Keith Wimbles: Work & Me Blog (Part 2)

31 August 2020
Keith and some of his students in Aracaju, Brazil
Keith and some of his students in Aracaju, Brazil.

Last week, our outgoing Chief Executive Keith brought you the first part of his "Work & Me" blog series where he spoke about how his family life taught him his attitude towards work. In the second part we learn about his introduction to retail work and what life was like living in Brazil. 

Well following my failed attempt at further education, I was determined to prove that I was good at something, so I decided to try my hand at retail again. After a summer job at Butlin’s in Filey where I worked 12 hours’ shifts in various jobs, I headed south to the great city of Hull, which at that time was one of the country’s biggest fishing ports.

In no time, I managed to get a sales job in H Samuel where I made quite an impression. My friend Madelaine and I still laugh about her initial reaction when I strutted into the shop with long flowing hair in my blue pinstriped suit which had cost me £11. “Oh God, what have they given us this time? He looks like an absent-minded professor.” Thankfully we became and are still best friends having a long friendship. The shop manager at that time was a great example of a strong, caring manager who led by example and consensus.  He was only 24, but I learned so much about good management practice from John.

In the evenings I worked in the public bar of the White Hart, a popular dockers’ pub. The first week was terrifying and I was regularly humiliated because I couldn’t remember how each customer liked their pint pulled. Needless to say everyone wanted their pint poured differently. After that harsh induction, I was accepted as a “good ‘un” and never had to break up a fight in the bar again. The guys sorted it out for me!

After an enjoyable two years in East Yorkshire I decided that I needed to be more ambitious, returned to Scotland and started as an undergraduate at the University of Stirling. Would this be my first step to success?

Unfortunately it was not to be, and I returned to where I felt most comfortable – retail. Over the next three years I worked my way up to department manager in shops in H Samuel Edinburgh, Falkirk and Doncaster, developing my skills, confidence and making new friends along the way.

When working in Donny, sadly I lost a close friend and colleague in tragic circumstances.  Her death affected me greatly, and so I returned to Edinburgh to consider my options.

I moved into a flat on Thistle Street, sharing with two Brazilian students. When they finished their courses and returned home they invited a friend and me to come and work in Brazil. After a year of will we, won’t we, we saved up enough money to each buy a one-way ticket on British Caledonian to Recife in 1977. We had been told that there were jobs for us and we would manage a Scottish lounge bar called The Croft in the Hilton Hotel. We were both excited and anxious about going to such an exotic location, and to jobs. Needless to say when we arrived our host had slightly exaggerated the situation, and the bar was still at the idea stage. Oh well, at least we were in a tropical country!

After three months my friend decided to return to Scotland, but I was adamant that I was not going to ask my family to pay for a flight home. I had met some lovely people during Carnaval in Bahia and I decided to take a bus from Joao Pessoa to Aracaju to stay with my new friends, writing my thoughts down in poetry on the twelve-hour journey. I was delighted when the welcomed me with open arms on my arrival.

Aracaju was the oil capital of the north-east, and Petrobras had a huge presence in the town. Many people wanted to learn English to further their employment prospects so I soon started work as a teacher in Escolas Fisk. It was going pretty well, and after three months the Director asked me if I would run the school while he went on a trip to the U.S. This was a great opportunity, and I gladly accepted.

They say you should never sign documents in a language you cannot understand. If only I had not been so trusting. The Director had actually signed the entire school over to me including what would now be the equivalent of £50,000 liability for unpaid taxes. In Brazil, under the military government, nobody could get a passport if they owed taxes. So I had provided the opportunity for a great escape to America.

I only found this out when an official from Brasilia arrived to tell me, as a foreigner I had no right to own a business in Brazil.  He had recognised that Wimbles wasn’t a very Brazilian name! My options were to go to prison, be deported or find specific documentation, by any means necessary.  That’s a long story, but suffice to say I remained in Brazil until 1980. The Director “unfortunately” fell ill whilst in the U.S and was sent back to his country of origin. On arriving back he heard of the government intervention, and after two attempts to run me over with his car, decided to sack me.

After all that intrigue I moved to another school and taught English for a few years to a range of students, all of whom were said by my fellow teachers to have graduated with Scottish accents. I doubt that really. I also had private clients and taught entire families from the children to the grandparents.  Each client insisted on introducing me to different types of Brazilian food, and treated me with great respect because I came from a country with such rich traditions. I loved it.

While in Brazil, I was fortunate enough to have, a job I loved, good friends, travel widely and participate in carnivals in Bahia, Recife and Rio. Despite the poverty, corruption, violence, misogyny, and racism that existed, Brazil and its people are very special to me. They gave me experience, skills and strengths that shaped my world view and my future employment. My “tropicalia” period was one of the best times of my life. I returned in 1982 and 2003, and I hope return sometime in the future.

Keith Wimbles
Chief Executive
Impact Funding Partners