So its sometime around 1976, autumn 76, and Eugene the Estimator has just put down his pencil, declared that he’s had enough and he’s leaving, in fact he’s left, here’s the car keys, my mates picking me up, good luck.
I’m working at an electrical contractors, quite a large contractors, we employed around 100 or so electricians and at any given time would be working on 15 to 20 different building projects, big projects some of them, civil infrastructure type projects, life was never dull working at Rice’s.
Eugene the Estimator was the only estimator in the company, I worked for him as his understudy, we toiled all day long over blueprints, measuring cable runs and counting light fittings, designing lighting schemes and pricing up the jobs that we tendered for at all of the local authorities and private clients, around half a dozen tenders a week we turned out and we had quite a good win record, we kept the electricians busy.
I liked working for Eugene, I was in my late teens, he was ten years older, our office was clouded in cigarette smoke, the bins were full of stubs and most nights would finish with a pint in The Bridge over the road, sometimes lots of pints in The Bridge, then we drove home, hey it was 1976.
And then one day he walked out, just quit and walked, left me on my own in the estimating department, 19 years old, two years experience, no qualifications – my boss walked in the office and told me I was now the chief estimator, in fact I was the only estimator, and he gave me a £200 wage rise in recognition of the fact – thats £200 a year by the way.
A few days later he walked into my domain, by now free of cigarette smoke but reeking of coffee instead, and threw a tender on the desk from Bradford Council, they were building a new school somewhere in their city, it was a big project, a big school, he told me that we wanted the job, I’d better sharpen my pencil.
So I sharpened my pencil, I even licked the point of my pencil as that is what we did when we wanted to make the tender keen, I pushed the hair out of my eyes (it was 1976 remember, I had hair then), and I set about making this the keenest winning tender that Bradford Council had ever seen.
It was a big job, took me several days to complete it and then two weeks later my boss walked into the office with a letter from the council in his hand, we had been awarded the contract, it was the first tender I’d won that I’d worked on solely, he was very pleased, he smiled a lot which is how I could tell he was very pleased, I could never understand what my boss was saying for he was from Bristol, but by his smile I could see that he was pleased.
One of the secretary’s set up the filing system for the new project and it was then down to me to draw up a bill of materials from the details in my tender, as I was doing this one morning I received a phone call, it was from a firm of refrigeration engineers congratulating me on winning the tender and asking when we’d be sending out the purchase order for the refrigerated cold store.
Hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.
I told him to ring the council, we were supplying the power up to the isolator switch next to the walk-in cold store, he needed to ring the council for them to place their order for the cold store, no, the man was quite insistent, the cold store was part of our contract and as specified supplier they were sub-contracted to us.
I checked the 500 page specification, he was right, we were responsible for supplying the cold store in total, the refrigeration engineers were sub-contracted to us, we had to pay them for the cold store.
I checked my tender, I hadn’t included the cost of the cold store.
I rang the refrigeration engineer back and asked how much it would be, the passage of time has erased the actual figure from the museum of recollections, but it was substantial, so substantial that it meant the year-long project would lose money even before I’d finished sharpening my pencil.
I considered my options.
I could leave, walk out like Eugene the Estimator, I could try and cut corners elsewhere in the project, like using wet string instead of real cable for instance, or I could say nothing and see how long the contract would run before anyone else noticed that I’d forgotten to price up something that was worth around 10% of the total value of the job.
The last option sounded the best one, so I stayed quiet, when people asked how the preparation work was going I pretended to be upbeat about the project and would quickly change the subject.
Then several weeks later my boss walked in the room with another piece of paper in his hand, and a not very happy face on.
Time to own up.
Fortunately he spoke first, Bradford Council were cancelling the project, their funding had been withdrawn by central government, we were to be compensated for our trouble, but the job was cancelled, forthwith.
They could not understand why I danced around the office whooping with glee after my boss had left to make a complaining phone call to the council.
My guardian angel was sitting on my shoulder that week.
Twelve months later the same tender came back, the funding was back in place, I even took a phone call from the Bradford Council architect office telling me to submit the same price as last year and they’d see that we got the job.
I did the tender properly this time, we came last out of nine contractors.
One week later I was sent to our Newcastle office “for two weeks”, two weeks that lasted for eight years and a marriage.