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  • Writer's picturePeter Smith

TUESDAY 9TH NOVEMBER 1999 - It's a Cloudy Bay Day!

I attend a meeting of the Partnership Sourcing working group. This is a DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) sponsored initiative to promote good sourcing/purchasing practice, in particular more collaborative and less adversarial approaches to suppliers. The problem is that since it was set up in the early 90's, this collaborative approach has become accepted practice and I wonder if there is really much point left in what we are doing. In fact, if anything there is a bit of an anti-partnership backlash now- companies have realised that "partnership" is a wonderful theory but harder to make work, and power tends to be the fundamental underpinning all supplier/purchaser relationships. (Read an excellent book, if slightly hard going in places; "Business Success" by Professor Andrew Cox, if this sounds a really interesting subject!)

To be fair, the Partnership Sourcing people realise this and are trying to redirect their effort towards a more general goal of improving supply chain management, particularly in small and medium size companies who may not have professional purchasing staff or have thought much about the subject.

The meeting is hosted by Pilkington plc in a wonderful building overlooking St. James Park. Pilkington use it for meetings, and I think have some accommodation there. The meeting is not well attended and a bit dull, but lunch is superb - very elegant crab salad, Thai style beef, smoked salmon and so on. We help ourselves from a buffet then sit at the table, where places are laid and a few bottles of wine are waiting for us. And what a wine- Cloudy Bay 1999 Sauvignon Blanc. Wow! New Zealand's most famous (and arguably best) white wine, which is virtually unobtainable as a normal mortal. I pour myself a glass, and taste. It is delicious. Then I do something really stupid.

There are two bottles on the table, and only three of the ten people around the table seem to be drinking. So, like an idiot, I tell them how wonderful and rare it is, and, guess what, they all decide to try some! I could have sat quietly and scoffed half a bottle. The maître d’ kindly finds one more bottle; he tells me he gets it from Bibendum or Fortnum's, and got this batch in for a recent retirement dinner given on behalf of a Pilkington Director. The retiree selects the wine to be served at these dinners apparently; this was clearly a man of taste. It is also good to see that there are still advantages in being at the top of Britain’s fine old manufacturing businesses, even in these days of 15 year old millionaires!

(2019 notes- Pilkington moved out of this St James building in 2010. Since 2006, the firm has been part of Japanese glass-maker NSG Group. Cloudy Bay has perhaps slipped a little in terms of its reputation but is still very good, people tell me!)

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