Topic: Leslie Silver
Compare and contrast with the current cunt.
Modest man who turned £250 gratuity into a multi-million pound enterprise
IT IS 60 years since Leslie Silver founded a small company in Leeds with £250 after being demobbed from the RAF. It grew to become one of the largest paint manufacturers in Europe. In a rare interview, he spoke to Business Editor David Parkin about a lifetime in business, his concerns for Leeds United and his war-time encounters with French spies.
DESPITE many achievements in business, sport and education, Yorkshire entrepreneur Leslie Silver is not a man who likes to dwell on them.
But thanks to the persuasive efforts of his old friend, Bobbie Caplin, Silver agreed to chat to me. Now aged 82, Silver hosted a party for 120 former employees and friends of the paint company, Kalon Group, in Gomersal, last week to celebrate 60 years since he founded it as Silver Paint and Lacquer Co. As always, he was keen to stress the efforts of others in the growth and success of the firm he founded.
Leslie Silver was born and brought up in Walthamstow, east London. He describes it as a "poor, working-class background. My father worked in a clothing factory, he was a pattern cutter and designer".
Silver left school, aged 14, at Easter 1939 and worked in a bookshop. In 1940, after the clothing factory his father worked in was bombed, the family moved to Leeds where his father was employed by Sumrie in the city's thriving clothing trade.
On leaving the RAF, aged 22, he started a business in 1947 with a 250 gratuity, mixing and selling paint . Silver Paints grew quickly and in 1960 moved to Batley, later changing its name to Kalon Group.
In 1983, the company moved to a 60-acre site in Birstall, developing one of the most sophisticated paint plants in western Europe.
It joined the stock market in 1985 by reversing into Leyland Paints. When Silver retired, in 1991, it employed more than 1,300 people and had a turnover of 100m and made profits of 9m. The company is now part of the worldwide paint manufacturer, Sigma Kalon.
The company gained the Queen's Award for Export in 1979 and three years later, Leslie Silver was appointed an OBE. He was named Yorkshire Businessman of the Year in 1983.
A former chairman of Leeds United, Silver headed the club's board when it won the First Division title in 1992. Since his retirement, he has become involved with Leeds Metropolitan University where he served as Chancellor and has supported numerous charities.
He lives in Leeds with his second wife, Sheila.
From starting out mixing paint in a stable to running a worldwide business
When I went home on leave during the war, an uncle said: 'What are you going to do when you get demobbed?' I said, 'I'm not going back into the clothes trade'.
He made thinners and lacquers and said I could set up and sell them. We did well for a few weeks. We got the raw materials, rented an old stable off Craven Dairies, in Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.
I was blending solvents in a 90 gallon barrel mixing the paint in the morning, then I would put my suit on and go and sell it in the afternoon. I sold it to garages like Appleyards who used it for repainting cars.
There were other paint companies in Leeds at that time but they weren't doing our type of work.
Our generation didn't talk about work as a pleasure, but as a form of income. To us the money was important. I had a wife and two young children. My parents didn't have money.
I can't believe where the 60 years have gone – it's gone in a flash.
We went to Batley at the time that emulsion paints were being introduced to this country. I realised that we had no brand. We didn't make paint, it was industrial coatings!
This chap wanted paint to sell in his shop in Leeds; he wanted to rival Woolworths. We came up with the name Homecharm, delivered our first batch to him and two days later, he said: 'Will you repeat the order and treble it'. I felt there was a private label business and in 1962 I met the paint buyer for a little company in Southampton that had just started out, called B&Q. It only had two stores then.
I said that every time they opened a store, we would give them the stock of paint as long as they paid full price and paid on time (for further orders].
They grew to 300 stores and when I retired Kalon had sales of 33m to B&Q.
I never liked the name Silver Paints – people thought you only made silver paint. I noticed that people who worked for Silver Paints thought that they were better than other people (who worked for subsidiary companies]. The only reason we were called that is that when I started the business, you had to submit 10 names for your business to the Department of Trade and they picked one.
Silver Paints was the 10th one on the list which I never thought they would pick.
So I said we needed to change the name. We needed a short name because our main competitor was Dulux.
The personnel director was Cecil Butler – the only man who called me Mr Chairman, everyone else called me Leslie – he used to sit in board meetings with a gin and Campari.
He said: 'What about Kalon? In ancient Greek it means 'for the greater good'. I said: 'How did you know that?' And he said it was in that morning's Yorkshire Post crossword. So we have the Yorkshire Post to thank.
In fact, Sigma is also a Greek word that means 'for eternity'.
So we had the Kalon Group of Companies, which included Smyth Morris Chemicals, Kirklees Chemicals and Silver Paints.
We started exporting in the early 1960s to the Middle East and West Africa.
The current managing director of Sigma Kalon tells me that the turnover is now 2bn euros. It is a great operation they've got in Batley. I chaired a meeting of the industry body there two weeks ago. It certainly wasn't down to me, there were a lot of people involved in the business.
My first wife, Anita, died in 1982 and I didn't want that old Yorkshire saying of 'clogs to clogs in three generations' to happen to my family.
So I wanted to capitalise the business and the advisers said our profits were too consistent. So we reversed into a badly run company called Leyland Paints in 1985 to acquire plc status. In the first year we made a loss of 1.5m; it was the only year we made a loss. The stock had been over-valued at Leyland.
Being a public company was something you had to do. I found it very difficult going to London as a man in his 60s and having a room full of young graduates telling me how to run my business.
