Tag Archives: Onyx UK

A Life in a Year – 30th June, Onyx UK and Redundancy

The first time that I was made redundant was on 30th June 2000 after ten years working in the waste management business.  A year or two earlier the company appointed a new boss and I’m not sure why but he took an instant dislike to me and he immediately started to make my life a misery.  He picked on me constantly, offered no support when I needed it and could barely disguise his hostility.  To be fair I didn’t care for him either, he was a twat, so it was completely unlikely that we would ever get on with each other.  He had a shrill high pitched voice, fierce halitosis that could strip paint and a hawk like face permanently etched with spite and nastiness and he barely had a civil word for me, or anyone else for that matter.  It is completely impossible to capture the unpleasantness of this man in just a couple of sentences but, take it from me, he was hateful and contemptible.

By 2000 he wanted rid of me and would go to any lengths to achieve it so in June while I was away on holiday in Cephalonia in Greece, he gathered together a bunch of ‘yes people’ – conspirators from amongst the Regional Managers and announced that due to poor performance (his own mainly) and the need to make efficiencies (to cover up for his incompetence) there would be some job cuts and one of us would have to go.  Of course it had already been decided by the back-stabbers that it would be me but he was obliged to apply the company redundancy policy and he was having some difficulty in squeezing my name to the top of the list because of the complicated points system that worked in my favour. 

This wasn’t a surprise of course because there was some real dead wood in there especially his favourite who was the obvious candidate based on his appalling sickness record and his abysmal academic achievements (not even a cycling proficiency badge).   But I had decided that it was time to go anyway because what was the point in staying where you weren’t wanted so I waited until the last moment, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he was so relieved he agreed to a generous pay off including the use of the expensive Vauxhall Omega company car for six months (with all my fuel provided, which was an unexpected bonus) and that was the end of my time in waste management in the private sector and I have never missed it for even a fleeting second.

I left the company at the end of June and for the first time in my life didn’t have a job so with £24,000 in the bank did the most sensible thing I could think of and rather than getting on looking for a new job went on holiday to Skiathos instead.

The list of back stabbers is:

Tom Riall

Colin Whitehead

Peter Clint

Elizabeth Pullen

Nick Patterson

Mike Butler

Ray ? (HR Director)

Bob ? (Finance Director)

And Percy Powell (who gave his agreement and approval)

I know this is true because John Wheatley, who was at the meeting but excluded from the process, told me so!

A Life in a Year – 17th June, Onyx UK and the Royal Ascot Clear Up Fiasco

When I worked for Onyx UK in the waste management industry I was contract manager at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and that meant collecting rubbish and picking up litter at posh places like Eton, Windsor town centre and Ascot.

Ascot of course has a race course and hosts one of the premier events of the racing calendar and with over three hundred thousand people turning up for the Royal meeting in June, mostly getting slaughtered and thoroughly misbehaving then although picking a winner might be down to chance the one thing for absolute certain was there would be an awful lot of clearing up to do afterwards.

In 1996, because public sector waste contracts were such a financial disaster, Onyx, to try and compensate, began an aggressive expansionist campaign in respect of commercial waste collections with a division of the company called Ipodec and a salesman called Richard was parachuted into Maidenhead to try and win lots of lovely new profitable business.

Richard did quite well at first as he took on the existing companies and slashed prices and pretty soon the money was rolling in but then the competitors who had been caught off guard by this new assault got their acts together and started to take the business back by further slashing prices to the bone and undercutting the new intruders.  The business model started to fail as revenues dropped and fixed costs remained stubbornly high and Richard needed new business.

At the Ascot racecourse there was a new manager called John who wanted to make changes and cut costs and one fateful day in the spring of 1996 Richard gave him a call and was invited along to talk about commercial waste collections.  At the subsequent meeting the issue was raised of clearing up after the race meetings and Richard sniffing more high profile business was soon hooked.

This is quite similar to what happened with compulsory competitive tendering actually and it turned out that John wasn’t too popular with the grounds staff who considered the overtime perk of clearing up as something quite important to their personal budgets and they didn’t want to see the job transferred to anyone else.  They completely misled John about the scale of the work and the resources required and he passed this duff information on to Richard.

