Arguably the best-known couple in the international textile testing arena, Bureau Veritas’s John and Pam Morris are to retire at the end of August 2006. For John, it marks the completion of 44 years in the textile industry, while Pam has notched up 38 years.
But while their careers have been based in the UK, it is their work with textile testing on the international stage that has forged their unique reputation for expertise and experience.
John’s father made his career with what was then the Coal Board in the UK, while his great uncle was dyehouse manager for Morley’s in Heanor, Derbyshire. John himself began his textile career in the dyehouse laboratory at British Celanese in Derby. “So I really should have known better,” John said laconically.
He progressed to the position of dyehouse chemist and moved around the industry for a number of years to gain wider experience before joining DuPont in Leicester in 1972. There, he worked on dyeing fashion show yarns for their development presentations to industry, before moving across to the company’s testing laboratory to work on Lycra and carpet fibre development.
It was at DuPont that John first met Pam, when they became colleagues in the Leicester laboratory. Pam had worked with Courtaulds in Coventry before joining DuPont in 1977.
“Pam taught me physical testing and I taught her the chemical side," said John, “and we would probably still be with DuPont now if they hadn’t closed the Leicester laboratory."
With that closure, John joined George Davies at Next, before moving on to Bhs. For her part, Pam went into garment manufacturing with Everlastic in Beeston where she learned about quality control in a manufacturing environment.
“I then went to Abbey Hosiery in Nuneaton before moving back into a lab where I learned to be an accreditor - which got me a job with Bhs," Pam said.
There was a definite touch of serendipity about that move, since it re-united John and Pam as work colleagues - and led some years later to their personal partnership and subsequent marriage in 2004.
When Bhs closed their laboratory in 1990, John and Pam bought all the equipment and set up their own company, Technicare Services in South Wigston, Leicester.
Both of them agree that the fusing of their manufacturing and retailing experience has been crucial to the success of their subsequent work in testing.
“With the experience we’d gained in retail and manufacturing, we were able to solve problems others might not," John said. Pam added: “Working in both areas, we could give better informed decisions.”
That experience really paid off within a couple of years of founding Technicare, when the company became involved in the corporatewear market. They developed a series of performance standards for fabric and garments used in this particularly demanding market.
John explained: “We were able to say to a client that if you use this particular fabric it will last this long and will cost this much." It was all about fitness for purpose and John provided the perfect example. “If you have a Christmas party dress then its colour fastness to light is not really that important," he said, "but its colour fastness to perspiration is very important."
For the first seven years, Technicare recorded a 10 percent year-on-year growth before moving into the overseas business in 1997, when the company really took off.
The LACE scheme
By that time, Pam had developed the Laboratory, Accreditation, Correlation and Evaluation (LACE) scheme, now used by retailers and laboratories around the world. Essentially, it connects more than 80 laboratories globally so that users of those laboratories - including manufacturers and retailers - can be certain of obtaining the same test results wherever they are carried out.
By 2002, John and Pam were looking to the future once again, and considering ways in which they could reduce their personal workloads. Since 1990 they had worked six days a week, with few holidays or breaks and they felt they needed to spend more time indulging their many leisure interests.
The countryside, walking and bird-watching are shared interests; while John is an accomplished longbowman - possibly a result of being born in Robin Hood's home ground of Sherwood Forest - and Pam plays tennis and enjoys weaving pictures and wood-turning on her own lathe.
John’s knowledge of dyeing plays its part here, as he has decided to plant a dyers garden to grow wool dyes for Pam’s weaving work, and for years they have shared a passion for cooking as a way of winding down at the end of the working day - using it to achieve the transition from workplace to home.
All these factors culminated in the decision to sell Technicare and, after considering several options, in 2003 they chose Bureau Veritas as the buyer. “It took until July 2004 to complete the deal and in many ways it was the most difficult time of our business life," commented John.
Pam added that attending a seminar on 'how not to sell your business' was one of the most helpful moves they made during that period. “But the agreement with Bureau Veritas is a good one for all concerned, our staff are important to us, and allows us to retire on 31 August," she said.
Neither John nor Pam has any regrets about their respective - and joint - careers. “It’s one of the few industries that’s truly global and I don’t think either of us could have chosen better for the enjoyment we’ve got out of it," John said.
Endorsing that view, Pam added: “We have been so lucky in the fantastic people we have met, as a result of which we have really good friends all over the world. Probably one of the hardest things about retiring will be not seeing these friends quite so often."
Fortunately, neither will be completely lost to the industry. They agree that they would consider taking on freelance assignments - providing these have tightly specified parameters in terms of job description and timescale.
But don’t expect them to be available next June. For that month John will be fulfilling a long-held ambition when he and Pam travel by 'post boat’ to the North Cape of Norway for Midsummer’s Day - what he described as “the experience of a lifetime.”
Good luck for the future, John and Pam - you’ve certainly earned it.