Vinehall Memories – Paul Doulton


Paul Doulton is one of four generations of Vines: Carol Doulton and Tom Gilbart, Paul Doulton and Andrew Gilbart, Daniel Doulton, Theo and Siena Barry-Taylor (Maria Doulton´s children).  Currently living in Mexico, we were delighted to welcome Paul back to Vinehall for our 80th Anniversary Ball in October.

Paul has written an extensive piece on his life here and the path it set him upon.

January 1946 was a hard time for everyone – the harshest winter ever, little or no fuel or electricity and food shortages.  However, this was the beginning of a new life for Carol Doulton, a young American widow whose fighter pilot husband Michael had been killed in action in the last days of the Battle of Britain.  Carol was invited by John Jacoby to teach English and English history at Vinehall. With her was Paul, her 5 year old, who started right then as a boarder, until he left for Westminster in 1954.  Not many Vinehall students run the full eight years, and as a boarder.

Notwithstanding the miserable weather, nobody could have derived quite so much benefit and indeed happiness from Vinehall as I did.  Before leaving the Jacoby headmastership, I must mention his extraordinarily talented son Robert, a gifted violinist and my closest friend, whose example gave me the passion for music that has carried me through to my late seventies.  Robert became the leading violinist for many prestigious orchestras.  We were so lucky to have music teachers to ensure that this privilege would carry us through – Gay Vincent, Margaret Channel and Vaughn Ling.

Now to the other changes, all for the better. First was Tom Stuart Menteath´s appointment as Headmaster, joined by Richard and Pat Taylor and their new baby, Sally (my oldest friend), alongside Ruth Waterfall, Joan Palethorpe, Nan Hicks, John Heymans, Winnie Greenwood, Pop Reynolds, Bill Cruikshank, Tom Webster, Horst, Miss Dinnerman, Sister Hutch – I could go on but few are old enough to remember this remarkable team.  Better still for me was my mother marrying Tom Gilbart, who joined Vinehall later, and they became the parents of Andrew and Marian.  Andrew, recently deceased, rose to the top of his profession as a QC, High Court Judge and the champion for fairness through the realm.  Much has been written about Tom Gilbart; we can also express our deep gratitude to Buzz who propelled us far ahead of our contemporaries for classics at public school, mini cricket bats in our pockets.  Buzz and newer staff such as Owen Harris gave me the language basis that has been my whole life.

All the wonderful activities like scouts, rugby, cricket, tennis, football, swimming, the gulley, theatre, choir, concerts, music lessons, carpentry, gardening, sports day, bonfire night, school plays, were run by the staff for our great enjoyment.  In my time, Vinehall was a boys´ boarding school, with no girls and no day students.  I left Vinehall with a legacy that all my peers took with them, but which few other schools ever could claim – a deep sense of values and helping our fellow creatures and community and a compulsive need, in my own case, to sing my heart out in choirs for the rest of my life.

In 1954 I went on to Westminster, an amazing school not just academically but for music and other cultural activities, and daily services in Westminster Abbey where the music (choral and organ) is almost unmatched.  Imagine who shared a study with my brother Andrew, a Queen´s scholar there from 1963 onwards – Andrew Lloyd Webber!

Being a Vinehall student, I was accelerated faster than was best for me to taking my O Level Latin, Greek, Maths, French, English and so on, a year early.  Then my French and German A Levels were taken a year early, so I could take Latin and Greek and obtain my pass to Oxford at 17 to become a Classics Master.

Our wise Greek master and my parents questioned this choice of degree and career – “you mean you want to become the eighth generation of teachers and preachers, Paul?” And I never did a day´s science throughout my time at Westminster, but plenty of choral singing, leader of the school orchestra and a keen but not very competitive oarsman.  And some special help from the housemaster´s beautiful German au pair girl who assisted me through my A Level German from scratch in 18 months instead of five years.

The big switch in the course of my life, in 1959, was to go to Sheffield with United Steel, pioneers in student apprenticeships with the best training programme anywhere: work experience in all departments with five nights of night school and day release, leading to the experimental HNC in Business Studies, supposedly a degree equivalent.

As practically the only linguist in 9000 employees at Steel Peach & Tozer branch in Rotherham, I was frequently hauled out to interpret for foreign visitors, no matter whether they were Polish, Portuguese, Greek, Syrian – somehow we managed to find a common language.  This unusual turn pointed me to where I should be headed in the future.  Four years later I switched to Sanderson Kayser, a special steel manufacturer founded in 1776 whose major business was selling all around Europe, Middle East. After another two years thorough training in special steels and export procedures, I was sent to promote our products everywhere from Finland to Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Belgium.

Languages once again pointed me to my future wife, Anna Torma; she was a beautiful and talented German speaking Hungarian refugee, who arrived in Sheffield as an au pair girl to learn English, in addition to her medical training.  We married in 1963 at the tender age of 22, and the birth of our first daughter Rebecca in 1964 was followed by Maria in 1966.

My extensive traveling abroad was too taxing for our young family, so I was appointed by Dr Donald Thomas, the pioneer in industrial education and apprenticeships in the UK, to the best company that one could ever find – The Wellcome Foundation- in 1966.

