The Lure of A Fancy Car


There is a well-trodden route from R&D to sales and Dick Skipworth, who founded Memec which became the world’s third largest distributor, like so many others who followed that route, was seduced by a car.

“We used to get frequent visits from a number of semiconductor sales people, because a number of our research projects could have turned into products requiring very high volumes of semiconductors”, remembers Skipworth of the time he worked in R&D for British Thomson Houston, “one of them, David Kremer from Transitron took me out to lunch and said ‘We’re looking for technical sales people’.

Now at the time I had a 1938 Morris 8, and Kremer had a great big flashy Ford Consul, so I said: ‘Do I get a car like yours’ and he said: ‘Not quite like mine, but you will get a car’.

I said: ‘I’m interested’.

So I got into the semiconductor industry for all the wrong reasons”.

The change from the comfortable, protected life of an R&D engineer to the nitty gritty existence of a salesman was tough.

“I didn’t know what selling something meant”, says Dick, “I had never been in a sales office”.

The sales office in Ealing was a far cry from the peace and quiet of an R&D facility – it seemed to him a strange, alien place of ringing telephones and frantic activity.

“I had hardly ever been to London before. They gave me this big yellow catalogue and said you had better familiarise yourself with the products”.

There was no sales course or formal induction procedure.

“My boss, Dennis O’Connell said: ‘Go and practice around the North Circular Road – that was the full extent of my sales training.”

“I probably made a hell of a mess of it. I thought customers would be more than eager to buy from me. I soon discovered that was not quite the case. Some of them were quite rude”, he says ruefully.

The best thing about it was the car – a Ford Zephyr – an upgrade from a Consul. “It was horrible thing really – a great big body with no guts to it but, to me, it was like a Rolls Royce”.

Otherwise it was tough. “It was a lonely time. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know where I was going”.

The challenge stimulated something within him. “The most difficult companies were the ones which interested me most – like the ones which said: ‘We don’t see sales people’. There was always something there to crack. And you could . . .you could crack it.”