Seeing the world through other people’s eyes 16 October 2020

I’ve joked that when I ‘retired’ I could write all the stories I didn’t dare write while I was editor. Fear not. I leave the magazine shortly, in the best of hands, but will remain active in the fastener industry for a while yet – so it really wouldn’t be the wisest plan!

There would not really be a great deal to write. There have been things I have seen and heard that, if published, would have proven detrimental to fastener companies or people. I have also been told many things that, at the time, I categorically knew to be untrue or, at the least, seriously exaggerated. I hope I’ve been deft enough to avoid writing something I knew to be incorrect, although I have occasionally resorted to a judicious quotation – plus a subtle hint at my disquiet.

What I have immensely valued are the insights freely shared ‘off the record’. None has ever knowingly leaked into my writing, but those confidences provided colour and depth of context, hopefully allowing me to improve my writing.

I’ve also joked sometimes about not having a ‘proper job’. Believe me it is. There are real responsibilities, real conflicts to reconcile, real challenges and there are days when the combination of continuous travel and relentless deadlines eroded the soul.

It is to Will’s credit that, with youthful vigour on his side, he has taken on these pressures and proven he is a better editor than I ever was – although I’d like to think I can still give him a run for his money when it comes to journalism.

This magazine’s editorial content delivers real value, to the readership, to the industry generally, and to the commercial needs of the company. Yes, it is easy to forget that the magazine is a business. Perhaps to our own credit, the magazine is often seen purely as an industry service. It is – but advertising pays for its existence. Any brand is only as strong as the value it delivers, and high-grade editorial is central to that brand value – and providing a return on advertisers’ investment.

I’ve talked about ‘being there’ as another core value. Recently, I was sharing ‘retirement’ notes with a friend, who is currently easing away from a senior director role. He is one of the finest examples I know of the value of ‘managing by walking about’. Try measuring his contribution empirically and you will fail. Watch him with other people and you will instantly recognise how he made a difference. My first sales mentor was similar, drumming into me to “sell with your eyes and ears”. In every magazine visit, the first priority was a walk round the business, seeing and hearing it in operation, listening to the people who make it work day-to-day – sometimes spotting an issue that might jog an interviewee out of their carefully prepared script. Above all, it was about seeing the world through someone else’s eyes – in business terms, certainly, but just as importantly in terms of culture, politics, pleasures, fears and hopes.

None of that would have been possible had this magazine’s original owner, Jerry Ramsdale, not taken a good few deep breaths – when this was a much thinner publication – and agreed to finance my first exploratory long haul trips. They worked and drove the growth of the magazine. ‘Being there’ has been a privilege, and something, perhaps above all, that I will miss – although I most definitely will not miss the ‘getting there’.

Now it’s all far more challenging, courtesy of the coronavirus. Will and Claire have skilfully adapted to the totally unexpected constraints the disease has presented. Over time, hopefully, those challenges will recede, although I doubt there will ever be a complete ‘going back’.

Over the last twenty years, I realised as never before that we really are not very different, whatever our skin colour, facial characteristics, language or beliefs. The peculiar helicopter vision the editorial role grants made it abundantly clear participants in this industry have far more in common than the differences all too often highlighted. That’s not to say the latter don’t matter. They differentiate businesses and help resist the tide of commoditisation, real and perceived, on the fastener industry. The same is true of people, culture and language and these are surely things to celebrate and embrace, not fear and condemn.

Above all, what binds fastener people together is being part of a Cinderella industry. Seldom do its products represent even one percent of the cost of the final product. Fasteners are all too often forgotten or disregarded, valued only when they are not there, or they are broken. And yet, they are the most ubiquitous and vital of components – and the outcome of a complex series of engineering processes. This industry really does hold the world together.

Do I have concerns for the future? For the magazine – none. It is in the sure hands of an excellent team, led by Jamie Mitchell – with whom I have shared fun and achievement, as well as a fair few challenges and frustrations. Its owner believes in it. More importantly, it is valued throughout the fastener industry.

I am deeply concerned about the forces working to divide and polarise the world. Some are, perhaps unintentional, consequences of technology. Twitter constantly presents me with voices that it ‘believes’ agree with my own, based on an algorithm analysing my follows, likes and tweets. That simply reinforces my prejudices – if I allow it to. Hopefully I don’t – but far too many very clearly do. The growth of ‘AI’ threatens further reinforcement of what we believe or, more sinisterly, what others want us to believe. It has always been thus – but never so intensively, so effectively or so subversively. We need – even though we may not want – to hear the other perspective.

Then, there is the centralisation of power around political elites. Also nothing new, but history teaches emphatically of the jeopardies and consequences involved. In China and Russia these elites have achieved a disturbing level of self-perpetuation and control. What concerns me is that some so-called ‘Western’ democracies seek to emulate this grasp of power, that which corrupts above all else. Decisions made in the pursuit of ideology, personal glory, political popularity, or vested financial interest, can only be detrimental to the future of humanity as a whole.

We need to resist the reinforcement of tribalism, the exaggeration of differences. We live in times of extraordinary turbulence, and the threats of escalation are all too real. For my grandchildren, for yours too whether they have arrived yet or not, sanity and moderation need to prevail.

There’s also something else, which has really come home to me during the coronavirus, when the gym was closed and I switched to walking for an hour each morning. I’m fortunate, within minutes of leaving the house I can be in open countryside alongside the river and ponds, through woods and across meadowland. In the late 1960s I read Rachel Carson’s prescient Silent Spring but time eroded the memory. This Spring I read Michael McCarthy’s Moth Snowstorm, no longer a warning of what can happen but a recognition it has. As I walked, I realised how many fewer insects could be seen and heard, despite the lack of road and other pollutants.

Here is a threat that faces us all – the damage our species is doing to the thin habitable layer of this planet is, if not already, critically close to being irrevocable. I know that rebels against ‘being there’ and I don’t know how to square that particular circle. Maybe the pandemic will help resolve the environmental crisis. More will work remotely, there will be less travel, perhaps more considered consumption and a conscious choice toward shorter supply chains. However, the economic and financial imperative to return to ‘how it was’ can all too rapidly neutralise that opportunity.

We are on course to be the first species to destroy our own future. Coalescing concerted, coordinated determination might – and it is only might – confront the ultimate of all threats. That means coming together not tearing ourselves apart. Business has a part to play. It can choose: Blatantly deny and disregard, peddle PR based on inadequate gestures; or genuinely commit to being part of the solution – deploying all its ingenuity, focus and tenacity to succeed in the face of extraordinary adversity.

Meanderings of an old man past his time? Quite possibly so - but indulge me this once.

Thank you for your support. I look forward to catching up with some of you in the future and I will always be very happy to hear from you. Deride it as I have, social media will find me!

Editorial Consultant

Phil Matten Editorial Consultant t: +44 (0) 1727 814 400


Having held senior management roles in leading automotive and fastener businesses, Phil joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine as editor in 2002. Convinced there is no substitute for ‘being there’, over 17 years of visits and interviews around the world means he has accumulated an extraordinary knowledge and perspective of the global fastener industry, reflected in his incisive and thought provoking reporting.