Russell Pike (CO78)

Prior to attending Truro School Russell had completed all of his O level studies at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire.

 

Russell’s parents had moved to Cornwall during his time at Aldenham School but did not wish to disrupt his schooling by moving him in the middle of his O level programme. However, Russell told us that the natural break that occurs after O levels created an opportunity for him to move a little closer to home and he started at Truro School in the Lower Sixth in September 1976.

 

Russell recounted that Aldenham School did not play rugby, they only played football and hockey during the winter months and on arriving at Truro, he soon realised that he was too small for rugby. However, Russell was a keen hockey player and there was a new master in Malvern house and he and Russell alongside another pupil joined the Truro city Hockey club.

After a while there was an opportunity for a school’s hockey festival and Russell wondered if there would be any chance of entering a team. He talked to a few people and put out a few invitations and low and behold, they received enough volunteers to be able to get a team together.

Russell said:

 I can’t remember how well we got on, probably not very well, as rugby players wielding a hockey stick was more “show” than “skill”!

So that was the way that hockey was born in Truro school and it has of course become very popular today and a sport in which girls and boys can play together.

After Leaving school in the summer of 1978 Russell spent a couple of months enjoying the Cornish sunshine and making the most of his new found freedom, before joining a textile company called Courtaulds. Russell followed another old Truronian by the name of Rich Fairbairn into the company.

Russell left his home in Cornwall and moved to Coventry in September 1978 – 2 days before his eighteenth birthday – and began sharing a bungalow close to the Courtaulds main site with 3 others who were on the same programme. Rusell remembers his living conditions being far from luxurious during this time, with no heating, no television and a back wall to the property that was just single glazed pain of glass, he recounts that often they ended up sleeping inside sleeping bags in their beds and having to scrape the ice off the inside of the windows in a morning.

Working for a year was a wonderful experience for a very “green” eighteen-year-old and made certain that when I arrived at Leeds university in the September of 1979 I had very little fear!

 

Russell recalls his 3 years at Leeds were a: superb time – playing hard and working hard. He was elected Chairman of the Rag Society at the end of his first term, and a year later, once he had completed his Rag year, was elected to be Chairman of the University’s Textile Society. Russell also met his future wife who was on the same course, they went out together in the first term however things at that time didn’t work out, but remaining friends throughout university and beyond they decided to marry nearly 10 years later!

Whilst Russell was at university, his parents had moved to Zimbabwe and he spent 2 months of the summer of 1981 working in a weaving mill in the town of “Chegutu” about 60 miles south of the capital, Harare. Russell told us:

In those days Zimbabwe was still a paradise and the rampant inflation of more recent years had not yet taken hold. It was only a couple of years after Mr Mugabe had come to power and it was fascinating to hear from locals – of every race – about the changes that were going on. Newspaper stories certainly did not tell the whole truth.

Russell’s experience working in Africa gave him the bug for travel and he felt convinced that he had to try working abroad himself.

 I did not know if I would like it, but knew I had to give it a try. I discussed this with Courtaulds and was most fortunate to be offered a move to the Paris office. Two and half years after starting in Bradford, I found myself living in Paris – as a single guy!

From a work perspective Russell was working in an analyst role for the acrylic fibre business to begin with, but after a year, he was offered the role of the Export Manager for their viscose fibre business, that was produced in the factory in “Coquelles” near Calais. This was a superb opportunity for Russell as he was part of a team of 4, who were effectively running their own small business. There was a French national leading the sales into France, but Russell handled sales throughout the rest of Europe and the world.

It was an exciting time and provided a learning curve that was both steep and challenging. During the years of 1986 and 1987 I was able to conduct business in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Madagascar, Kenya and China. It was not simply selling, but also learning to cover the currency risks of international trade and even making barter deals. We traded a large tanker of crude oil from the Algerian state oil company for fibre sales and also swapped tea-towels and phosphates in other deals.

However, it was not to last as the location of the factory – “Coquelles” in Calais rapidly increased in value due to the plans for the Channel Tunnel and in 1988 Courtaulds took the decision to close the plant and sell the land to make way for the tunnel.

After the closure in Calais, Russell was offered yet another incredible opportunity; the chance to move to New York city to fulfil a dual role of helping the North American viscose division with their strategy as well as acting as an import agent for the speciality fibres division, selling fire resistant and other speciality fibres into the North American market.

Russell found a tiny apartment in the centre of Manhattan and said that even in those days he was paying $1500 month in rent. The building he lived in featured in one of the scenes in the Gene Hackman film The French Connection and was located just a few blocks south of Grand Central station. Russell lived there for around 18 months and certainly had a wonderful time as, he describes:  An Englishman in New York!

