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07/08/2020 News

Total Lubricants at 50: employees share their stories

This August marks the 50th anniversary of Total Lubricants. Through five decades of notable events, innovations, and achievements, we have evolved considerably. Yet, while we are part of a major global corporation, Total Lubricants has retained its friendly ethos and family feel, continuing to provide a workplace culture that is welcoming and supportive to all.

Central to our culture and success is our people. As such, to celebrate and commemorate this significant milestone, we spoke to a number of colleagues, past and present, who have contributed to making Total Lubricants the successful business that it is today.

Anna Whitehouse


What is your role at Total and how long have you worked here?

I am currently Vice President Operations, Western Europe, but after joining Total UK in 1992 I served as head of the Special Fluids department from 1994 to 1997 and as General Manager of the Lubricants business from 1997 to 2000.

What is your proudest achievement? 

When you think of your proudest achievements you tend to think of hitting sales or financial targets, but I think the proudest moment for me was the day when we unfortunately had a fire at the Lubricants Plant. Thankfully, due to fire drills, everyone knew what to do and while all the office and plant staff exited the plant safely, the plant fire team went down to start tackling the fire while awaiting the arrival of the local fire brigade.

Later, when the situation was fully under control, the Fire Chief came up to me to congratulate our team, highlighting the discipline of the staff and the competence of the fire crew,  "I've never seen a situation so under control when we arrived. You can be very proud of the team". The fire service subsequently returned a few months later with a Recognition Award for the plant fire team.

For me, that defines one of the proudest moments I had – it’s easy to be part of a team during the good times but the depth of the team is evident when facing a potential disaster.

What is the culture like at Total? 

I've got lots of really good memories from the three years I was with Total Lubricants at Ferrybridge, and they centre on the openness and the friendliness of the people I worked with. Even during the first few weeks when I was just settling in, I remember being invited by one of the plant staff to a function at the working men's club, next door. It was a lovely gesture.

I recall some people being concerned that, as the first female boss, it would be complicated, but right from the very beginning I felt involved and accepted; another member of the Total Lubricants family that had been together for a long time in West Yorkshire.

Bob Wood


What is your role at Total and how long have you worked here?

I am currently a Product Engineer, but have held multiple roles, including Oil Chemist, Grease Chemist, Research and Development Chemist, and after getting my Chartered Chemist qualification, I was made Chief Chemist. Following that, I joined the technical department, applying my chemistry as a Field Engineer helping sales. I started working at Total in 1974, so I’ve worked here just over 45 years. 

What is your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement has to be when Total sponsored me to study for a masters in hydraulics and lubricants, which I completed while working, and achieved a distinction, at the age of 50. It helped me communicate better with engineers in the business and our customers, as well as benefitting my technical work.

Since the old days, I’ve always been allowed into the lab to design and develop new products, under two conditions – that I don’t blow the lab up and that I clean up after himself so everyone can carry on working! One of these, mould oils, which are used in roof tiles, sold millions of litres – I’m also very proud of that.

What is the culture like at Total? 

The friendliness of the people is a big part of the culture. We get on very well with one another and respect for people and the job they do is very important, as well as the way we pull together. There are lots of opportunities, and the job I do is very interesting, and allows me to meet lots of different people. I love it, especially being involved in decision making, particularly the offshore side. I should be retired, but honestly, I’m not ready yet!

John Ryder


What is your role at Total and how long have you worked here? 

I’m currently general manager at Total Lubricants and have been at Ferrybridge for three years, but my career at Total spans 27 years. I was previously working in Paris in an auditing role and prior to that as commercial director of the Zambian affiliate.

What is your fondest memory?

I’ve encountered many challenges and managed numerous crises over the years but the thing that really stands out from my last three years with the lubricants business is the team’s resilience and adaptability through the pandemic.

Like a flick of a switch we went from working in the office to not, but still having to manage the business as before whilst meeting our customers’ requirements. The way the team has come together to deal with the crisis, with the production team working throughout, continually delivering and working a shift system to keep everyone safe, has been phenomenal to witness and to be a part of.

What is the culture like at Total?

One of the interesting things is that you’ve got employees like Bob Wood, who has been here 45 years, and you’ve also got young people coming in and starting out in their careers. You see people at the beginning of their journey and watch them progress throughout the business – who knows, although the world may have changed, some of this younger generation could also enjoy 20 or 30 year careers with Total. Despite the fact that these days one employer for life is rare to see, Total can provide real opportunities for people who demonstrate the hunger and skill sets required.

The culture itself is brilliant. Positive, inclusive, and supportive, empowering individuals and ensuring they can grow. It has a family business feel despite being part of a large corporate entity – many of the team live nearby, within walking distance, which really makes Total Lubricants feel grounded in the local community.

Johnny Metcalfe 


What was your role at Total and how long did you work here? 

I joined at 16 when the plant was owned by TH Newsome and by the time I retired in 2004, all in all I had worked there for about 40 years. I started out as a vehicle loader, working my way through as an oil blender, and by the time I retired I was oil plant controller.

