When Westwind Turbines Ltd started life in Poole, Dorset, in September 1963 its directors and senior staff had very little expertise or experience in business management. The senior partner, Nigel Allen, was a dentist with an interest in engineering and he was never happier than when tinkering with a prototype in the development workshop. His partner, Ronald Henocq, was a metal machinist. Westwind started life with technical expertise, a competent accountant and engineering design capability, combined with good workshop supervision and some high practical skills on the workshop floor, but with no-one to run the company. The search for a competent general manager became a priority.
Nigel Allen had been a partner in Lotus Cars but not involved full-time, and during his short spell with the Westwind precursor, Micro Turbines Ltd, he had continued his dental practice part-time. At Westwind, he was forced to devote some time to administration but it was never his first love and he would slip away to the workshop at every opportunity. Ronald Henocq wanted to be in charge of everything but lacked both knowledge and experience of business management. Both Allen and Henocq adopted the title ‘director,’ but the designated areas of responsibility were left undefined.
The first general manager was an amiable Irishman, Sean O’Niell. He joined as a robust athletic figure, a recent representative of Ireland in international hurling, full of the blarney that makes his people popular everywhere. He left a couple of years later, thin, drawn, grey and hesitant to voice his opinion on any topic. Most colleagues were happy to see him go, because it released him from the purgatory that had been created for him by the man who had originally introduced him as a friend.
The problem became one of finding someone who could stand up to the person who had the loudest voice in the appointment. Ron Wooley was the next candidate. He had occupied a similar position in a bigger company, had some experience in producing air bearings, and came into the post exuding confidence. He was a thick-set solid leader, dour and laconic compared to the Irishman, yet inspiring confidence. Everyone waited for the inevitable clash and when it came after only about a year, Ron Wooley left. He was not prepared to stay long enough to suffer the physical and mental damage that had been inflicted on his predecessor.
In spite of its lack of professional administration, Westwind Turbines Ltd survived through the 1960s and was destined to prosper for more than half a century. It was carried through by some excellent people at the second level, like Trevor Johnson, Walter Kammerling, Tom Griffiths and Mike Tempest, and some highly-skilled shop floor workers like Les Sommers and Roy Butler. Above all, it prospered from the good fortune of offering an innovative product which appeared at just the right time to solve an early production problem for the burgeoning computer industry.