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Columb Luke

Village Archive Group - Columb Luke

Columb Luke related his story of selling microscopes:  "At the ripe old age of 30 I decided to become a sales representative.  I thought this is the life for me, driving around in a car in the wide-open spaces.  So I got a job with a German laboratory weighing equipment company called Sartorius and started selling their equipment in Kent, South East London and Central London which at that time was divided up like a cake and so each representative who lived on the outskirts of London had a country patch and a city patch.  Once or twice a week I would go up into the City of London and sell my equipment to universities and companies.  This weighing equipment would just about weigh anything; in fact we had a little attachment, which would even weigh animals.  It was quite a sophisticated piece of kit.  The readings would be linked into computers, which would give average weights, and mean and standard deviations.  I did this job for three years.  I then started selling bigger balances over a bigger area, the South of England.  It was called promotion but it was really more work for less money.

I started to feel like a change and I went to a company called Pyser at a small town called Edenbridge in Kent.  I started selling a range of microscopes into education, universities and there was a little bit of industrial selling as well.  My area was the whole of the UK including Northern Ireland.  When I had to do a journey up to the frozen north, the journeys were a bit of a struggle.  You would get as far as Cambridge and then you would think I will do the next step so you would go as far as Nottingham, and then I might as well go to Leeds, and Manchester.  We had a number of distributors who were based throughout the country, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and so on.  I went to see the agents, promoting the product, going out to demonstrate it, sorting out problems and going to see customers.  The M25 was just being built at the time and getting through the Dartford Tunnel was a struggle.  I was spending more time travelling than selling so we decided to look for a new house.  So after being born in Dorset, moving to Hertfordshire, then to Liverpool and down to Kent, we were now thinking of moving to the Midlands.  This was the time of a housing boom and in fact we saw some houses and by the time we got there they had been sold.  We decided that somewhere between the M1 and the A1 was suitable.  We started our search at Market Harborough and Corby and Melton Mowbray.  At last we found and bought a house on Back Lane, Colsterworth.

Instead of doing these week-long trips up into the frozen wastes, I soon discovered that by driving for a couple of hours I could cover an enormous area.  Two hours from Colsterworth took me to Scotch Corner, Manchester, Gloucester, Oxford and quite a long way round the M25.  I was still working for Pyser then selling educational microscopes.  About this time one of the areas of interest was putting a video camera onto a microscope.  The first video system I ever sold was to Malvern Boys School.  So I went out and sold to schools like Harrow, Repton and Oundle and others.  I targeted the independent schools and they were a rich seam.  I did this job for quite a few years, covering the whole country.   I was Mr Microscope!

In 1997 I changed to another microscope company based at Cambridge and then five and a half years ago I joined Nikon, the great Japanese company.  I was now selling microscopes for industrial application.  They also had a work force selling microscopes for biological application.  If it is pink, soft and squidgy it is biological, and if it is hard, black and greasy it is industrial, but you do get some crossovers.

We sell some very sophisticated digital cameras, which are then linked into computers and then to software.  Gradually the computers are taking over.  But at the heart of it are the optics because if you haven't got decent optics you are stuck.  This brings us to Sir Isaac Newton.  My wife said to me, 'If you actually met Sir Isaac Newton you could have a jolly good chat to him', because optics basically still remain the same, the physics remain the same but the materials used to make the optics have changed a little bit.  They can do some very fine things with the optics now, and the optics from Nikon are very good indeed.  Almost everything is made in Japan, and this is the first Japanese company that I have worked for.  Once you get round to their way of thinking, they are very fair. You have to work hard for them but the rewards are there.

Microscopes are useful when things go wrong, when cracks occur and they think, what has happened here?  When you break a piece of metal you usually have a site, which is what initiated the fault.  From that you can tell whether it is a fault in the casting or in the metal itself.  It is a bit like making a cake, you have to get the mixture right or it will be all gloopy.  It is all about mixing and getting the structure right.  We do get involved in some of the more complex and novel man made things.  I have just sold a digital camera to Honda F1 purely for looking at carbon fibre so that when Jenson Button is driving round a race circuit and something goes wrong; the image of the fault will be captured on a Nikon camera. 

As a fairly newcomer to Colsterworth, I had better say how wonderful I think the place is.  I don't think you appreciate it unless you live here.  As I drive round the country I always feel that it is good to come back home.  We enjoy walking around here.  If it is cold and muddy in winter, we walk in Morkery or Twyford Woods where the paths have a hard surface; or we go through the village, up the Stamford Road, and a short walk in the country.  I cycle sometimes about ten miles; it is a lovely ride through a little bit of nice countryside with one or two hills and if I see more than three cars it is a busy night!"

This page was last edited on Tuesday 04-Aug-09 21:51:06 BST

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