The great pleasure is running a private company, it's a dream, but you have to take it plc at some stage. I retired, aged 67, in 1991. Mike Hennessy became chief executive. He was an accountant and only used to cost cutting. Accountants have too narrow a view; if you are an entrepreneur you have to take risks.
I had been approached to sell my shares in Kalon, so I said I wanted 1 a share as I was getting a dividend of 250,000 a year.
In 1992, (Neil] Kinnock was expected to win the election but didn't, and share prices took off. I was playing snooker with my pal, Bill Fotherby, at my home, and the brokers rang and offered me the price I wanted, but I told them they had to make sure their costs were covered, too. In between shots, they rang back and I agreed to sell.
Bill said: 'What have you just done?' I told him I'd sold my shares in Kalon and he said: 'Get a bloody bottle open!'
It was one of the first paint companies in Europe to computerise paint manufacturing. We had a method for making paint without anybody touching it until they put the lid on the can. And that plant today is still one of the most advanced in Europe.
When I started, we poured sacks into a mixer to make the paint.
Life in the RAF with bomber command
I went into the Air Force at 17. I wanted to be involved (in the Second World War] because, firstly, I was Jewish and, secondly, a Communist.
I went up in front of a panel of RAF officers and said I would like to fly. They told me that with my education there was no way I could be a pilot or navigator. So they asked me what I knew about engineering.
The officer held something up and it was a micrometer. I said I didn't know what it was and when the officer told me I said: 'It must be a different model from the ones I have seen.' So they made me a flight engineer.
There was a 26-week course with an exam every Friday lunchtime. If you failed a week they put you back a week. I managed to complete it and became a flight sergeant based at Dishforth, in North Yorkshire.
I flew on Halifaxes. It was 138 Squadron at Tempsford, which did low-level missions – at about 400 feet – dropping spies and supplies to the underground in France.
We sometimes took these beautiful French girls who parachuted into France as spies. I nearly got court martialled once when one of these beautiful girls gave me a kiss before she parachuted out of the plane and I then realised she had taken my revolver.
We later moved to an RAF base at Hutton Cranswick, in East Yorkshire, and we had to tow targets for anti-aircraft crews based at the Butlins, at Filey.
We then moved to the Far East, bombing the Japanese. First it was Bengal and then the Cocos Islands, half way between Ceylon (Sri Lanka] and Perth, in Australia. We were sent in to Changi Jail, in Singapore, with supplies for the prisoners. They were in a terrible way.
While I was there, this girl I had been seeing in Leeds wrote to me to ask me my intentions. She said that if I didn't want to marry her, there was another chap who did want to.
Things were different in those days. You lived with your parents until you left home to get married.
So when I got home, we married. That was my late wife, Anita. We were married for 38 years, we had three children, 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
In the RAF, we had to fly 250 hours of operational missions. When I returned on leave, my father never showed any emotion. When I told him I'd completed my 250 hours of missions, he closed his eyes, leaned his head against the wall and said: 'Thank God for that'.
You realised that it was the people left at home who suffered. I was just doing my job, I was young enough to think that I would never be shot down. I now realise how the parents suffered like the parents of troops serving in Iraq suffer today.
We lived on Easterly Avenue and we walked down to the Fforde Greene pub the next day and had a drink. That was the only time I went in a pub with my dad. He was a good bloke and a good father. When you were doing well and got a bit full of yourself, he would cut you down to size and he would lift you up when you were not doing so well. He died in 1966, aged 66.
Howard's way – the best day's work I did for Leeds United
I had always been a Leeds United fan. I went to a charity meeting at Arnold Ziff's house and Manny Cussins (then Leeds United chairman] was there.
He was looking for investment and asked if I was interested in coming on the board. I said: 'What is it going to cost?' He said: 'Nothing'. That was the first lie he told me!
So I joined the board in 1981. I put in 2m on loan and enough money to buy an Australian full-back. My friend, Bobbie Caplin, brought in Bill Fotherby, he was a great salesman, he became managing director.
We were looking for a new manager and someone said Howard Wilkinson might be available at Sheffield Wednesday. But they were in about third in the First Division and we were near the bottom of the Second Division.
He (Wilkinson] wanted to talk football all the time and the Sheffield Wednesday chairman didn't. He came to my office at Kalon. We had a Scotch and I asked him what he knew about our team, and he went through every player, listing their strengths and weaknesses.
He said: 'Mr Silver, you know about paint, it's your business. Football is my business.' We gave him the job, and it was the best day's work I did for Leeds United.
My best memory of Leeds United, very simply, is after we'd won the title, in 1992. We played in the Charity Shield at Wembley and beat Liverpool 4-3, and Eric Cantona, the most wonderful footballer I have ever seen, scored a hat-trick.
I walked out on to the balcony, and the Liverpool and Leeds fans were walking arm-in-arm down Wembley Way and I said to the Liverpool chairman, David Moores: 'This is football'.
Leeds United are in big trouble. I have been critical of Peter Ridsdale, but Ken Bates is his own man. I sometimes sit with him at lunch before matches.
The pleasure of creating opportunities for youngsters
I was the chairman of governors at Leeds Metropolitan University for 10 years and chancellor for three or four years.
When they asked me to get involved, I said: 'I left school at 14, what do I know about higher education?' They asked me to do it for six months. I enjoyed it. I like people and I like debating and you get that at a university with a vengeance.
In football, it's points that count; in business, it's the bottom line; in academia, it's conversation.
I came up to a city like Leeds with nothing and it gave me enormous opportunities. When you feel that you are creating opportunities for young people, it's wonderful.