Towards the end of 1988 Russell made contact again with the girl he had met at university, transatlantic of course, and in early 1989 he made the decision to return to the UK ready to get married in early 1990.

 1989 coincided with Courtaulds splitting into 2 separate companies which is why Russell made the decision that it was time to move on. In June 1990, a month after getting married, He started a new job with a new employer – the US company DuPont de Nemours. This was a new kind of busy for Russell with a new family, new home and a new job all in one year.

Russell’s wife, Gillian, was also in the textile industry – working as a Sales Manager for a Spinning and Weaving company in Rochdale and together they followed her career for a couple of years, until Russell was able to get himself established with DuPont.

In 1993, DuPont acquired the nylon fibres business of ICI and Russell was offered a role based in Germany working out of the factory that produced nylon yarn for the carpet industry. The role involved quality control of the product coming out of the factory and providing technical support to customers in the UK, Scandinavia, France and Belgium.

Having Lived in Paris in the 80’s Russell had taken to the French language and culture, but he found moving to rural Germany a whole different game. Gillian had studied German at school but Russell did not and suffered from the fact that his work colleagues spoke English and that most of his work was with non-German customers. The result was that Russell struggled to learn German, even to this day, having spent nearly 12 years living in Germany, Russell admits his German is still not as strong as his French.

2 and a half years in northern Germany was followed by another couple of years back in the UK – in Leicester. Then, 1998 – time to move again, and by the end of the year Russel and Gillian were in Southern Germany in a small town called Wiesloch – better known because it is the global headquarters of the computer giant SAP.  The historic town of Heidelberg was just a few miles up the road and within an hour we could be in France – the best of both worlds for Russell.

However, after nearly 10 years in the European Flooring industry, it was time for a new challenge and in early 2001 Russell was offered the opportunity to move to the USA to take on the role of Supply Chain Leader for DuPont’s global nylon flooring business.

After a couple of years of Supply Chain Russell landed the Business Leadership role that he had been aiming at, as was appointed as the Business Director for the North American Automotive Flooring division. Russell recounts this time as a wonderful experience which took him me to Detroit to meet with the likes of General Motors, Ford, Chrylser,Toyota USA and Honda USA.

During 2003 DuPont announced that they were putting their fibre businesses up for sale and at the end of April 2004 and it sold to a large private US company – Koch Industries – and renamed INVISTA. Russell was asked to return to Europe to lead the European Nylon Flooring business and this entailed a move back to Germany but this time to the city of Frankfurt, which they found to be a much more cosmopolitan city and Russell and Gillian had a superb 4 years enjoying the central location of the city and all the cultural events that it had to offer.

2008 saw the couple moving back to the UK for the first time in over 10 years – to Cheltenham where they now have their home as the company had a factory in Gloucester which produced the yarns for weaving into fabrics to make the airbags that go into cars and trucks.

The biggest benefit of this move however was that Russell found himself back in striking distance of Cornwall where his parents still lived, and enjoyed seeing them more regularly in their later years.

A couple of moves later, one back to the US, then to Germany (again), and then finally back to Cheltenham Russell decided it was time to leave the corporate world and took some time off to decide what to do next, he landed on Financial planning. Russell submitted an application and was elected as a Trustee Director of his old company’s Pension scheme and took the decision to follow a new career as a professional Financial Adviser. Russell has spent this past year pursuing qualifications and has now joined a small Financial Advice practice – as a Financial Consultant – and works as an Appointed Representative for St. James’s Place Wealth Management plc.

This has been a fantastic experience and has certainly given me a new lease of life. Fundamentally the role is problem solving and helping people sort out their lives from a financial perspective. It is extremely satisfying and rewarding to be able to create a certain “order” amidst people’s chaos – and to see their reactions when you can address and resolve the financial concerns they have. A key focus area now, for the industry, is the younger generation – to explain to them the fundamentals of money management, to show them the benefits of financial planning and, more importantly, of the importance of taking small steps, at an early age, to make provisions for later in your life.

Forty years ago I was just commencing my A-level year as a 17-year-old and I really had little idea of what I wanted to do and certainly no idea as to what life would have in store for me. Now, here I am, 40 years later, looking back on 20 years living outside the UK; being fluent in 2 languages and getting by in a third; on travelling to many parts of the world and experiencing many different cultures; on a variety of work roles covering sales, technical service, supply chain, business leadership, and now financial consulting; but most importantly on having found a soul-mate in my wife with whom to share it all! A key realization is that you have to take that first small step on the journey, to take yourself out of your comfort zone – but if you can and do, then the rewards are well worth the risk! – go for it!

 

I was only at Truro for 2 years of my life, but they were a vital 2 years and they helped set a foundation and mould me into what I am today – and for that I will be for ever grateful.