My Biggest Mistake: Brian Taylor

Brian Taylor, 59, is chief executive of Wardle Storeys, manufacturer of plastics and safety equipment. Mr Taylor was born into a poor Bristol family, and worked his way up through Associated Fisheries and Wilkinson Sword before being given charge of the troubled Bernard Wardle in 1980. He turned it round, then combined a management buy-out and a merger with Storeys. The group grew fast in the 1980s and became a City favourite. But its reputation was damaged by a series of unsuccessful bids, and the recession hit hard. Mr Taylor cut costs and the company is on the mend.

MY FIRST responsible job was as a production manager at a fish processing factory in Grimsby. I was only 28, but Associated Fisheries, which owned the factory, had picked me to turn it round.

At the time, it was losing several hundred thousand pounds a year. I had been trained in every part of the industry and was used to coming home every evening reeking of fish. I set about improving the factory's fortunes with a will.

I had immense autonomy and quickly learned that the trick was to balance the buying according to the production plan, prices and raw materials.

I would also trade fish. When people used to wake me in the middle of the night to sell me 10 tons of Dutch plaice, I would simply wake someone else and sell the fish on to them.

We used to get all sorts of people coming round the factory and one day the group export manager turned up with a party of Italian chaps. We brought them to the fish market, where a load of squid had just been landed and this clearly excited the Italian interest.

The export manager asked me what the squid would be used for. Fish bait, I told him. He then talked to the Italians and announced that he could sell any amount of squid to Italy - for eating - at a vast profit to us.

I was enthused. The next time a big load of squid was landed, I went back and bought the lot - somewhere around 15 tons of it. I stopped all other buying for the day and went back to the factory.

The foreman, far older than I, asked why I was back so early. I told him, and said that he should clear everything else so that we could pack the squid.

'Oh dear,' he clucked, 'what have you done?' I was a bit put out and assured him vigorously over the excellence of the deal.

The squid started to arrive and the factory workers leapt upon it, soon building a mountain on one side and a tiny pile on the other. The foreman said that they were sorting it.

I said - looking at the small pile - that if we were only rejecting that much, we were going to do very well. He said that we were not. The small pile was the one we were selling to Italy; the mountain was the rejects.

'Didn't you know that you can't sell anything over there that is over two inches long?' he asked. Apparently, big squid are too rubbery to eat.

I had to sell virtually all of it as frozen fish bait for less than I paid for it: I lost the whole cost of running the factory for that day.

I owe a lot to squid. It was my biggest mistake, but since that first well-intentioned management bungle I have learned that if you buy right, you sell right. It is a simple precept that I have carried with me ever since.

Indeed, it was why Wardle Storeys has stayed away from acquisitions for the past few years. At the end of the 1980s, the market was far too bullish. More than that, it was becoming clear to us - we supply more than 100 sectors of industry - that we were going into recession.

This tests weak managements and throws up genuine opportunities. Given that the success of acquisitions depends on timing and price, I felt that we had time on our side, particularly since we were cash-rich.

This policy has stood us in good stead. I see good opportunities to buy right, but I can still detect an overlarge squid at a very considerable distance. I have done my buying of those.

(Photograph omitted)

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home