Richard offered to collect all of the waste after every meeting and dispose of it, which wasn’t really a problem, but he also made an offer to clear up all of the grandstands, the paddock, the hospitality areas and the racetrack every night and that was to become a serious problem indeed.

Richard proposed to do this work with twelve men!

17th June 1996 was much like any other day at the contract, it was the first week back after the annual Institute of Waste Management Conference piss-up in Torquay and everything was going pretty much to plan, the crews were finished for the day, the workshop was shutting up and I was thinking about going home when I received a phone call from Richard who was in complete mental melt down.  He was screaming down the phone and was almost incomprehensible as he tried to explain that there was so much litter and rubbish and that he was completely unable to cope.  I remember being a bit flippant and dismissively told him to give it another half an hour or so to see if things might improve. Five minutes later he phoned me back and now he was even worse so I thought I had better abandon plans for going home and drive over and see what all the fuss was about.

OMG! I had never seen anything like it!  I swear I have never ever seen so much rubbish in my life except on a landfill site.  I had no idea that the people who attend race meetings are such complete and utter litter louts and pigs! They may consider themselves to be the cream of society but I have never witnessed such contempt for the environment or for the people who have to clear up after them. I really had seen nothing like it before and the whole of the site was ankle deep in rubbish!  I could immediately see why Richard and his twelve men would certainly not be able to get this place cleared up before the Queen was due back the next day.

John was going crazy, Richard was having a nervous breakdown, the litter pickers didn’t know where to start and the Ascot groundsmen were all falling about and laughing fit to burst!

It was about five o’clock so I had to make some urgent phone calls to the depot to get some more men and machines down to the site regardless of the cost and even this wasn’t enough so there were more urgent phone calls to other Onyx depots as far away as Brent in London and luckily everyone rallied around and by eight o’clock there were more men and machines than I thought it possible to mobilise at such short notice.  And not just Onyx personnel either because we had to use all of the recruitment staff companies in the surrounding area as they responded to the revenue earning opportunity and flooded the place with resources.

We didn’t get finished until well after midnight and at one o’clock we completed a final inspection and then sat down, completely worn out and enjoyed one of the best beers ever under the stars.

Onyx were good at cock-ups and this was one of the worst, it was going to be a financial disaster and poor old Richard never really recovered from the shock of it all.  He left the company soon after following another tendering disaster when Ipodec won a contract with Qatar Airways at Heathrow Airport to dispose of their commercial waste.  Richard and his boss gave them a good price with plenty of profit for the Company but unfortunately they hadn’t realised that food waste from the Middle East was considered special waste in the UK and it cost more to dispose of it than they had negotiated in collection charges. Whoops!

Back to Ascot and the real problem was of course that the Royal meeting goes on for five days so we couldn’t relax for long because sometime between now and five o’clock the next day we had to make some plans to make sure the same thing didn’t happen again tomorrow…

More tales to come!

Cory Environmental, Blunders and Bodger

The Tendering process

First Weekend as a Refuse Collection Contract Manager

Disorganising the Work

Cory Environmental at Southend on Sea

Onyx UK

An Inappropriate Visit to The Moulin Rouge

Onyx UK and the Dog Poo Solution

An Unexpected Travel Opportunity

A Life in a Year – 10th June, Institute of Waste Management Annual Conference

I have written here before about my ten year career in waste management (1990-2000) with Cory Environmental and Onyx UK but I don’t think I really mentioned the Chartered Institute of Waste Management annual conference that used to be held every June in Paignton in Devon.

The Institute of Waste Management is a sort of professional trade union.  When it started almost anyone could join but over the years it has become an exclusive club that you have to pass pointless exams to get in. Let me put this into some kind of perspective – this is not about being an architect, or a solicitor or a teacher, waste management is about picking up shit and chucking it into the back of a smelly dustcart!