This meant leaving our much beloved Sheffield, friends, Sheffield Philharmonic Choir, rugby club, Peak District hiking – for London.  This was a totally new life, with the leading R&D pharmaceutical company, Wellcome, who for the first time decided to hire linguists with international business experience, instead of the usual intake of doctors, chemists, and pharmacists.  No matter that my background was Classics and the steel industry, the training in medicine and pharmaceuticals was thorough indeed.

The best thing about Wellcome was the rapid international expansion into new world markets, and within eighteen months I was sent to East Africa – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda – as fill-in Sales Manager for all these markets with some 15 reps (all pharmacists).  I then substituted for the general manger who never returned from home leave, with responsibility for the small manufacturing plant, admin, marketing and medical.  Talk about throwing us in the deep end!  Never mind, no better way of learning on the job, where the consequences are suffered by you alone.

After a year, we returned to the UK in preparation for Latin America, night classes in Spanish, and for the birth of Daniel in 1969 at our home in Chingford.  At a mere five weeks, Daniel came with us all to Costa Rica to open up the central American markets for Wellcome – Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.  Another real on-the-job training post and traveling 70% of my time, leaving Anna and the children to fend for themselves and to become totally bilingual Spanish/English.  Halfway through the four years, we transferred to Guatemala, even more beautiful than Costa Rica but with a remarkable cultural history and ethnicity, the millennia-long Mayan civilization.

Next came another remarkable opportunity that paved my future – Wellcome offered to sponsor me for an MBA in the USA in 1973 at UNC North Carolina, at the Greenville campus.  There were very few MBA schools back then, and none in Europe, so Wellcome gave me a colossal boost for my career prospects.

And for all of this, my debt is to Dr Fred Wrigley, the International Director for Wellcome, who gave me all these opportunities.  He was a remarkable Mancunian doctor, pharmacist and barrister, whose modesty and good humour I have rarely met anywhere in the world, but deeply admired.  My luck was to be a linguist, the one thing he professed to lack.

From UNC, armed with a full honours MBA, to Madrid in January 1973 to understudy as General Manager at the Wellcome partnership there.  Once again, a thorough training in all departments, especially production and quality control in their brand new factory; also in medical, clinical and regulatory, but above all marketing and sales management of the 150-strong rep force. As the soon-to-retire General Manager decided to stay on, our next posting was to Uruguay in late 1974. This was time for Rebecca, and later Maria, to go to a girls’ boarding school at Ashford, but Daniel came with us to Uruguay.

Uruguay was yet another substantial change, as this was a Cooper’s animal health business founded in 1843, acquired by Wellcome in 1962. Coopers Uruguay was founded at the end of the 19th century, something of a legend amongst all the hacienda cattle ranchers around South America.  My job was to turn around a decades-long loss-making subsidiary.

The company in Montevideo had been pioneers in developing the first successful foot and mouth vaccine (aftosa in Spanish) in the world, hence the synergy with Wellcome´s international prowess in human vaccines and immunology: this explains why Coopers had the best qualified technical team I have ever come across – some 20 or 30 veterinary surgeons devoted to research and field trials, chemists, doctors, pharmacists, accountants, chemical engineers – perhaps 80 professionals amongst the 200 staff.

Aftosa is the leading disease amongst cattle and sheep in economic terms. If there is an outbreak in a given country, exports of meat and wool are suspended until the outbreak has been controlled, so imagine the colossal importance of aftosa in all of South America, many European and Asiatic countries.  Montevideo became a major supply point for Chile, the Philippines, Spain and other countries at times, depending on the prevalent viral strain.   We also supervised manufacture by governments in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile – the latter country being the first country in the region to eliminate aftosa entirely, using the Montevideo–made vaccine.

The turn in our fortunes came from a fortuitous observation under a bridge on a huge ranch in Uruguay: boxes full of our blessed vaccine thrown into the river!  Why?  The vaccine was so cheap that farmers found it cheaper to buy the vaccine to meet the campaign obligation to demonstrate purchase of the vaccine, but not inject their animals, as rounding up say 20000 or 30000 head of cattle was far more tedious.  Here was my first experience of perverse incentives.  Because of the devastating risk of an outbreak and not being able to export Uruguay´s number one export, beef and wool by farmers not applying the vaccine, we persuaded the government to remove their perverse incentives and price controls, and raise the price of vaccine to a level where it paid farmers to apply to their vast herds.  The outcome – the end of decades of loss-making and transforming Cooper Uruguay into a highly profitable business.  My bonus was to learn all about viral vaccine production: aftosa vaccine was one of the very first genuine biotechnology initiatives.

Then came the real prize in my career – to go to Wellcome Mexico to turn this sad company around. So on Mexico´s 1979 Independence Day, I arrived in Monterrey, in the north of Mexico.  The attempts at turnaround were bogged down by a new government whose interference in everything industrial was driven by perverse incentives – ie corruption.  We fought this tooth and nail by never succumbing to extortion, at great cost to the company, to regulatory approvals, permits, prices, to our persons and unlike almost all of our competitors, to their great shame.

