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The Reyrolle Story: 51 - The Largest-Ever Order

Despite winning its biggest-ever export order the giant Tyneside manufacturing concern Reyolle continues to make workers redundant.

To purchase a copy of Robert Owen's history of the firm please visit http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reyrolle-Story-History-Co-Ltd/dp/1905295073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678876&sr=1-1

To a great extent this drastic shift in the domestic market stimulated a much needed change in the philosophy of the Reyrolle Company. Finding new export markets was now the key.

A person who played no small part in this new philosophy was Angela Goundry - Reyrolle's Marketing Manager. In a novel article entitled "Sex and the Single Market", she criticised the Company for concentrating on the home market and neglecting the export field (perhaps nobody told her that Reyrolle had been exporting since 1911 and during the 1950s, 40% of output went to over 70 different countries). Nevertheless, Angela Goundry's approach allegedly changed Reyrolle from being a technically-driven to a commercially-driven company and by 1996, over 80% of the firm's output was exported.

Ian Hamilton Fazey reviewed Mrs Goundry's unusual paper in The Financial Times on April 17th 1997.

When Reyrolle were invited to explain how the Company had developed its new market-led culture to the 1996 NafWest Export Forum, it nominated Mrs Goundry to tell audiences throughout Britain about Reyrolle's' sex-change'.

The above brought a partial recovery to the Reyrolle element of Rolls-Royce Power Engineering and it won major orders for substations in Dubai and Malaysia. The Guardian headline read "NEI Reyrolle wins 100 million Dubai power order" and MD Stan Jones boasted about "our ability to win major overseas contracts against the fiercest of competition".

The Company's success in the export market was rewarded when it won the prized Queen's Award for Export Achievement, and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the works to meet Reyrolle employees.

The downside of the above success was that back at Hebburn, redundancies continued, with 90 jobs going in September 1991 and another 40 the following year. The total workforce was down to less than 1500.

In the 1990s, Reyrolle attempted to build on its export success by ambitiously bidding to supply an extra large substation near Riyadh. After a long and intense negotiation and fighting off strong and experienced competition, the Company finally won this important contract. One of the main reasons for long negotiations was the low price of oil which prevented the Saudis completing the deal. Nevertheless, with no Letter-of-Credit or financial guarantee, Reyrolle dangerously embarked on the construction of one of the world's largest substations, entirely self financed. Fortunately, the formal contract for 200 million was signed in 1995.

Commenting, on receiving the order, MD Dr Stan Jones said "This contract, the largest in our 100 year history, reinforces our position as a leading exporter to the Middle East. Our future is quite rosy."

However, what many employees and the local community couldn't understand was how Reyrolle could rejoice about winning such a big order and at the same time make so many workers redundant, as they had done a few months earlier when a local paper headline read "160 Jobs Axed".
Tom Anderson - an electrical test technician was one of the many workers who left in 1994. He had worked at Reyrolle since 1953 and saw the gradual decline and break-up of the Company. He commented "the older workers on the shop floor used to admire the Reyrolle bosses Bill Fenwick and Jim Bennett, but resented the new bosses, who came with each new merger but knew nothing about the Company. With each merger the workforce got more depressed and feared who was next to receive the brown envelope."

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