Our session was on vegetable tanning, and instead of live presentations, we had been asked many months ago to record answers to a few questions which one of the owners of Carréducker, Deborah Carre, edited into neat little videos. This would be followed by a live question and answer session. I set up my iPhone and chatted away to it about working in the huge vegetable tanning yard in Hodgsons Tannery in Beverley while I was a student and was delighted when I saw this edited presentation and those of a group of distinguished colleagues in the same segment.
Most unexpectedly, just as the question session came to an end, Deborah said someone had messaged to say that her stepfather, Richard Wells had been at Hodgsons at the same time and wanted to remind me of a memorable weekend we had spent in El Salvador. Given all this was about 50 years ago, it was rather a surprise.
I had arrived in El Salvador via a tanning group in Tuscany who had employed me as an overseas technician. Living in Florence, working in Santa Croce and learning the amazing craft of Italian leather making – so different from the pure science approach of Leeds University – was a superb experience for a young technician in the 1970s. I ended up seconded to El Salvador where they had a technical agreement and long-term investment plan, and in El Salvador I found myself in total charge of our new built side leather plant. Another equally superb opportunity.
This was the first time I had had responsibility for the workforce as well as the technology and was the period that I first understood how integral to making good leather was the skill and understanding of the material of all the staff. Curiously, while in the UK, I had found it very complex dealing with the workforce, a tough experienced group who were determinably conscious of the social division between a university graduate on a management route and the everyday working man (there were no women). On the other hand, working in my poor Spanish with a much younger workforce that was keen to learn made El Salvador much simpler.
I found it hugely instructive and have since appreciated the skill of many colleagues over the years who have developed from technicians into outstanding communicators and people managers. While I have enjoyed it a lot in certain environments and still get great satisfaction meeting some of the young staff that I once had now working successfully in high level positions around the world, I would not tick people management as one of my top skills.
Hopefully, when Richard joined us for the weekend and we explored the beaches and cloud forest, he also had a feel for the outstanding teamwork to be found in every corner of this young tannery in a far-off land. Frankly, within great people who understand and love the product, you will struggle not to make great leather.
February 24, 2021
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