Nevertheless, with a highly motivated young team, we turned the company around and, because of our strong links with the Monterrey Tecnológico (Latin America´s top university), we became pioneers for Wellcome in the new Total Quality and other initiatives. Many of our young staff were then sent by Wellcome to other subsidiaries around the world to assist them in these processes.

Mexico is of course the crown jewel for adventurous living.  When Anna and I moved to Mexico City, it was the world´s largest and most vibrant megalopolis, with 23 million inhabitants. Even before we found a place to live, we found the most exciting outdoor world center, Valle de Bravo, which is just two hours from the City; it had a huge lake, 2000 meters up in the mountains and is one of North America´s major centers for sailing, parapenting, mountain biking, triathlon, golf, tennis.  On the spot we bought our lakeside condo, which we have had since 1980 – a home for all of us.

Meantime Rebecca joined us to do her A Levels at Greengates School in Mexico, where she passed with flying colours to Northwestern University in Chicago. Maria followed her footsteps two years later, and was the first ever student to be accepted at Oxford from Greengates; nevertheless she chose King’s London for their strength in Spanish and Portuguese.

After some 13 years for Wellcome in Mexico, I was brought back to the UK to run an entire business division covering 22 subsidiaries around the world – Australia, Japan, Canada, USA, Thailand, Italy, UK and many others. I spent almost all of my time on airplanes, so Anna waited in Mexico: thank goodness, because the division I was running was sold by Wellcome, and so came the end of my 25 year career with the best company ever, that had given me so many opportunities. Soon after that, Glaxo acquired Wellcome, ending a 120-year history.

For those who don´t know Wellcome, this was the leading R&D company in the world – and British at that – with no less than six Nobel Prize winners in medicine (I actually met four of them!)  The company was owned by the Wellcome Trust, the world´s largest medical research charity, who continue to finance very important new areas of medical research that lack funds – areas such as tropical medicine and genome therapies. No better value proposition than that.

So what to do next?  Without hesitation I returned to Mexico and found myself in the consultancy business. Having hitherto been a client of the likes of Arthur D Little, I was able to learn the ropes from the other side of the desk, and focused on healthcare.  Some clients persuaded me to branch out on my own and I eventually set up our Latin America consultancy called Oriundo, with offices in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia.  Exciting work indeed for the last 20 years all around the region with outstanding colleagues.

During all this time, we have had more time for sailing, rowing, tennis, and above all choir singing.  Daniel learned to fly parapentes in Valle de Bravo, later to fly all around the globe, especially in the French Alps.

Daniel, the third Vinehall generation, was at Vinehall 1979 to 1982; he then went on to Westminster, an MSc at Imperial College and a highly successful career as an inventor, pilot, working in Russia, Finland, USA, France, Spain, much of Latin America and New Zealand with his family.  He is a gifted linguist too – Spanish, Russian, French, Italian – spoken at home with his Italian wife Sonia and their three children.  He recently moved from Auckland to San Francisco.

My daughters Rebecca and Maria were sadly not able to attend Vinehall because there were no girl boarders at that time.  Nevertheless both are accomplished journalists and polyglots. Rebecca lives in Madrid with her daughter Sol, and Maria now in London with Theo and Siena.

Theo is the first of the fourth generation, at Vinehall 2006 to 2010, now with David and Sally.  Theo became a keen musician, organ and soloist in musicals and plays.  He went to Cranbrook, then Latymer and finally to Oxford, where he is now in his final year as a PPE student at Worcester College.  His sister Siena, also a full-time boarder at Vinehall from 2007 to 2011, excelled on the stage and musicals at Vinehall and was Head Girl. She then went on to the Harrodian in London, and is now in her second year at Nottingham doing English, drama and choir.  My Spanish granddaughter, Sol, spent a summer at Vinehall.  She has just graduated top of her year in Philosophy at Madrid´s main university, the Complutense.  All three have wonderful memories of their Vinehall springboard into life.

Now to the great 80th anniversary of Vinehall.  Not many of my generation are left, but it was wonderful to be back after all these years, and see how Vinehall continues to grow from strength to strength.  All the staff, led now by Joff Powis, are new to me, but that joy and commitment to Vinehall´s values is as strong as ever.  My only contemporary at the party was Malcolm Gordon, who took me under his wing and jogged my memory at suitable junctures.

Best of all, of course, was meeting my oldest friend, Sally Chaplin (Taylor) and David.  Not only was this such a rich walk down memory lane, but their contribution to Vinehall is indelible, to say nothing of the wonderful gift of their commitment to the Rwanda project.

And might there be a fifth generation of Doultons at Vinehall? Ten or fifteen years hence will tell, but distance in New Zealand, USA and Spain might make this rather difficult.

Finally, I believe I can still reel off some 100 names of Vinehall boys; but the only ones with whom I have managed to maintain contact, because of living abroad for the last 52 years, are Mark Loughborough and Michael Dixey and his brothers.  Mark and Michael are still my best mates.

Mexico awaits any Vinehall boys and girls – there is so much to see and do, and you will be more than welcome to stay with the Doulton family here.