My Biggest Mistake: Alan Brazier

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The Independent Online
QUICKLY, Mother, move a few miles east. Please]

The accident of birth can lift some to high places. But this is usually because of who the parents are. Seldom has the 'where' of birth mattered so much. I will let you decide if my big mistake was to be born in the Worcestershire town of Droitwich.

In life my big break came in falling out of a tree. It meant missing the exams crucial to my dream of being a veterinarian. Instead I did other things, including running a milk float and learning that housewives were grateful for other provisions (such as potatoes) from the milkman, particularly when delivered with care, courtesy and attention and at a price and quality they wanted. These universal principles were confirmed in my years with Rank Xerox.

In the mid-1970s I found myself tendering for the commercial cleaning of Newport Pagnall Service Station. 'Fifty pounds and it's done,' I said. Eight nights of 11 men sloshing boiling water onto the grease-soaked carpet and scraping off the sludge with a board, and only then could I truly say it was done.

A market beckoned, but where was the machine to do it? I found its components in my barn. A combination of milk churn, egg crate, shower heater and so on. But would it satisfy the marketplace? Hence the tension as we waited for a customer to say goodnight and leave us to clean his premises with the secret prototype. The chap kept on chatting and I finally got his promise not to breathe a word of what he was about to see. The air was electric as we prepared and filled the machine and ceremoniously switched it on. There followed the classic blue flash, puff of smoke and darkness. But the machine went on to capture 70 per cent of the commercial cleaning market within two years.

I turned my mind to a new project for the woman at home. The result was the VAX range, the first 3-in-1 that could wash, suck up wet or dry spills and still be everyday vacuum cleaners.

We set up at Droitwich, my place of birth. Why move elsewhere? What small funds I did have would be used for backing this new product. Here, I was known, and I knew the local workforce.

The VAX became the nation's favourite vacuum and captured more than 50 markets overseas. We invested, looked forward, spent our own money - learning too late that UK and EU taxpayers will actually pay foreign- owned multinationals to become better able to compete against the very taxpayers who are paying relocation inducements to lure them to economic assistance areas.

True, this is open to all. But which is better able to scout the UK for the best deals: the aspiring local business or the multinational with a battalion of lawyers able to comb grant-aid statutes? Start-up firms are too busy producing. By the time they are medium-sized they cannot move if they want to and are, in effect, penalised for their success.

My board, rightly, decided we would spend our pounds 12m expansion funds on our present site but, oh, Mother, how much easier it would have been to decide if you had moved a few miles east before making me, proudly, a Droitwich man.

You see, just down the road to the east, it is now an economic assistance area.

(Photograph omitted)

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