In June 1991 the company (Cory Environmental) made arrangements for all the managers to attend the conference and exhibition and we stayed at the Maycliffe Hotel in St Luke’s Road in Torquay.  I had already started to become accustomed to uncontrolled drinking bouts at the expense of the company whilst staying in hotels but the annual IWM conference was the equivalent of the FA Cup Final or the Eurovision Song Contest because at this event everyone went crazy.

We were there for three nights and as well as the ludicrous extravagance of the company with people simply drinking themselves stupid there was unlimited hospitality because all of the big supply companies were there and wanted to impress and sell and were prepared to pay for it.  The big event and the one everyone lusted to get a ticket for was the Dennis Eagle banquet because this promised good food and high class entertainment but there was also plenty of food and drink from their competitors Jack Allen and the street sweeping vehicle manufacturers Johnson and Scarab.  As well as the big events there were lots of fringe companies trying to impress, wheelie bin, plastic sacks, protective clothing and tyres and they all hospitality budgets that we were eager to help them spend.

I went to the exhibition five times with Cory and then continued to go after I had left and moved to Onyx UK.  When we weren’t hanging around suppliers looking for free hand outs we would spend lunchtimes at the Inn on the Green and consume more beer and charge it to our company expense accounts.

I didn’t complain of course because Cory and Onyx were equally unfathomable when it came to spending unnecessary money.  We stayed in expensive hotels and hung out in bars and nice restaurants but what was better about Onyx was that once a year we all assembled at Waterloo station and they put us on Eurostar train and took us through the tunnel to Paris for an annual conference which was much, much better than Torbay, even though we still went there as well.  One year when they were really showing off after buying out a competitor they took us to the Moulin Rouge for a special treat and we had champagne to drink and watched pretty ladies dancing on stage.  And they called this work!

 

Even with poor financial performance the Company kept spending unnecessary money and one day in February 1997 my boss Percy telephoned me to tell me that he had heard of a new type of refuse collection vehicle with impressive labour saving innovations that offered huge operational savings and that he was interested in finding out more.  He asked me if I would be prepared to visit the factory where they were manufactured and give him my opinion.  To be honest I had very little interest in bincarts or how they are made but fortunately, before I could decline, he happened to mention that the factory was in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America and as quick as a flash my lack of interest transformed into complete and total enthusiasm.  Did I want to visit Phoenix to see some dustcarts?  You bet I did!

I couldn’t believe my luck and enjoyed four days in the United States where as well as having to visit the Heil refuse collection truck factory, which quite frankly was a bit of a bore, I also got to visit the Grand Canyon and enjoy some top class hospitality.  This was a really good trip and on reflection I decided that refuse vehicle manufacture was actually rather interesting after all.  We posted the report of our visit (missing out the drinking bits of course) and offered our availability for any similar official trips in the future.  This was a good move because the following year I was sent to La Rochelle in France to look at Semat refuse trucks and later in the same year I went to Milan to see the Brivio factory.  It’s amazing how interesting refuse trucks can suddenly become when there is an all expenses overseas trip involved.  Later the Company set up a centralised procurement unit under a greedy little man called Rob Stubbs that saved the best gigs for themselves and that was the end of the factory visits and the overseas travel but believe me I enjoyed it while it lasted.

I continued to go to the IWM conference and exhibition even after I left Onyx UK but to be honest without the heavy drinking at someone else’s expense and the hospitality which wasn’t really extended to local authority delegates it all began to lose its appeal and the very last time I went was 10th June 2003.

I don’t think the IWM has a conference and exhibition any more but they were extremely good fun while they lasted.

A Life in a Year – 6th May, He Who Laughs Last

When I worked for Onyx UK my boss was a horrible little man who was a public school ponce and a self opinionated ex army captain who didn’t like me very much (and I didn’t like him either). In 2000 he announced redundancies and he wanted rid of me. It was going to be difficult to select me ahead of some of the others but I had had enough of him and of Onyx UK so I waited as long as I dared and then volunteered to go. He was so pleased that he gave me a very generous pay off and within a week or so I had got a new job doing what I like doing best and I was about to move to Lincolnshire.

