Richard Oliff - The drive to succeed in the nineties

Richard Oliff
Richard Oliff

I was driving along the Corby bypass heading in the direction of Kettering, Northampton and on to Old Stratford near Milton Keynes.

I hadn’t made that little jaunt since the 90s when I worked with a publishing house called Century House Information. We were a little team of people based in a late 19th – early 20th century house.

As one would walk past one would be forgiven for not giving the building a second glance – after all, externally it just looks like every other house on the main road leading onto the larger-than-usual ‘village’ of Stony Stratford.

It was from here that my colleagues and I would travel to all corners of the world, working with central and local governments on reports that we would publish on the subject of economic development and investment. These reports would then be made available to business leaders: the movers and shakers around the world, who may be considering total relocation from one country to another, or may be thinking of perhaps the expansion of their existing business interests into expanding markets. They would read the magazine or country supplements which would give all of the details that might help them in their decision making process, from available greenfield/brownfield sites to the cost of educating a child.

I often wondered why the managing director and his partner had chosen Century House as a name for the company. One thought was that we were moving towards the year 2000 another, though more unlikely, was that we were named after the former headquarters of MI6 near Lambeth during the 1970s and 80s.

I’d gone there last Saturday to have dinner with a friend, but couldn’t remember how far I used to have to drive to work every day.

Imagine my surprise on discovering that the distance clocked from Gretton to Old Stratford was exactly 40 miles. That’s a round trip of 80 miles just to get to and from work every day. Now that’s commitment! Imagine trying to achieve that today: running a car without subsidised travelling costs.

In 1981 Norman Tebbit responded to a comment by young Conservative Iain Picton that rioting was the natural reaction to unemployment. His response, which is often miss-quoted, was to say, “I grew up in the ‘30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ‘til he found it”.

I guess my little Volkswagen Polo was my euphemistic ‘bike’ at a time when the cost of fuel was a great deal less.