Sunday, October 09, 2011


The sad event of someone important dying way before their time last week has set me thinking. Especially about the ability of an individual to change the world and by their own actions make us all think differently. It doesn't happen all that often, which makes it all the more meaningful when it does. Sometimes it happens with an individual working on their own, and sometimes it is the result of a couple of them finding the personal symbiosis that makes the sum of them together much more potent than either of them individually.

The story which I couldn’t get out of my mind as a result of this began with two men who started out life in very different ways and came together as a team. What they achieved between them made the world a considerably different place. They changed the way we thought about things, and as they went about their work, even brought new words into our everyday vocabulary which are now in use all around the globe.

These two men were quite different from each other. Every individual has his own strengths and weaknesses, and in most relationships therefore it seems sensible to take on a partner whose skills complement rather than duplicate one’s own abilities, which is what they did. Most marriages (or at least the successful ones!) work like that, and I suspect most effective business partnerships achieve their success for the same reason.  

In this partnership, one was the Engineer. 

Let’s call him Mr. A. 

He was the man who understood completely how the technology that they both worked in, actually worked. He was the man who could not only do it himself, but believed he could do it better than all the other people around him who were trying to do the same thing. He got fed up with the failings of what was going on around him, but, unlike most of us, had the skills to go about changing it for the better. To do this, he had to be, and was, a perfectionist.

The other guy was much more of a salesman and a market oriented man.

Let’s call him Mr. B. 

Now this man was a person who understood in a unique way how customers, and those who were not yet customers, but would be if he could only get them to see things the way he saw them, would actually react to the new products and ideas which were swirling around in his head. He had to have the vision that could see, not just where everything was in the present, but where he and Mr. A could shift the market if they could manage to turn their future plans into reality. He was a bit of a showman, someone who understood the aesthetics and the importance of design, someone who understood the benefits which flow from engineering excellence, and an individual who had the marketing skills to turn these thoughts into reality. He also had to have a streak of ruthlessness to ensure that, when lesser mortals would have given up and changed course, he continued to sail his ship resolutely in what he thought and believed to be the right direction.

Fate brought them together, and in a very short time, the combination of Mr. A and Mr. B designed and produced things which literally changed the world they lived in. In a short time the names of their products became symbolic with excellence, not only in their own field of activity, but in a much wider and more general sense.

Their success resulted in some of those few generic words which become known everywhere. I am reminded of a very telling little “Tweet” I saw the other day which went something along the lines of “I got a new Dyson the other day. It’s the best Hoover I’ve ever bought.” If you get it right, the brand name literally becomes the product. Think “Coke”, “Biro” or “Transit”. In their chosen hi-tech field, Mr. A and Mr. B achieved the same thing.

Neither of the two men was prepared to accept second best, and they might have seen it as a compliment if they had been described as “unreasonable”, on the basis that the “reasonable” among us put up with second best. These guys didn’t. There are those around who called one or both of them geniuses, and who’s to say that it isn’t true.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, the story doesn’t have the Hollywood Fairy Tale ending that you’d like. One of them, in this case Mr. B, died early, way too early in fact. This left the whole venture they had built at a potential cross-roads, and with a set of visionary unknowns which, had they been able to have had a choice, they would much rather not have had.

And having read all the newspapers, Internet articles and “Twitter” postings over the last couple of days, it is this thought that drove me to pen this little piece. Things like this don’t happen very often, and when they do, their importance should be noted, appreciated and applauded.

I’m sure by now you will have worked out the identities of the two men in my story.

Mr.A was named Henry Royce, and the unfortunate Mr. B was Charles Rolls.

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