I’ve mentioned a number of times that my career path was a combination of opportunities and serendipity, and following the story about my first corporate automotive job with Leyland Australia in 1977, in the previous post, I think the interview for that job counts as serendipitous.
I was approached by my good friend, Hans Tholstrup, to join him on the 1977 Singapore Airlines London-To-Sydney Car Rally. To do that I had to resign my current job.
I agreed only on the basis that I would get paid, so Leyland Australia agreed to stump up three months salary at my then-current rate of pay.
For that my role was not only the navigator for the ‘Coke Moke’, but I would also take responsibility for all visas, vehicle carnets, currencies, hotel bookings and general team administration.
This was also not without difficulty. In the weeks before the Rally I had to traipse around London to the many embassies to get passport visas for our team of five, and our vehicle carnets stamped. Plus there was also mechanical work to finish the Moke before we started.
The day I was to leave Sydney, bound for Copenhagen with Singapore Airlines, I got a call from the PA to Leyland Australia’s CEO, a generally jovial, pugnacious Scotsman (whom I had interviewed many times as a journalist). I was to meet him in Leyland Australia's new HQ building in Bondi Junction, in eastern Sydney (right, circa 1977).
He was also well known for fairly fruity language and expressions, so you were in doubt what he meant. He wanted to see me at 11am.
I presumed he was going to wish me good luck, take care, and ensure a keen watch over my admin responsibilities.
I sat down in his office overlooking Sydney Harbour, and after pleasantries, he looked at me sternly and said: “We’ve got (expletive) awful PR'. Our vehicles have got a (expletive) awful image.” Both comments I agreed with.
Then silence descended on the office for a few minutes, until he looked up and said: “Well, do you want the (expletive) job?”
Dumbfounded, I simply replied: “Job?”
“Aye, I happen to know we’re paying you for three months and when you get back, you’re jobless. Do you want the (expletive) job?”
Recognising the truth of his statements, I agreed, because when I got back home I would need a job.
“Well, finally,” he said. “Now that’s sorted, we’ll have a wee dram.” Thereby pouring two very generous servings of Johnny Walker Whisky. “Good luck, and I’ll see you in September.”
Two large Scotches later I staggered outside, and caught a cab to the airport for my 4pm departure. After check-in I called my wife, and said: “Hey, I’ve got a job when I get back.”
“Thank God for that” she said. “What is it?”
“I’m going to be PR manager for Leyland Australia”
“Wow, you obviously love a challenge.” She replied. Then, at 4pm I took off for the greatest adventure of my life.
It was a challenging job, but 13 years later when I resigned from the company, mine and my team's PR efforts had put both the company and all its products in very positive PR territory.
Then, in early 1991, my wife and I jetted off to the USA, so I could take up the role of Vice President of Public Relations for Jaguar Cars North America – a company that was once again in a very sad and sorry state. Once again I would begin the job as a ‘salvage merchant’ to try and help improve its fortunes.
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