“Yes, you are correct. I have had many ‘chirps’ about my surname over the years but it could have been worse. I could have had a surname that refers to a rooster or something similar!”
This is the dry sense of humour and quick wit of Peter Bird who has decided to retire after being associated with the smelter and foundry industry for 49 years, a career that began back in 1966.
Born a Lancastrian in Birkenhead, North West England, across the other side of the River Mersey from Liverpool, Peter qualified with a Bachelor of Technology (metallurgy) in 1970, having completed his degree at Brunel University London.
“Part of the four-year degree involved practical periods in industry, and as I had a bursary from British Steel I was seconded to Shotton Works, a fully integrated steel works using open hearth smelting, in Deeside, Flintshire. My undergraduate, and then graduate training involved management, QC and shift management. This inspired me to do a one year Post Graduate Diploma in supervisory management, which I obtained in 1971.”
“During this period the UK industry was going through a recession, and in 1972 Harold Wilson’s government advised that the UK steel industry would shrink from 20 million tons per year to 12 million tons per year. The older, less efficient plants were going to be closed, and as work in the UK was already in short supply my options were sign up for the dole or look for a job overseas,” continued Peter.
“Fortunately I acquired a contract job at the Mufulira Smelter which is located on the Copperbelt in Zambia. I had married Sue in 1970, and the two of us set off on this adventure, to get to the place of my new employment.”
“The first two weeks were spent on a ship travelling from Southampton to Cape Town. Then we spent eight days driving from Cape Town to the smelter in central Zambia. What a trip it was, but it would have an influence on the rest of my life.”
“The copper smelter was not as it was made out to be and the position I had was terrible, along with the working conditions being awful. We lasted a year and then returned to the UK where I obtained a position as a sales representative with Foseco in Tamworth, UK selling technical products to the foundries and steelworks in the UK.”
“However the economy in the UK was still depressed and prospects of advancement were poor. I believed that South Africa had better work prospects. Our decision to return to Africa in 1975 was influenced by the experiences and the fantastic time that Sue and I had whilst driving in southern Africa on our way to Zambia. The great people we met along the way, coupled with the weather and beautiful landscape persuaded us to return.”
“I was offered a position as a metallurgist at Highveld Steel and Vanadium Corporation in Witbank where I ran the physical testing laboratory and technical laboratory team, supervised and conducted plant investigations and visited clients and handled metallurgical non conformances.”
“My tenure with Highveld lasted two years before I was offered a position at EL Bateman Equipment which was located in Boksburg at the time. My motivation was that it was a better position and it offered a company car and more money.”
“I was employed as a physical metallurgist to advise the procurement department regarding all technical aspects of heavy engineering, with a special responsibility of investigating component failures in their equipment and to introduce greater reliability in their equipment.”
“While there I established the QC and QA procedures for the company, as well as interacting with consultants appointed by clients such as Anglo and JCI regarding material selection for new mining applications. I was also promoted to the position of QA manager, which involved managing a team of 12 inspectors/expeditors.”
“One of my tasks as QA manager involved an in-depth evaluation of the foundry, forge and heat treatment industries in sub Sahara Africa. This was my first real involvement with these industries.”
“After about five years at Bateman, a foundry supply company Minerals Binders Clays (MBC) offered me a position as Sales Manager because of my in-depth knowledge and relationships with the heavy engineering companies and subsequently the foundries. I took the position and two years later I was promoted to the position of Sales Director.”
“Sadly the company drifted into financial problems and MBC was put into voluntary liquidation in 1997. But as they say, wherever there is a negative there is always a positive. Resistant Materials Services (RMS) purchased the company from the liquidators in 1998 and RMS took me on as their Sales Manager, where I remained until I retired in March 2015.”
“Because of my position within MBC I was heavily involved in the negotiations with the overseas suppliers to transfer the agency distribution agreements to RMS, as well as negotiate with all major clients in South Africa to transfer supply contracts to RMS.”
“During my time at RMS, a business that has expanded rapidly over the years, I have had many titles but the emphasis has been on growing the sales of product that the company manufactures locally and imports, including the interface with the international suppliers. Another important aspect has been the transfer and flow of technical know-how from our international partners to the local foundry industry. This is highlighted by the relationship that RMS has with James Durrans and Sons of the UK. A joint venture company, Durrans RMS, was set up in 2000 to manufacture and distribute mould paints and refractory parting mediums that are both water and spirit based to the local industry. This partnership has been very successful and the company is now one of the leading suppliers in South Africa.”
Adapting to a changing world
Peter, you have been in the industry a long time, what would your advice be to the local industry going forward, I asked?
“Adapting, growing and surviving in an ever changing and, now global marketplace, means that foundries and foundry suppliers have to survive by learning, understanding, supporting and matching each others’ efforts at sustainability, benchmarking, best practices, innovation, engagement, networking and safety.”
“These are the hallmarks of establishing and strengthening relationships, and most important, friendships. During my lengthy period in the industry there have been many changes on the technology side and these will continue. Any business that does not adapt to these changes will find it difficult going forward.”
“However, I will not be completely lost to the industry. RMS has decided to retain my services as “back up consultant” to the relatively new sales and technical team during the transitional period.”
Looking forward to your retirement? “Oh yes. I have been very fortunate to travel extensively on behalf of the companies that I have worked for. To date I have visited 36 countries, and the only continent that I have not visited is Australasia. Consequently I can recall many wonderful experiences but there comes a stage when you decide that the time is right to retire. Sue and I will continue to travel. There are many places in South Africa that we have never been to, let alone the world.”
“And I might even take up the hobby of birding! Birds can inspire us – or they can describe us. A long-standing tradition in the English language is using bird names to describe, mock, or glorify individuals. In fact, many English surnames come from birds in the naming convention in which nicknames were given, based on a person’s appearance or behaviour. I might just surprise everyone!”
For further details contact Resistant Materials Systems on TEL: 011 917 0702 or visit www.rmsproducts.co.za or contact Peter Bird on 083 226 8764