What is your fondest memory? 

Well, I would imagine it would be when I got the controller’s job in January '99 after working there so long. I had to organise what needed to be done by the workforce to get the orders made on time, including the blending of the oil and grease. We all seemed to have a challenge every day – something different to get stuck in to, which made the job really enjoyable.

What was the culture like at Total?

It was a friendly culture where everyone worked together, and we had some good work dos. A long time ago, there was something going off down London, I can't remember whether it was a 25-year do or something to do with one of the managing directors, but they held it at the Savoy in London.

There were only so many of us, and we all went down on a big executive bus. We had the do in the Savoy and stopped overnight in a hotel – it was a great time. There were plenty of trips too. One outing that we went on was to Lindsey Oil Refinery, which was very interesting having a walk around the facility and seeing how everything worked.


Helen Bell 



What is your role at Total and how long have you worked here?

I started with Total in 1990 as a QC Laboratory Technician. My role developed over the years to Laboratory Manager, after which I became the HSEQ Manager for Total Lubricants, which is my current role.

What is your proudest achievement? 

One of my fondest and proudest moments was being nominated for a safety award around year 2000. It was completely unexpected, I felt extremely proud and honoured to be recognised and to go to the awards ceremony and dinner in London where I met many other employees from other areas of the business. This moment influenced my career path towards a future in a Health and Safety role.

Additionally, I am so proud of how Total and our individual teams have responded to the pandemic situation. I am a problem solver, and that's what the last few months have been about – how to ensure business continuity whilst ensuring our main priority of keeping people safe. Yes, we had pandemic plans in place, but not to the extent to foresee all we’ve all endured during these unprecedented times. Everyone reacted quickly and pulled together to come up with plans to keep people safe and well. I'm so proud of where we all are today.

What was the culture like at Total? 

Health and Safety is number one priority. We are part of a big team – when I welcome and induct new starters I state that “you will realise that although we are part of a large worldwide organisation, there's still that close, welcoming, family atmosphere”. It doesn't matter who you talk to; if it's somebody in the office, in production, engineering or elsewhere within the business everybody gets on well and are there to offer help and support. I don't think I would have been here almost 30 years if that wasn’t the case!

Paul Metcalfe 


What is your role at Total and how long have you worked here?

I have been at the company for 28 years. I started out as an operator, and had six roles in all, including a grease plant blender and grease plant controller. My current role at Total is production controller.

What is your proudest achievement?

While I’m very proud of my professional achievements, my proudest achievement has to be when I was the captain of the Total football team for a number of years. I was able to travel to France, Germany, Morocco, and so forth, travelling the world playing football for the company. We got through to the semi-finals once which was a great experience.

What is the culture like at Total? 

Everyone knows who people are – it's easy to put a face to a name – and I think something Total definitely do well is involving your families in your work life. There are plenty of events provided by the company, often for all the family, which is something you don’t really get elsewhere, and plenty of staff activities too – as well as football, you can sail or play golf for the company, which I think is good in building that close-knit, community atmosphere.

Peter Locke 


What was your role at Total and how long did you work there?

I worked at Total for just under 25 years, beginning with a role in the corporate planning department, before working as Vice President of a Total subsidiary, Photon Power. After that, I worked as General Manager for Total Lubricants, then in corporate communications, where I developed the company’s motorsport activity, before I retired in 1997.

What is your fondest memory?

My fondest really, was taking over a possibly dispirited team of management. They felt very much like an afterthought. Very few people in head office knew anything about them and they had been through a quick and numerous succession of managers – it made the place very stagnant. So, it was quite fun, actually, taking it over and persuading people, "no, it doesn't work like that now. If you can do anything good, you are going to get the credit. If you persuade us to do something that doesn't work, then I take the blame."

It took time, but I think we ended up with a very satisfied management team. I don't think anyone left the management team and it was going well. It was great to do that, and it meant I knew everyone in the plant. I used to like spending a lot of my time just wandering around the plant, talking to the operatives, seeing how it worked. I've always felt that management, by walking around, is a much more successful route than management by sitting in your office.

We had fun. I did know everybody by name that was there. Quite often, I'd do some of their jobs. If there were things going on that needed doing, I would quite often say, "Can I have a go at that?" It's always good to actually understand what the reality of someone else's job is as it's not always what you think it is.

What was the culture like at Total?

We just had a great time. We had very, very nice people. The thing about Total there, not only in Lubricants, but generally, was that I felt it had a tremendous esprit de corps. And it's a very friendly company to work for, and a friendly company to be a customer of.

It seems to be a very moral company, as well. I never came across anything in the company that I felt, "Ooh, should we be doing this?" We had good health and safety, as Total always would, and a good atmosphere. I felt it was a distinguishing feature of the company; it really was. Lots of people, a very stable workforce, where everyone knew each other well.

Check out our news for more on Total Lubricants’ 50th Anniversary, view our career opportunities, or contact our experts today.