The end of this month marks the end of an era as John Bentley retires as BT corporatewear manager - after 37 years with British Telecommunications.
Unquestionably one of the best known figures in the corporate and workwear sector, John Bentley's expertise and experience has earned him the respect, friendship and admiration of colleagues, suppliers and competitors throughout the industry.
John Bentley, retiring after
37 years with BT.
A gentle man, who relaxes with music, reading and walking and even spending time in a local gym, his warm, outgoing nature and wicked sense of humour are legendary - and perhaps necessary in a business that controls fiercely competitive contracts worth £6 million a year.
Yet it was all so different when he joined BT in Preston in management accounting and procurement back in 1965 - a role that continued right through to 1991, when the company underwent a major re-organisation and decided to establish an in-house corporatewear operation.
"BT were looking for project managers at that time and I joined a team of 14 people in a job that was originally expected to last for 9 months", John Bentley said, in an exclusive interview with Corporate Clothing director-e News online editor John Gibbon.
"Between 1991 and 1993 we established a uniform procurement business that cost in excess of £20 million over that period, and everything was made in the UK", John says. "Then in 1993 we moved to a managed service with what was then Compton Webb and this brought in all sorts of other factors - design, manufacturing, supply chains - and we greatly underestimated the
"So we moved to a managed service and this brought customer account management into play. And it's been a process of continuous improvement since that time. That's really my business philosophy - you have to know where you've come from to know where you're going".
Six years ago PPE clothing and protective footwear were added to the uniform package and the emphasis switched to offshore manufacturing with its associated price benefits. The BT contract was by now with Vermilion Corporatewear, where it remained until 2001 - and BT's original 14 staff had reduced to just 3. "The benefits of a managed service", comments John.
John Bentley's department manages the contract for BT's 60,000 wearers and makes their working lives a good deal easier and safer - and in the process he has saved BT a lot of money. From 1 April John's deputy, Linda Huzal, will run the operation.
He admits that the last twelve months have been arguably the most interesting period of his ten years in corporate clothing. The BT contract, up for renewal in 2001, went first to Baird Corporatewear and ultimately to Rainbow - a holding company that includes Baird, Vermilion and Faithful - in a series of moves that had the whole industry rife with rumours and counter-rumours.
"There were so many twists and turns in those twelve months that we christened the contract operation Project Corkscrew", says John wryly.
And despite the complexities and occasional problems, there are high spots. "When I get a letter from a BT employee saying 'thanks very much', that generates a really good feeling", John says. "Effectively, we're putting 60,000 people into a school uniform, so I don't expect many plaudits", he adds.
He is married to Susan - who he describes as "a highly skilled domestic engineer", and who also worked for BT when they met - and they celebrate their 25th anniversary next year. They have one son, Chris, a customer service advisor for Air Tours. "So I'm hoping for some good deals on overseas holidays in my retirement!", John says with a smile.
He also hopes he can give something back to the industry. "Most suppliers have never been a customer and I could contribute something on that front", he says. And in fact he will be presenting a talk on his experiences at next week's London Corporatewear Week, which will give a valuable insight to the business.
Above all, he is grateful for the opportunities that the business has given him. "I've met some wonderful people over the years and the personal friendships and contacts will always stay with me", he says.
"It's been a great time and I've loved every minute of it".
So have we, John