Tornadoes and Apprentices - Projects is Born | The Morson Story - Part Four
Morson Group has been celebrating 50 years in business in 2019. As part of our celebrations, we’ve created a book about the business; its foundations, its growth and its people.
Over the next six weeks, we’re going to be releasing excerpts from the book, charting the Morson story from its earliest days to the present day.
Among the most significant developments of this era was the creation of a full in-house design consultancy division under the J. Morson & Co banner. The addition of this division to the existing recruitment side of the business also saw Gerry create an apprentice programme to provide a stream of new in-house talent.
Morson Projects would provide design services to some of the biggest projects in the country in that era, including the Tornado and latterly the Eurofighter Typhoon.
In 1980, Gerry was advertising for jig and tool designers to work on the Tornado fighter aircraft programme for BAE Systems and in February of that year he hired his very first apprentice. That apprentice, a 19-year-old Steve Seddon, rose through the company to his current position of Group Client Services Director.
“At the time, a significant number of potential clients were prevented from taking on contractors because of trade union opposition. So, Gerry recruited contractors himself and set them up as a team. Clients were then able to come to us and buy our project skills as a service”, Steve recalls.
Steve’s first role included three regular tasks. One was to make the brews, in true apprenticeship tradition. The second was to learn to write in the very clear draughtsman’s style. Don’t forget, this was in an era before computers, meaning every drawing was done by hand using pencil or fine ink pen. Clarity of the lettering on those drawings was vital for
the engineers who would later translate them into precision components.
Steve’s third duty was something he remembers with mixed feelings. “I’d take the finished drawings and walk through Eccles precinct with them, along Church Street to Clarendon Road. In the basement there was an A0 machine and I would print out the drawings on translucent film. The prints would go through ammonia dip and come out damp and stinking of the chemical. I spent so many hours doing that job.”
What was the most important thing Steve learned during his early days with Morson? “Working with a team of such competent design engineers was great,” he says. “The atmosphere encouraged people to be like sponges and learn as much as possible and that’s what I did.”
Some large prospects needed persuading the new office had sufficient capability. “To land our first big aerospace client, Gerry went out and got lots of extra drawing boards,” remembers Steve. “Then he went to The Oddfellows Arms and recruited ‘rent-a-crowd’ to put heads on boards when the client visited to check us out.” “Dad won the business,” says Ged Mason, “even though a visitor had spotted one of the ‘draughtsmen’ with a drawing upside down on his board!” Ged also echoes the long-standing Morson belief in the value of apprentices.
“It’s continuing the legacy of my father. It’s our ethos and commitment to finding our bloodline for the future.” – Ged Mason on apprenticeships
During his time with Morson Projects, as the consultancy division later became known, Steve was responsible for hiring lots of apprentices many of whom are still working within the Group today. One of these was Andy Hassall, son of employee #1 Pauline.
Last of the bacon butty smugglers
Not long into this holiday role, Andy was offered an apprenticeship by Morson Projects as an alternative to full-time college and he accepted the same day. He was allowed day release for a part-time ONC in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and, unlike his previous full-time course, this one was reassuringly full. “I wasn’t allowed to draw anything at the beginning” remembers Andy. “My main duties were to make tea, go out for the team’s lunch order and practice my printing.” This consisted of hand lettering numbers and ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ — a sentence containing all the letters of the alphabet. “I did this over and over again for three months,” says Andy. “It felt like a test to see if you were still interested in the job!”
Unlike today, weekend overtime was a firm part of Morson Projects culture in the 1980s. “During busy periods our ideal was 7:30 to 12:30 on Saturday morning, so you’d be away in time for the football,” remembers Andy. “Sundays were even more prized because it was double time.”
If they’d had a few beers the night before, those starting Saturday overtime usually craved a bacon sandwich at their drawing boards, even though it wasn’t allowed. It was at this time the team was working in a recently-built annexe attached to the Clarendon Road building. “I’d come back from the shop with a box of butties and someone would drop a line down from the window to hoist it up,” Andy remembers.
Despite his rule-breaking, Andy did well and by the age of 21 he was a draughtsman leading the mechanical and piping teams. “It sounds young,” he says, “but then I had been in that working environment since I was 16.”
The variety of work, from truck gearboxes to labelling machines to nuclear installations, kept Andy happy, as did the great working atmosphere where people always felt valued. “You worked alongside experienced people who mentored you,” says Andy. “People were taught the ropes on live projects. And Gerry Mason would always come into our office on a Friday without fail. He’d go around every single person showing genuine interest in what they were doing.”