Raj Annamalai

In 1987, I was working for Alliance & Leicester Building Society, an organisation and brand now long-departed. My role was Organisation and Methods Analyst – reviewing systems, processes and procedures and streamlining them to boost efficiency and commerciality. In that capacity, I was asked to undertake a piece of work with the training and development team. This group comprised some 15 individuals, all of whom spent much of their time travelling around the country to train the staff of the 629 branches of the Society. This travelling necessitated plenty of overnight stays in hotels. This had become an expensive business, so I was asked to look at where the trainers were staying and how they booked their accommodation to see if economies could be made. This was not a difficult task, it just took a while to complete the analysis – which I undertook whilst basing myself in the training department. This period was a revelation to me. I’d never been around such a collection of motivated, excited and creative people – always disappearing in to meeting rooms and emerging an hour later with new ideas and approaches to learning. When I presented my report on the hotel economies, I mentioned these observations to the Training Controller, Raj Annamalai, and remember saying to him: “if ever there any opportunities for trainers, perhaps you would give me a nudge…”

My thank you to Raj will complete the story…

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Dear Raj

Simon Bailey here. It’s many moons since we first met – nearly 30 years now – but I am writing to thank you for the opportunity you gave me back in 1987 – the opportunity to become a training and development professional.

I can visualise the moment so clearly. I was returning from my lunch break, a fortnight or so after our brief chat about a possible new career. I pushed through those wooden swing doors next to your office to hear your dulcet tones: “Bailey! Bailey!” I stood at your desk, you rocked back on your chair and stared at me for what seemed an eternity. The next 20 words changed my life:

“I have a vacancy for a trainer. And you, my friend, have exactly ten seconds to say yes or no…”

Instantly, your gaze switched to your wrist. It was the late 80s and we all wore digital watches. You’d set ten seconds and I heard the feint electronic bleep announce the start of the countdown. I could see the digits morphing downwards. I recall we got to seven and I said “yes”. You reset your watch, stood up, shook hands and said “good decision” and that was that, ‘interview’ complete, career changed forever. Life changed forever.

Six weeks later, I joined you and your team at the Sackville Hotel on Hove seafront to create, write and practice a new training course. Every single people manager in Alliance & Leicester – and there were 1,600 of them in those heady days – had to go through training to enable them to run effective staff appraisal discussions. A week of preparations over, we set out on the road, right across the UK, to deliver them. Do you remember how intense the delivery schedule was…?

…the trainers were paired up. I partnered Dave McIntyre at first – running three consecutive events in the George Hotel in Edinburgh, in February 1988. There were no cheap internal flights in those days and I remember driving from Brighton to Scotland the day before my birthday – a Sunday – a journey of 482 miles (I still remember the exact distance!). Dave and I met up for an early birthday drink that evening, then I explored the castle the next morning. The first training event began at 5pm on the Monday: 15 managers arrived having completed their pre-course reading then, introductions completed, we ran a quiz/discussion forum until 7:30pm. Then all 17 of us had dinner together in the hotel. After a few post-dinner drinks and the opportunity to put the Alliance & Leicester and the world in general to rights, we retired. Re-convene for breakfast the next morning, then we’d run staff appraisal role-play scenarios all day, until around 4pm. That would conclude the first event.

Then we had just an hour to take a breath and get set up before the arrival of the second cohort, that same afternoon. Identical approach: introductions, quiz and discussion, dinner, drinks, chats, sleep, breakfast, role-plays until 4pm on Wednesday. Then another hour before the third group, and so on. That took us through until 4pm on Thursday when Dave and I downed a few and went to bed early! We stayed over and drove back to Sussex the next morning. It was a punishing schedule for the trainers – as we had to deliver the same event three times over three days, I’d sometimes find myself saying something, turning to the group and asking:

“Have I told you that before…?”

Most of the time I hadn’t, but it just felt that way! Add in to the mix that we had to run these sessions in six locations over a three-month period – Hove, Leicester, Bath, Leeds, Preston and Belfast – really did take it out of us.

So that was my introduction to training; it certainly was full-on, but it demonstrated that I really enjoyed it, I had the fundamental skills to do a good job and that the groups seemed to warm to me and my approach.

That was then, this is now. A quarter of a century on and I’m still training. It doesn’t feel like work as I love it so much. I clearly had some natural talent for it, you spotted that and gave me an opportunity and, with my own hard work and the help and support from so many others described on this site, I have forged a wonderful career from helping others to be more successful.

Thank you, Raj.

All best wishes

Simon Bailey

Sackville Hotel

The Sackville Hotel, Hove seafront, East Sussex, where the Alliance & Leicester training team designed and prepared the staff appraisal training programme in early 1988. The four huge windows on the ground floor were a lounge area – with wonderful sea views – where we used to congregate to review and discuss our progress. The training rooms were in the basement at the rear and they employed an Italian porter, Fabio, a real character who would do anything for you. Sadly, the building partially collapsed during restoration work in 2006 and was subsequently demolished – exactly as I was receiving my 2006 award. There’s something terribly ironic about that.

Interestingly, the site lies just a stone’s throw from the Lawns, the manicured area of the town were my mother would walk her dog when she first came to Sussex with my father in the late 1950s.

In the 1980s, Peter Hamilton and I had raced each other to work past this very building, unaware of its existence, yet alone how important it would later become to my career.

Furthermore, and many years later, I was to discover that my wife’s auntie – Auntie Olive – had been employed there as a chambermaid in the 1970s

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