I hail from Cardiff, which is the capital city of Wales. There were always strong links to Malaya, as it then was, through my Grandparents and mother who lived hereabouts in Colonial times.
I am the second-born of five. I have a brother and three sisters. Dad and Mum were both teachers and that was the loose ambition I had as a young man - to qualify as a teacher and travel abroad. This wanderlust was inherited from my mother, who came from a British colonial family that was stationed in Malaya. She travelled all around the world by ship in her younger days.
As I was studying for A-Levels, a relative who was in shipping asked me what my aims and ambitions were. I told him of my intention to follow in my parents’ footsteps and go into teaching (help the kids if that had ever come to pass!). He said 'Don't be a fool, go into shipbroking. It's a job that you can earn well in, is hugely interesting and exciting, plus you will have the opportunity to travel widely and meet all sorts of interesting folks.'
Following his advice, I wrote to several shipbroking companies in London and was rewarded with an interview by only one of them. Coming from a fairly parochial background in Wales, I was somewhat cowed at the prospect of me, a schoo
lboy, being interviewed by a bunch of directors in London. The gods must have been looking down favourably upon me that day, as I was given an offer to join them as a trainee shipbroker, provided I passed my A-Levels.
I scraped through Geography, Geology and French. A-Level results came out in August in the UK and I was only due to start the following January. That was a blessing in disguise as, as a trainee one was paid a pittance. I managed to get a job on a building site and saved enough money to be able to afford accommodation in London.
The company I joined in London had a fantastic structured training programme. They started you off in the General Office as they wanted all trainees to know the office from top to bottom. It was quite a humbling 3 months, making tea and running errands for the brokers upstairs and even delivering letters around the City of London. I took heart however that no nepotism existed in the office as one of my fellow trainees was a titled young chap, who actually became Lord Mayor of London, 5 or 6 years ago.
One day, I was called to the personnel director's office and he told me that because I spoke French (not really - I scraped through my A-Levels but my spoken French was pretty poor!), they were going to send me to Dieppe on the N. Coast of France, to learn how small ships were built. Thereafter, I was off to Paris to join their joint venture office. What a break for me who had only been abroad once in my life and hardly flown in a plane (yes they had propellers back then)!. 9 months in Paris was a wonderful experience and naturally my French improved in leaps and bounds.
When I returned to London, I was given the task as a junior broker on the Baltic Exchange. The Baltic Exchange was then a live exchange in the heart of the City of London, where shipowners and cargo owners met and basically often over a coffee (or sometimes something 'stronger'), agreed to move cargoes. It was a fascinating place, very traditional and one had to adhere to the strict dress code - white shirts, dark suits, and no brown shoes allowed! The staff there were clad in green livery with top hats and the building itself had marble pillars and a wonderful glass dome above the trading floor. Sadly, the IRA blew up the building in 1992, and 3 persons lost their lives.
My next stop was the Sale and Purchase Department where I was persuaded to stay and thus the dye was cast for my future. The department dealt with the sale, purchase, and new construction of all types of ships. I likened myself to a glorified car salesman and it was truly an exciting feeling, to be dealing in millions of dollars. Things were going pretty well and I was able to afford to buy my first, very modest house, way outside London. This was the catalyst to getting married to a Mat Salleh lady and pretty soon, we had our first child, a boy.
Due to my recent reputation as a young broker, another guy and I were poached to join another broking house 'for a few dollars more', which was of course very important for a newly married couple with a baby. In 1982 (and the addition of one more son), I was offered a job in Singapore.
When I was a broker in London, I had actually been out to the East - to Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Japan, but never to Singapore. Singapore back then
was a major port but did not have any of the constituent parts to make it the shipping hub it is today. It lacked Ship Broking, Marine Finance, Insurance and there were few shipowners of note and not many
cargo owners of consequence.
My reasons for coming to Singapore were deeply planted in my soul by my grandparents and mother. Around the breakfast or dinner table when we were young, all the anecdotes would come out of the days of yore.
If anything contentious was being discussed, they would break into Malay, so we kids could not understand. I did learn a smattering of Malay though, including Wayang Gambar, which when spoken of, meant there was every chance we would visit the picture house!
My grandfather was a district officer in many location
s in Malaya. One of my favourite stories, although possibly somewhat apocryphal, relates to my grandmother. I recall it was in Alor Gajah. My grandmother wanted to take a swim, so it was decided that she would take a dip in the local river. A crowd gathered and Grandpa, naturally curious why so many folk came to watch Grandma have a dip, asked the headman whether the crowd gathered out of curiosity as not many white women were seen thereabouts. 'No tuan', says the headman, 'they are waiting to see whether the crocodile will come!”.
