Ruthin Probus Club

ROBERT Hughes is Cumbrian by birth, culturally international through experience, fluent French speaking by choice, and Welsh by adoption.

Any Brit would find the familiar ‘Bob’ quite natural; fortunately that also proved the case with Middle Eastern customers when the formal ‘Robert’ encountered linguistic barriers.

So ‘Bob’ Hughes it became as a reputation as a successful salesman of glass-related products was carved out - not just in the Middle East, but widely in more than 60 other countries.

It was from such a background that Bob spoke to Ruthin Probus Club at its March meeting, which took place at Rhewl Community Centre.

With the club's first potential lady member joining for a fine lunch of pate and poached salmon, Bob's audience relaxed to hear a talk promoted as the Importance of International Trade.

Bob articulately commanded the floor without need of projector or amplifier and with just a single fascinating ‘prop’, of which more anon.

His career began as an apprentice at Pilkington’s, leading to an HND in business studies and a job in the export department.

This meant attending a trade show in Israel, where he established a principle which stayed with him: ‘The perfect contract pleases both parties’.

It also brought a realisation of the importance of understanding and respecting cultural characteristics when establishing effective working relations.

A move to a Yorkshire manufacturer of glass moulds took him to Soviet-leaning Eastern Europe before the wall came down and he obtained an early contract for moulds for the first Polish TV screens.

It was this object which was passed round for all to see, giving greater immediacy to glass technology as it was explained.

Bob also amused everyone with tales of returning from trips with a sack of empty bottle samples over his shoulder.

A short, deliberate sidestep into the different selling world of retail products with Cussins was made to gain experience, but Bob’s career with glass was still half empty.

He answered an advertisement for a job in North Wales and returned to become Marketing Manager at Pilkington PE at St Asaph.

This joint venture with an American defence supplier opened up the world of optical products bestowed with special properties in which the glass content became of lesser importance than the techniques and technology adding value.

An important market in defence procurement was France and Thompson (later renamed Thales) as the major player bought out Pilkington.

Bob moved to France and became only too well aware of the limitation of linguistic difference.

Living and working in France, Bob experienced the advantage which fluency in the customer’s native tongue gave in establishing a close meeting of minds, while cultural awareness helped understand some otherwise odd situations he encountered.

A move to a Ferranti / Thompson joint venture under French control, as marketing manager, opened up new markets and the world of sub-sea defence through sonar.

In time, this led to a move to BAE Systems in Plymouth and the related fields of gyroscopes and navigation including the orange painted ‘black’ boxes of aircraft safety significance.

Twenty per cent of his audience had shared Pilkington backgrounds and could relate directly to much of Bob Hughes’s experience.

It was perhaps appropriate that one of them, Brian Algar, should give the vote of thanks when asked by chair Bill Evans to do so.

It was no surprise either when this turned into yet more anecdotal yarns.

A stimulating afternoon wholly devoid of glazed looks.

Clwyd Wynne will talk next month on the subject of North Wales Hospital – from Asylum to Community.