From toolmaker to entrepreneur – how language skills changed my life

Blog Published on Thursday, 12 September 2019 Parent Category: News Share page with AddThis

By Gordon Southwood

 


Gordon Southwood ACIL

German to English


 

This story explains my motivation to learn French and German, subjects in which I have never taken any exams, but have made my way up to conducting business at boardroom level, in both languages, in the world of manufacturing. It was on this basis that CIOL awarded me membership at Associate level.

My approach to language studies took place whilst I was in my late teens. My parents and relatives fought the NAZI regime during World War II. In consequence, I wondered how these people felt about the liberators of Europe. Personally, I had studied to the level of “Third National Certificate” in Mechanical Engineering and had completed five years training as a toolmaker.

At the age of 21 and being employed in a drawing office/machine shop, I wondered what my future would be in order to earn a good living. I felt a mix of language and engineering skills would open up wider opportunities for me. I decided German was the language I wanted to learn and so I took myself off to Germany. After 57 years, this has proved to be the right decision, as I had steady work throughout my career.

I drove to the industrial area of the Ruhr, not knowing a single word of German. The Germans were quite amazed why an Englishman wanted to do this – I was just curious about their behaviour. In fact, I was quite astonished by their friendliness towards me, confirmed simply during my first night with snow everywhere and not reaching my destination, the local police gave me accommodation in their jail – but not with the drunks! People I met more than fifty years ago are still my friends.

During my one year’s stay in Germany, I earnt a living as a toolmaker while attending night school for technical and commercial German. Today, I receive a German pension for one year’s work in their country.

After my time in Germany, I did the same in France but not for such a lengthy stay; after only six months I decided to return home for a job interview as a European Sales Engineer with the CompAir Group – a UK manufacturer of pneumatics, air tools, air compressors, compressed air dryers and mining equipment. This activity took me around Europe, setting up European distributors, dealing direct with European vehicle manufacturers and working behind the iron curtain with Russian-appointed buying boards. These included ImportExport in East Berlin, Polimex Cecop in Warsaw, and Ferunion in Budapest. The Russians stated that if the required product was not manufactured in the Soviet Union, then the Eastern Block could purchase direct from the West, but not from the USA or West Germany.  Unbeknown to most people in the UK, the Russians were the best benefactors to UK industry with purchases of furnaces, turbines, mining equipment – the list is endless.

At the age of 31, I returned to the UK and set up my own company, GS Airmatics Ltd (product assembly technologist), in Kingston upon Thames, on zero capital and with just an overdraft. My firm ran successfully until I retired.

Without language skills, I could have been left as a redundant draughtsman or a greasy Joe in the unemployment queue. All I can say is: long live linguist skills!

Gordon Southwood ACIL

 

Image source: https://www.jjairsystems.co.uk/suppliers/broomwade/

(The Linguist) | Published 2019-11-06
(Jobs) | Published 2019-10-28
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-10-24
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-10-09
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-09-25
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-08-28
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-08-13
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-07-31
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-07-17
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-07-04
(Blog) | Published 2019-06-27
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-06-19
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-06-06
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-05-22
(Blog) | Published 2019-05-10
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-05-09
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-04-24
(Blog) | Published 2019-04-23
(Jobs) | Published 2019-03-29
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-03-27
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-02-27
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-02-13
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-01-17
(The Linguist) | Published 2019-01-04
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-12-20
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-12-05
(Jobs) | Published 2018-11-30
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-11-15
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-10-31
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-10-17
(News) | Published 2018-10-16
(Jobs) | Published 2018-10-08
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-10-03
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-09-19
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-09-05
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-08-22
CIOL Chair of Council Judith Gabler
(News) | Published 2018-08-08
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-07-18
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-07-11
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-06-28
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-05-31
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-05-16
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-05-01
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-04-24
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-04-04
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-02-21
(Jobs) | Published 2018-02-01
Making Marx
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-01-31
(Blog) | Published 2018-01-30
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-01-16
Selling wine to China
(The Linguist) | Published 2018-01-10
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-12-21
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-12-14
(News) | Published 2017-12-01
An education revolution
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-11-30
Englexit or Englentrance?
(Brexit) | Published 2017-11-22
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-11-17
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-11-13
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-10-24
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-09-29
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-09-22
(News) | Published 2017-09-01
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-08-23
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-07-12
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-07-03
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-06-21
(News) | Published 2017-05-30
(Blog) | Published 2017-05-12
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-05-05
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-04-28
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-04-07
(News) | Published 2017-04-04
(Brexit) | Published 2017-03-23
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-03-16
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-03-06
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-03-01
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-02-08
Downpatrick Courthouse
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-01-25
(The Linguist) | Published 2017-01-11
(The Linguist) | Published 2016-12-31
Awards 2016
(News) | Published 2016-11-18
(Jobs) | Published 2016-09-16
(Jobs) | Published 2016-09-16
(News) | Published 2016-09-07
(News) | Published 2016-08-26
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2016-08-16
(Brexit) | Published 2016-08-01
(News) | Published 2016-07-29
Evelyn Reisinger
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2016-06-03
Threlford Memorial Cup
(News) | Published 2016-05-31
Pie chart
(News) | Published 2016-05-26
Budapest
(Blog) | Published 2016-05-24
Karen Stokes FCIL CL
(News) | Published 2016-04-27
Percy Balemans
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2016-04-07
Pathway
(News) | Published 2016-04-05
Membership pathway
(Blog) | Published 2016-03-31
Language Show Scotland
(News) | Published 2016-03-14
EU flag
(Brexit) | Published 2016-03-01
Raymond Cheng
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2016-02-18
Assessors
(Jobs) | Published 2016-02-17
Irina Young
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2015-11-30
Carine Toucand
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2015-11-23
Angeliki Petrits
(A Life with Languages) | Published 2015-10-22