Grandfather became quite senior in the civil service and at one stage was governor of the notorious Pudu Gaol in K.L. and even had to attend hangings, which he loathed. By this time, there were 3 children and grandfather decided that the kids should go back to Lo
ndon for a traditional British Public School education. So back the kids went to the UK before a war broke out in 1939 and during the Battle of Britain in 1940, where bombs were falling all around. Grandfather decided that it would be safer if they returned to Malaya - how wrong he was!
Within 2 weeks of them returning to school in the Cameron Highlands, my mother's sister at the age of 10, contracted diphtheria and passed away, which was a great sadness for the family. Life recovered slowly but the next drama came when the Japanese came ashore in Kota Bahru in Dec 1941. Grandfather decided it would be best for the family to move to the 'I
mpregnable fortress of Singapore!'. He stayed in KL until the last minute as he was, by then, the equivalent of the Lord Mayor of K.L.
Japan, as we know, cut through mainland Malaya, like a knife through butter and there was no news about a possible escape plan for mother and her family. Mother tells me that she was staying at Mount Faber and could see the Japanese planes bombing the city and setting the oil storage facilities on fire.
Suddenly, one day in early Feb 1942, Grandfather took them to the harbour, carrying only one hurriedly packed suitcase, waved goodbye to them and set off. They ran the gauntlet of Japanese destroyers and bombers but finally arrived in Sydney as refugees.
In the meantime, Singapore fell, largely due to the incompetence of the British and Australian military leaders. My grandfather marched off to Changi, from the Padang and spent several years there, before being transferred to Sime Rd camp, as he was a civilian. The family didn't know if he was dead or alive for 18 months after they left Singapore until his name was mentioned that he was a captive by the Japanese Red Cross .
After that, mother and family, who had been living in a hick town in the Aussie outback as refugees, were able to claim some of Grandpa's salary and moved to Sydney, where mother attended a proper school once more.
When mother was being repatriated back to the UK, towards the end of the war, she met my dad who was in the British Royal Navy, onboard the ship. Allegedly, it was
love at first sight! Dad was from an ordinary working class family from Wales, whilst mum was from a reasonably posh colonial family.
The match was not condoned by my mother's parents and in those days one had to wait until you were 21, to get married without parental permission. So my mother turned 21 on the 6th of February and on the 7th of February they got married. Her parents did not attend as they were still in Singapore post-war with Grandpa sorting out the mess that the Japanese had created. Mother then said, 'Suddenly I was whisked off to Cardiff, living in 2 rooms and with Dad, being a rather fertile chap, there was a litter of kids in no time at all!”
I can honestly say I had a wonderful childhood. We were not at all wealthy but were given loads of love and direction by our parents. They were married for 61 years until Dad died 14 years ago but mother is still healthy at the age of 96, lives in a house called "ISTANA" on t
he outskirts of Cardiff and yes, still speaks much better Malay than I to this day! Grandfather still has a road named after him in K.L. called Lorong Gourlay in 55200 (His name was William Newlands Gourlay). So with all this family background in this part of the world, it was no wonder that I snapped up the chance of coming here.
I honestly thought that I could bring my London Bro
king expertise here and do a lot of business. I had been used to dealing with Greek shipowners and they tended to do a deal with anyone who put something sensible in front of them. Here, that approach did not work at all. One had to develop trust and of course, that did not happen overnight! Well, eventually it worked and I have managed to stay here for 40 years, through good and bad times, combined with a large slice of luck and no doubt a lot of guidance from the 'man above'. It was a particularly tough time when my first marriage ended in 1988 and I fortunately had custody of my two boys. It was not easy to earn a living and bring up two boys, but we all came through!
I set up a major broking shop here in 1991 and eventually, very luckily, became a Partner of the company. I also married Mrs Jones Mark 11, a Singapore girl in 1995 and in 1996 we had a boy!
In 2005, I had a bust up with the senior partner in London and moved, with 6 of my colleagues, to a small boutique broking house. This was a very happy time for me, as I had cast off the yoke of management (which I didn't really enjoy) and was able to get on with buying and selling ships.
In 2014, I joined the Baltic Exchange here in Singapore, which was taken over by SGX two years later. The Baltic role was terribly social and also entailed quite a lot of travel, making speeches and of course selling our services. I was also quite often able to take my wife with me, which was great fun.
In 2019, my wife and I decided it was time to retire. We travelled quite widely but after 8 months had elapsed, I missed shipping hugely and became bored and miserable. As luck would have it, a leading international law firm offered me a job as a consultant and I currently sit on their maritime desk. This helps to keep my mind from atrophying and gives my missus some space from me too.
It has bee
n a wonderful ride so far. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I look back upon the things I have done, the people I have met and the places I have been. Although the modus operandi of shipbroking has changed hugely, if I had my time all over again, I would jump at the chance of being a ship broker again.
I am hugely excited to be working with the wonderful FFFA team again and to have the chance to liaise with one of the most selfless men I have ever met (no need to mention names as we all know who I am referring to).