial board; later MD Barry Marsden, formerly of Kent Instruments; value of Marsden to business; purchase of Oxford Electronics, who produced medical monitoring cassette recorders;value of medical recorders to survival in difficult period in 1970s; [27:45] links to Medical Research Council through Charles Fletcher and others; origins of medical tape recorder. [30:40] Remarks on: difficulties caused by three-day working week,anecdote about occasionally putting electricity on illicitly; lack of discontent in company; slow in superconductor magnet sales caused by poor university funding; Helium 3 dilution refrigerator business. [33:20] Remarks on sales overseas: value of MW work for Nicholas Kurti at Oxford in providing links and customers, international nature of Clarendon lab; meeting people at conferences; practice of selling superconductor magnets; Thor competition; value of MW experience in Clarendon in building trust. [36:50] Remarks on 1969 sabbatical leave: leaving Frank Thornton in charge; visit to conference in Novorossiysk; visit to Japan to chose agent; [38:14] story about a Japanese company's [closed section 00:38:15 - 00:38:24] clumsy attempt at industrial espionage at a meeting ; selecting their existing sellers as agent; value of scientific attaché's language skills; Japanese professor suggesting they stay at International House of Japan; Historic background of American occupation force handing former Mitsui land for International House. [42:05] Comments on time behind the iron curtain in the 1970s: Poland, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia; MW and AW visits abroad whilst Barry Marsden became MD; academic contacts made at Oxford; need for invitation to travel in Eastern Europe; anecdote about difficulties entering Russia to visit Professor Verkin at Karkov; anecdote about difficulties staying sober in Russia; Austin A40 and Transit vans used on trips to exhibitions; creating company literature from Letraset as needed; sales successes, exhibition at Lebedev Institute in Moscow; [46:50] limited sales of trips; enthusiasm and welcoming nature of Russian scientists; anecdote about toasting sales negotiations with vodka from laboratory beakers; enjoyment of trips; impressions of science in USSR, such as in Karkhov, slow speed of development, cut off; organisations buying equipment on stands; payment in petrol at Breslau in Poland; taking family on Trans-Siberian railway; anecdote about brandy being aged in a reactor in Tbilisi. [53:10] Remarks on: family, 4 children, death of daughter; friendly reactions to children in Russia; story about MW being arrested for taking photos on a flight from Tashkent to Novorossiysk; anecdote about Soviet Generals, disguised by pyjamas for journey on Trans-Siberian railway, instructing them to take illicit photos; [57:40] subsequent visit to Japan; MW sabbatical at Monash University Melbourne on Helium refrigerators, link through Clarendon contact; return via USA.
Interview with scientific instrument designers and entrepreneurs Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood