By Peter Robbins
Dozens of traders attended Sam Quick’s memorial service on the 23rd January in Chichester. Sam was a very popular trader in refractory metals and was well known in MMTA circles since the founding of the organisation.
Behind Sam’s twinkling eyes, loud, infectious laugh and affable manner there was a tough and shrewd operator who developed a highly successful trading technique helped by his amazing ability to form strong and lasting friendships.
Other tributes to Sam, covering his private life and his love of rugby football, are being published elsewhere, but I, as a close friend of his and business partner in the metal business for fifteen years, have been asked to offer this personal account of an exceptional member of the metal trading fraternity.
Every recruit to the business, past and present, gets exceedingly irritated when they are told that once, great ‘characters’ lifted the trade from grubby commerce into something more glamorous. It was easy to get the impression that all the best traders in the ‘old days’ wore top hats, sported fresh carnations in their buttonholes, and drank a pint of port every lunchtime. I’m sure none of that was true, but Sam was definitely a great character in the modern era.
He recruited me to join Rudolf Wolff from Henry Gardener in 1970. I wasn’t particularly attracted by Wolff’s cliquey atmosphere but Sam, as many others found out, was someone I definitely wanted to work with. The MMTA was founded at about this time.
Business in the rarer metals was starting to boom as demand from new technologies in aerospace, electronics and chemicals were transformed by revolutionary innovation. More and more metal markets were breaking free from the straitjacket of the ‘producer price’, and new markets were opening up, mainly from behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. These developments in supply and demand offered the opportunity for a new type of more technically orientated metal business to thrive and allowed for small companies to splinter off from the large traditional traders.
Sam and I, and another Wolff trader, Colin Williams, formed our own company, Wogen Resources. Unlike me (an inveterate market analyst and speculator) Sam’s trading was based on personal relationships. He did business with people he liked, and they tended to be people who were a bit like himself – outgoing, bright, risk-taking, and fun to be with – and from everywhere you could imagine—giant Japanese trading conglomerates, Sheffield foundries and New York scrap merchants. Occasionally I would introduce him to someone I thought he could do business with. After the meeting he would often squeeze up his eyes, beam his trade mark ironic grin, and say, “No heart”, – his way of saying he couldn’t trust the guy.
While we struggled to do deals in the early years, we all got on very well at Wogen, but eventually we all went our separate ways. Sam left Wogen and I left the trading world altogether. Two other well-known rare metals traders who had also helped to put Wogen on the road to prosperity, John Parker and, later, Nick French, also left the company for pastures new.
Sam was able to continue his trading career by forming alliances with many of his old business partners, mainly because they were also his friends. Sam was no push-over in deals, however. He certainly knew his stuff. His business often involved making numerous Byzantine calculations, linking an alloy’s analysis with various processing losses and melting charges and spotting profit opportunities in a whole group of sales possibilities. All too complicated for me, I have to confess.
However busy he was, Sam would ring me up every couple of months throughout the intervening years, and invite me to one of his famous lunches in Shepherd Market in Mayfair to meet old friends and his new business partners. He had more trading successes and I got the firm impression that he much preferred his new trading experiences working with, rather than for, larger companies. He was still putting deals together in his 70s.
One incident stands out as an example of Sam’s sense of fun and generosity. He and I were paying a routine visit to Mexico City to meet our agent, a rather slick Spanish matador look-alike. Our agent mentioned, in passing, that he was to visit his new acquisition – a fluorspar mine – the following day. It was located about four hours’ drive from the town of Ixmiquilpan about 200 kilometres directly north of Mexico City. Would we like to join him? We said yes and after a mescal-fuelled night in the sleepy Mexican town, we set off in the cool before dawn into the chaparral country dotted with mesquite, tumble-weed and those tall cactuses you see in cowboy films. Sam and I opted to sit in the back of the pick-up truck to avoid being asphyxiated by the smell of our agent’s aftershave. It was pretty uncomfortable as the sun turned into a blowlamp and the road petered out into a rubble-strewn track. The dust was choking and the far too common sight of a rattle snake crossing our path did no good at all for our searing hangovers.
At one point we could see a small ‘pueblo’ in the distance, and we came across three boys obviously on their way to school. Our agent stopped to talk to them. They wanted a lift and asked if we wanted to accommodate them. I wasn’t keen. They were none too clean and I was feeling pretty cramped as it was, but Sam was already helping them up beside us and we were soon on our way. Within minutes, Sam, who didn’t speak a word of Spanish, had worked out that the children had had real trouble with a sum in their maths homework and was explaining how to do it using drawings and examples in their exercise books. They were all laughing like donkeys at his weird efforts to make himself understood, and you could see that Sam was having the time of his life. Generous, full of life and great fun.
His love of art and his skill at painting represented another dimension to his energetic personality. Much of his work was inspired by the lovely landscapes round his home in West Sussex.
He was drinking with his friends in his local pub a few days before he died so suddenly.
Sam made room for hundreds of friends. And his love and loyalty to his children was the centre-piece of his life. Culturally Sam and I belong in very different worlds, but, for me, he was a metal business character of the very best kind.