He didn’t last much longer himself and the Company parted company with him shortly afterwards. He went on to become a divisional chief executive of Serco, a company that provides a variety of services and products relating to defence, detention, aviation, and transport. He is responsible for the company’s Home Affairs division, which provides Gatso speed cameras to local authorities and this is just a brilliant story…

In January 2009 he was caught driving more than a hundred miles per hour on the A14 in Suffolk and in court on May 6th he pleaded guilty to the offence and because this was his third speeding conviction (YES 3!) he was banned from driving for six months. In asking the judge not to impose a driving ban, he pathetically lamented that the incident had caused him ‘considerable embarrassment’ and said that the prospect of having to pay £30,000 for private chauffeurs might mean that he would be unable to continue paying for private schools for his three children. What a bloody shame! What a bloody shame it was only six months that is!

A Life in a Year – 14th February, Arizona and the Rustler’s Rooste

On the 14th February 1912 Arizona became the 48th state of the Union.

Before I moved to Lincolnshire I used to work for a French waste management company called Onyx UK that was attempting to take over refuse collection services in the UK and I worked at a depot in Maidenhead in Berkshire and managed the Windsor contract.   One day in February 1997 the Managing Director, a man called Percy Powell, telephoned me to tell me that he had heard of a new type of refuse collection vehicle with impressive labour saving innovations that offered huge operational savings and that he was interested in finding out more.  He asked me if I would be prepared to visit the factory where they were manufactured and give him my opinion.  To be honest I had very little interest in bincarts or how they are made but fortunately, before I could decline, he happened to mention that the factory was in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America and as quick as a flash of lightening my lack of interest transformed into complete and total enthusiasm.  Did I want to visit Phoenix to see some dustcarts?  You bet I did!

We had to do some business of course and visit a boring factory but one of the highlights of the trip was a night out to an iconic Phoenix restaurant.  We waited in the bar for our host Mike to pick us up and after a couple of beers he arrived and drove us south for a short distance out of the city to a cowboy steakhouse restaurant called the Rustler’s Rooste.  According to legend the original site of the restaurant was on top of a butte in the foothills of South Mountain and it was a hideout for cattle rustlers and outlaws.   The South Mountain recreational area is claimed to be the largest municipal park in the world and it has a commanding position overlooking the city.  Mike parked the people carrier and we stood and admired the views over the city that was stretched in front and below us like a scene from that Robert DeNiro film Heat.

From the outside Rustler’s Rooste looked disappointingly functional and not especially exciting but inside things were really buzzing.  Through the doors we walked over an indoor waterfall and then to get to the dining room there were two options, the stairs were the traditional method of getting down, but there was also a slide that curved around a central stage area and which was both quicker and more exhilarating.  We took this option of course and one by one were deposited swiftly into the dining area that had two large plate glass windows that provided a magnificent view of the city lights.

Rustler’s Rooste served cowboy food and a sign on the door said ‘Better come hungry’; so it was a good job that we had Dave and his reliable appetite with us!  There was a fabulous menu with an extensive choice of food including rattlesnake as a starter.  None of us had ever had that before so we just had to have some but although it sounded dangerous and exotic I seem to remember that it tasted rather disappointingly like chicken.  After that we had the full cowboy meal that consisted of crispy shrimp, barbecued chicken, cowboy beans, seafood kebabs, fries, barbecued pork ribs, corn on the cob, and a big juicy beef steak.  It was all cooked perfectly and I suspect rather better than a simple cowpokes meal out on the open range and the cowboys wouldn’t have had the nine layer chocolate cake to finish either, I’m certain!

The best thing about the Rustler’s Rooste was the entertainment because there was live music playing all night as two bands took it in turn to play good old country music which had people line dancing and playing cowboy in between the courses.  My favourite part of the evening was when a man brought a live snake into the room and then, in a carefully rehearsed way, dropped it and it slithered about the floor scattering diners in all directions.  We were assured later that it was not a venomous variety and perfectly harmless of course but it did scare the shit out of an awful lot of people at the time.  It turned out that Mike lived out of town on the open range and he knew an awful lot about rattle snakes and he amused us with serpent stories all the way back to the motel.