Recollections of David Alfred Youlton & Snell & Wilcox by Roderick Snell
I first got to know David Youlton in the late 1960s, while working at Sussex University, where he was a mature student of economics. He helped clean my bachelor house and I helped him with a project for getting TV reception on the campus. It both saved the bursar several thousand pounds and poked the university media unit in the eye for quoting a rather high price for the same job. He was strong on left wing politics, but his interest in reviving our economy to improve wealth creation was where my engineering interests met his economic interests. Even in those days he predicted that one day we would work together.
I left to freelance, married, started a family and, following work overseas for UNESCO, and formed a partnership with Joe Wilcox in 1973. It was analogue video work, with the invention of Ycc (Y/C) processing and other enhancements to low gauge video recording, working with the IBA on electronic news gathering, developing an analogue studio prototype VTR, with some funding from the DTI. Our own funding for our VTR and Digital processing work came from “bread and butter” development of a range of receiver/monitor TVs for Mitsubishi. During this time David and I only met occasionally, attending each other’s marriages and comparing notes on what we both felt was the de-industrialisation of Great Britain.
Also during what was a nearly two decade gap, Snell & Wilcox grew to a 25man business developing and manufacturing standards converters and associated broadcast kit, with me part-time and Joe Wilcox ‘running the shop’. David Youlton meanwhile had worked with architectural and specialist building companies as a company doctor and, with some of the fees gained from this and work with the Crown Commissioners had supported publishing and economics projects.
When Joe Wilcox had had enough of running the business full-time (while I simply dabbled with it), we looked at ways that would allow him to retire: “Sell it…..”, was the only advice from our expensive consultants “as, after Joe’s exit the combined experience of you and the chief engineer David Lyon would not have the management experience to run it, and anyway Joe will not sell his 50 percent share without a full payment at his time of exit (such was his conviction that we would never make a go of it)”: neither of us had the resources to raise the required money.
This was the point at which we sought David Youlton’s help: bypassing all conventional advice, David persuaded our local bank to allow me to take out a personal, unsecured loan equivalent to about eight family houses of the kind I was buying, so that I could buy out Joe Wilcox! The terms were simple: David must run the Company for at least six months and I must join full-time. Thus it was in the spring of 1988 that I left my secure local authority job and David Youlton devoted himself more than full-time, to grow the company through the recession of the early 90s. This we did, growing to about five hundred people in the late 1990s. Initially we had UK Department of Trade and Industry grants but when the politics changed we worked closely with the European Commission on some major projects which brought in strong new staff.
Our growth and breadth of activities generated worldwide interest, created a portfolio of patents, gave us nine UK Queens Awards for technology and export growth, four Emmys (from the USA), and many other marks of industry recognition, particularly for our product quality and reliability, recognised from surveys in Europe and the USA.
The skies grew progressively darker in the late 1990s: the dotcom bubble burst, causing a serious loss of faith in all high tech businesses, my wife died of cancer in autumn 1999 (followed a few months later by my mother), David Youlton was diagnosed with early prostate cancer and the company was at the same time struggling to support a very wide range of R&D activities. Cash flow became a problem. David Youlton left the company in 2001. Advent Capital took a controlling interest in 2002. (I remained on the board during the slimming down period 2002-2008, became part time after that and left the new company in 2011.)
David continued with his chairmanship of the Digital Television Group (the implementation body for digital television implementation in the UK). In addition to his huge contribution to the growth and profile of Snell & Wilcox, the status of the DTG in the UK and well beyond, is equally a tribute to his energy and vision chairing the organisation for more than a decade. David brought the necessary manufacturing drive to the DTG. Largely during his chairmanship, DTG grew from the employment of one Technical Director to the sizeable operation it has now become. He saw the need for the formation of a wholly owned successful subsidiary company, “DTG Testing Ltd” and many other innovations.
For anyone interested in medicine and degenerative disease, David’s 12 year battle with cancer was a model of how not to take fate lying down: there were losses and gains, crises and remissions until, wasted with secondary cancers, his body gave up the struggle in the evening of the 22nd of September, peacefully at home with his wife and family.
Roderick Snell 28/09/2012
Done in haste, so E&OE