Sunday, October 03, 2010

Personal Memories of Lord Sugar

After watching Lord Sugar take a trip down memory lane with Piers Morgan and following the launch of his autobiography ‘WYSIWYG’ a few days back I was reflecting on my own personal memories of Alan as my boss at Amstrad during the 80's and 90's.

These are 9 memories that - for better or worse - stand out for me from the 9 year's as a young salesman at Amstrad at the start of my 25 year career in sales and marketing.

1. The estate agent

Before the launch of the first home computer the CPC464 in 1984 Amstrad hired a small group of ‘boffins’ based at a small company in Brentwood. There was no room at the Tottenham office (and none us wanted to go there anyway) so for a few months we continued to work remotely. Then someone came up with the great idea of moving Amstrad to Brentwood and there was a large empty office block that seemed to fit the bill.

After we’d done some initial reconnaissance, Alan and the whole of board of directors decided to visit the site and I collected the keys from the estate agent and very keenly showed them around all 9 floors. This was the first time I had met Alan and at the end of the tour Alan said to Jim his finance director, “you can loose the estate agent now”. Jim quickly rescued me by explaining I was one of the new computer team.

2. The importance of communications

After my cover was blown I got tasked with preparing the new offices ahead of the move to Brentwood. A couple of weeks before the scheduled date Alan paid a visit to inspect the progress of the work. After seeing that the decoration work was all on track he said words to the effect “I don’t care about the decorations and desks, as long as the phones, fax and telex are all working fine then I can be sitting on a orange box and the rest of the world won’t know, but if they’re not working don’t even bother to show your face!”

3. The printer lead

In early 1985 we launched our first printer the DMP-1, it was eagerly awaited and its first showing was at the CES show in the US. I was asked to organise a sample for Alan to take on his flight. As he was about to leave the office for the airport with the printer he turned to me and asked if I had remembered to pack the printer lead. Now the PL-1 was a non-standard lead that was supplied as an additional item and the nearest one was at the warehouse 30 miles away - I had completely forgotten about it. The reaction was inevitably to challenge me to get the lead to the stand at the exhibition before him or stick it where the sun don’t shine. Thank's to some fast work by Steve and Russell the lead made into Alan's luggage at Heathrow.

4. Pearls of wisdom

When selling a fantastically popular product it’s all too easy to get big headed and arrogant, and there wasn’t any room for that at Amstrad – save for Alan himself. So every now and then he’d feel it necessary to take people down a peg or two! One of his more illuminating analogies was the ‘Ferris wheel’ – when you are at the top don’t crap on those at the bottom as it won’t be too long before the situation is reversed.

5. The snow leopard

During the time when the PC business was really flying high – probably 1988, we were exhibiting at the Which Computer Show in Birmingham. Now we had done several exhibitions in previous years and the stands had all been swamped and totally manic. For this event we had really gone to town with a huge ‘double decker’ stand, 2 staircases, cocktail bar with water feature to host our guests and dozens of specially selected girls to look after everyone’s needs. When Alan arrived, just before the opening, I remember him strolling around and looking quizzically then asking “where’s the bloody snow leopard?”

6. The fable

I have no reason to believe if this is based on fact or not, however before we were all subjected to jack hammers creating a new lift shaft (a private one to the new 10th floor where Alan built his executive suite) there were just 2 lifts serving the office. So in the morning if you timed your arrival badly you could end up in a lift with Alan who was on his way to the 9th floor where sales was based. He apparently never said a word in the lift and the rumour was – if he spoke to you then your P45 was already waiting for you on your desk.

7. The recall trial

In the dark days of the PC business when the 2000 series was going horribly wrong I was loitering around Malcolm’s (Sales and Marketing Director) office with most of the other senior sales and marketing managers discussing what we should do about the situation. I was advocating a recall and exchange of the units out in the market, when suddenly I became aware that Alan was standing behind me. Turning around he began to test my resolve on the idea and as the pressure escalated I was acutely aware that my colleagues had all shrunk into the background and I was beginning to well up with emotion as I stuck to my guns. After what seemed like an eternity (probably not more than 2 or 3 minutes), Alan turns around and walks off telling me to get on with it and to make sure it solves the problem.

8. The Christmas party

This was the least extravagant of the parties I remember, down at the Post House Hotel on junction 28 of the M25. Times were tough in 1990 and my wife and I found we had the pleasure of sitting at Alan’s table for dinner. My wife was expecting our second baby within a few days and Alan struck up a conversation asking her if we had considered calling the baby Alan! He was sure it was going to be a boy and when my wife said we hadn’t decided on a name he suggested we think of something related to the number five in recognition of the new 5 series PC’s that we were pinning our hopes on! Given the amount of red wine flowing I guess this is the incident Alan would be least likely to remember. The first 2 letters of my son's name are Al, but he is definitely not Alan.

9. Déjà vous at the lawyers

Several years after I left Amstrad I helped out as a witness in the court cases against Seagate and Western Digital. They had supplied the hard disks for the disastrous 2000 series. The whole High Court and US legal system was an extremely interesting experience but the one moment that I remember which involved Alan was in the lawyer’s office in LA. There was a small group of us getting prepared in a large meeting room, I can recall Barry was there but can’t picture who else was there as the lighting in the room was very dim. Then Alan arrived and paced around the room with the immortal words ‘well isn’t this just like old times’.

Since those times the hard core of the team have stayed friends and regularly meet up to remind ourselves of the good old days - and of course to discuss Lord Alan's new celebrity career.

1 comment:

The Majority Party said...

Shameless coat tailing! 8-) don't forget who got you that job of a lifetime.