Why does a European middle manager choose to set up in business in Britain? Geoffrey Foster reports.
Britain has frequently offered outsiders a refuge from political persecution. It has sometimes held out the promise of release from grinding poverty; or, for the moderately well off, the prospect of a fairly agreeable way of life. But not many people this century, even during the boom of a few years ago (when Tory ministers still bragged about the "sea change" that had supposedly taken place in the British economy), have ever seriously thought of the UK as a "land of opportunity". Such expressions of wide-eyed optimism were always associated with the New World, or the new nations of the Commonwealth, hardly ever with the Old Country.
There has long been, of course, a thin trickle of foreigners who, having landed on these shores without any pressing necessity, contrived to find fame, fortune or both: maybe as writers or singers, or cooks or clowns, or (just occasionally) as entrepreneurs. But a European middle manager in his middle 30s, with a safe job in the engineering sector in his own country, and on the fast track for promotion, would generally have been well advised to stay at home. For such a one to throw up his job, sell his house and come to Britain with little more than the proceeds of sale in his pocket, in order to start his own business from scratch in an unfamiliar environment, would seem the height of folly.
Yet up in the Pennines, in the little former mill town of Earby on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, there is physical evidence that such imprudent behaviour can be rewarded. It is not, to be sure, hugely impressive to look at: a modest, single-storey office-cum-workshop tucked away in a side street. Nor have its occupants been there very long. A few years back the building was used as a warehouse for chemicals; before that it was a BMW garage. It currently houses a defence contractor, Euravia Engineering and Supply, whose main line of activity is servicing and providing parts for military jet engines. While not large, the business is a healthy performer: in the 12 months to February 1990 it turned over £3.8 million and made £158,000 after tax. But the remarkable thing is that three years ago Euravia did not exist at all - except in the mind of its founder, Dennis Mendoros, who had only lately arrived from his native Greece.
There was nothing capricious about Mendoros's choice of Britain as the place to set up shop. For one thing, language was no problem. (Not for him, anyway; his accent can cause mild difficulty for others.) He had spent his early years in a largely English-speaking community at Port Sudan where his father was a shipping agent (hence the acquired Dennis; his real name is derived from Dionysus). He had also studied in Britain and married a British girl, although they have recently divorced. Far more pertinent was the fact that Mendoros thought that he could see a gap in a market about which he knew a great deal, and which he reckoned could best be filled from the UK. So he simply resigned his job, sold up and bought air tickets for all the family.
For most of the previous decade Mendoros had been employed by Hellenic Aerospace Industry, a partnership between the Greek state and three American companies: Lockheed, the airframe builder, General Electric, the engine manufacturer, and Westinghouse, which knew all about instrumentation and controls. The terms of the agreement cannily provided that the American groups should each equip and run a manufacturing-cum-service facility - all on one site - but that the whole show would eventually pass to the Greek Government.
Mendoros joined in the early days, taken on as a quality engineer by GE acting on behalf of HAI. He must have been a natural for the job, being one of the very few Greeks with an appropriate qualification. He already had an engineer's licence, the product of nearly three years at the AST (Air Services Training) school of aeronautical engineering near Perth. While in Scotland he also learned to fly, paying for the lessons himself by repairing the cars belonging to richer Arab students at weekends.
Mendoros's enthusiasm for aviation dates, he says, from his childhood in the Sudan, when he used to get taken up in the helicopters servicing Italian-operated drilling rigs. His first ambition was to be a pilot or flight engineer. After high school in Greece, to which the family returned when Mendoros was in his teens, he looked round for the best place to pursue his obsession - which is what brought him to Perth.