CHAPTER 10:

TAKE-OVER OF THE MORRIS SCHOOL OF HAIRDRESSING….1989

During the mid to late 80’s we traded very well. I’d gone through two Jaguar XJS’s & by the time the Morris School became available I was driving a Maserati 430. Sorry if cars bore you but I have to relate my experience because I bought what we called “a pup”. Unfortunately it didn’t work! It was bought on a whim, was the first of an ill-fated series & my abiding memory of the worst car ever made was the trailer removing it from our driveway. When I finally lost patience & got rid of it after about a year & a half it only had about ten thousand miles on the clock, basically because it wouldn’t work! It cost then £48,000! Talk about a fool & their money are easily parted. So what’s new! Guess what replaced it? A gold Rolls Royce with a beige vinyl roof! I’m ashamed to say it’s true but in my defence that only lasted about a year.

Meanwhile two things that occurred during this time had a profound effect on my life. The first happened in March 1985 when my father died. He didn’t drink or smoke & apart from having a pacemaker fitted, hadn’t been ill up to that point. Very sudden & as I’m getting older, very scary!

It just so happened I decide to give up smoking just a few days before this happened & the circumstances under which it came about were quite funny. Being busy all day, I had very little opportunity to take the odd five minutes to eat, let alone smoke. However, once I got home in the evening, had dinner & the odd glass of wine, a cigarette or five was fairly normal. On this particular evening, Bonnie & I went across the road to one of our neighbours for a drink & a chat. The conversation went something like: “do you mind if I smoke? Have you got an ash tray”? Obviously the answer was a very grudging “yes”. So I puffed away as usual until we went home around midnight.

I laid in bed with the usual horrible taste in my mouth coupled with, I kid you not, some real nasty chest pains. Bear in mind I’d just lost my father & that must have been playing on my mind. Anyway, the following morning I left my cigarettes & lighter at home & went to work. One hour later Bonnie called me at my office to let me know she’d found the cigarettes & lighter. My response was something like “so what, I’ve given up smoking” & I promise you I never touched a cigarette again. Not bad after literally 30 years!

I must now move on to the Morris School & the consequences of our amalgamation that eventually impacted on the way our business developed over the next twenty five years. The Morris School had a fantastic reputation during the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s. It was originally owned by “Professor” Alf Morris who built the business from scratch to become one of three or four leading private schools of hairdressing during that period. He had his sons Kenneth & Sidney working with him, Ken eventually moving over to the beauty side of their business.

Sidney took over the day to day business, & expanded the Morris name overseas, mainly in Africa & the Far East. By the time we got involved, the lease on their property in Tottenham Court Road had come to an end & Mr. Morris approached us to see whether we would take in to our school the last few Morris School students & some of their trainers. As it so happened we were extremely busy with our own training school so the extra staff were employed & we continued to trade under the Robert Fielding banner.

Sidney Morris ran our School together with the manager he brought with him. His brother Ken & his wife ran their beauty school from the same premises we had in Dean Street, Soho. We had around 7,000 square feet of training facilities, packed full with students from all over the World. In those days, to be trained in the UK was worth a fortune to those who came from places such as Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong to name but a few.

At the time I wasn’t involved with the day to day running of the School & I didn’t get near to understanding just what an important business it was. At that time I was running half of our 26 salons & you can imagine what a full-on job that was. We had around 150 staff, & just making sure the salons were staffed fully & were running efficiently was the major objective. I bet those of you with more than two or three salons know what that feels like.

Just to add to the mood at that time, my son, Edward, decided it was ok to drive to school (remember, he was at Dulwich College) without the Headmaster’s permission. Not too clever considering he was due to take his “A Levels” & the old banger he drove wasn’t exactly subtle. Needless to say, he got suspended immediately & I had to literally beg the school to let him do his exams.

I hesitate to say it but you know what they say; the apple never falls far from the tree & if you remember my very first chapter I said education & I didn’t go together. It seems that also applied to Edward at the time! Anyway, he somehow managed to pass a couple of the exams & nowadays he’ll tell you that education is the fundamental thing to set you on the right path. Always was & always will be in my opinion. Obviously that opinion changed over the years as we got more & more involved with the training side of the industry.

Anyway, Edward actually left Dulwich in the Summer of that year, 1990, & started on a Management Training scheme with Lloyds Bank. That lasted around eighteen months before he started on his own hairdressing career. More about that later.

Around mid 1990 we had started to negotiate with our senior partner who wanted to retire. The problem was fairly straightforward but not easy to resolve. He owned 50% of the shares & the three other partners owned the other 50% between us. A difficult situation to say the least because we were all different ages & at different stages of our lives.

I won’t go into the gory details because my opinion of what went on between my business partners & I would be completely different. Suffice to say that no agreement could be reached amicably & after some months of haggling & the forced retirement of the senior partner, I became the Managing Director of Robert Fielding. That’s when the problems really started!

The bank, Barclays, that we had been associated with for over thirty years, wouldn’t continue their financial support & around the last couple of months of 1990 we put the company in the hands of a receiver. I don’t know if any of you have had the experience of running a business that was ostensibly your own & yet you have no real say in its’ future. Essentially, the receiver trades the company, stands between you & your creditors whilst trying to sell the business as a going concern. They act on behalf of the bank & the only thing they’re interested in is getting the best price possible with no thought whatsoever to the staff & people whose lives are directly affected.

This was truly a horrible period of my life. My career was hanging by a thread, I was at war with two people that I’d worked with for nearly thirty years & the only way forward was to try to raise the money to buy it & then try to turn the business around. Without being too specific, as the managing director it was my job to talk to any prospective purchaser; seeing some very high profile industry figures who were interested in buying Robert Fielding on the one hand whilst at the same time I was trying to do a deal myself with the receiver on behalf of David, my accountant partner, & I. After an awful period of stress & strain, we somehow raised almost a quarter of a million pounds between us (that was another story that’s so complicated it would take three days to explain) & on January 13th 1991 we took over the Robert Fielding chain of salons.

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