A tribute to Colin Williams, founder of Wogen Resources

Colin Williams died at home on Tuesday June 30, 2015. He was 73. He was the founder of Wogen Resources, which sprang from the loins of the successful Rudolf Wolff experience with China in the mid to late 1960s.

Colin Williams died at home on Tuesday June 30, 2015. He was 73. He was the founder of Wogen Resources, which sprang from the loins of the successful Rudolf Wolff experience with China in the mid to late 1960s.

To many, an image of Colin was the agreeable chap on the stool in the corner of the garden, cooking sausages at Wogen’s Heartstarter. All the planning for this annual party had the Colin touch – from the choice of polypin beer, Bloody Mary ingredients and shaking technique to varieties of curry and the important matter of waitresses and their attire.

Another image, but not seen by many, was the tireless and smiling host to countless delegations visiting London from China. And there was its reciprocal, as guest at Chinese banquets in Beijing, Shanghai and Baoji, where Colin could raise his glass to his hosts with impeccable timing. There was never any hurry – another Colin touch. They will show the way.

Behind both these images was that sense of ambition to forge a trading entity concentrating on the then almost impenetrable world of the People’s Republic of China. With Bernard Buckman as agent for Rudolf Wolff, Colin was the advance guard: he broke through the bamboo curtain for Wolff in the 1960s, supplying copper, nickel and aluminium to Minmetals – preceding the famous meeting between President Nixon and Chairman Mao in 1972. Later, with the blessing of Wolff, Colin left to continue the China trade and form his own company – but before his new company had formally named itself, he sealed its first nickel deal at the Canton Fair in 1973. So it fell to Minmetals to give the new company a name: Wu Jin (meaning “five metals”) now anglicised to Wogen. The range of East-West contacts he made and his style of business was to propel Colin and Wogen to great heights. The company went on to open six very successful offices in China.

Colin was a keen rugby player as a as prop forward for Esher Rugby Club. He took his playing and training experience with him to the field of metal trading, peppering his meetings with metaphors such as “spotting the gap” and insisting that the ideal size for a trading team was a maximum of 15 individuals. He led his pack from the front as owner, manager and trader. This, together with his commitment to teamwork and unstinting encouragement to his traders to travel more widely, helped forge a highly successful and happy trading company, in which what is now called “work-life balance” did not feature. For Wogeners, work and life were merged and balanced. In the best sense it is a lifestyle company, driven by Colin’s commitment never to be the biggest in any metal but always to offer a level of service and expertise unmatched by others. His advice to the young traders was: “You must know more about the metal than anybody you meet; you must be the expert.”

His own chosen area of expertise was titanium and ferro-titanium. His attention to customers, suppliers, the reading of the market, the role of state stockpile authorities and understanding the weaknesses of the competition were things to admire, especially viewed from the inside. In 1990 Willan-Wogen Alloys was awarded the Queen’s Award of Export Achievement and in 2006 Wogen Titanium was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

Among those other company things in which he took great pride (but did not talk of much) was the creation in 1981/1982 of the Wogen Anniversary Trust, a body which disbursed part of the company’s profits to worthy causes, many of them nominated by members of staff. It was one of his less-private ways of making life’s playing field a bit more level. Just another Colin touch.

He was a very patient man, playing the long game and with an innate understanding of different cycles operating at different speeds: while some metals rested, there was always another group that could provide the conditions necessary for trading to flourish. And therein lay his touch and his raison d’être.

He is survived by his wife Gerlinda, son Alex, daughter Sophie and granddaughter Isabel.

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