Monday 11 October 2010

R.I.P. Jimi Heselden

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a lot of jokey stories in the world's press, and across the internet about the man who owned the Segway company being killed whilst riding one.
The twitterati  have had their laughs at "Segway Chief Drives off Cliff".

Segways are obects of derision around the world, despite the fact that they're very clever inventions that somehow don't really seem to have a role just yet.
You can bet Jimi Heselden had an idea or two of roles to come. One was in giving back mobility to those military personnel who come back from combat, having lost the ability to walk. He just gave a thousand segways to U.S. "Segs4Vets", valued at $5million, "Forty-eight veterans, including many receiving treatment at the U.S. Army's Walter Reed Medical Center, are scheduled to receive the first of the Segways on Oct. 6 at the Marine Corps War Memorial. The program has distributed more than 500 Segways in the past five years to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who sustained injuries limiting their ability to walk."

Who was this man? Well, Segways weren't the major part of his business, they were a sideline. What made his fortune was far less trivial.

He was Jimi Heselden.  Born into a tough, working-class estate in Leeds, northern england. Grew up in an area where career choices are few, education is often scorned, and crime is too often the career of choice. Jimi chose work, hard work. He worked as a miner. Until he was made redundant. With his redundancy payoff, he started a new company, sandblasting steel structures to ready them for painting, but he had a bit of a problem with landslips near his workshop, so he needed to build a retaining wall. But he couldn't afford the conventional way, the heavy reinforced poured concrete structures. Instead, he had a bright idea, he bought a load of steel mesh, and a lot of polyproplene textile, made the mesh into rectangular boxes, his sisters sewed bags of textile to line them, then they stacked them, and filled them with dirt. A tough barrier wall for a fraction of the usual cost. The idea wasn't totally new. Julius Caesar used a similar system, of wicked baskets filled with stones, as did mediaeval soldiery, but it was a system largely forgotten.
He built a seawall, in an eroded piece of coast, proving the idea's versatility.
But where the invention really took off was in war zones.
Up to then, soldiers filled and stacked sandbags. Jimi supplies flatpacked crates that could be filled with desert sand, or any available dirt, by bucket-loaders and backhoes.
Or huge containerloads that could be deployed by two men and one machine.

He became a rich man, but he never forgot where he came from. In this year alone he gave over £20 million to help the underprivileged of this, his home city, he sought actively to give jobs to people who were at the bottom of the pile, giving second chances to those whose lives had taken bad turns, and he paid well above minimum wage, seeking to give people back their sense of worth, of self esteem, by valuing them.
When the factory came in on time with a deadline-critical order for troop protection in Kosovo, he took the workforce on an all expenses paid holiday to Benidorm.

If you've served in Iraq, or Afghanistan, Bosnia or Kosovo, you've probably been sheltered behind "Hesco".
If you're in the U.S., and there are emergency repairs to river banks and levees near you, thank Jimi, for his Hesco Bastion.
U.S. military procurement recently ordered some$50 million worth.

Today over two thousand people attended his funeral, held at his factory, because the church wasn't big enough to take all who wanted to pay their respects.
One of those was a sergeant who flew from Texas.
He said that, since surviving a rocket attack, he'd wanted to write and thank the man whose invention saved him, and was devastated to hear of Jimi Heselden's death:

"Sergeant David McGregor, who flew from Texas for the funeral, said: "If it wasn't for Jimi's barriers, I would never have gotten out of Iraq. My wife and children would only have a flag to remember me by.""

I should spend more time editing and writing, but I've run out of time, need to go sleep, ready for an extra-early start tomorrow. So, for the hurried text, and poor layout, I apologise.

Spare a moment's thought for a big-hearted man whose death was unfairly mocked by people trawling for an easy laugh. I've done the same myself, in the past, when I've failed to stop and think about the real person involved. 

Jimi Heselden deserves better.

Disclaimer: I'm not in any way connected with Hesco, other than that I live within a couple of miles of the UK factory.
However, in the early nineties, I first noticed Hesco and their product, and said, "If I had some money, I'd buy shares. This company's going to be big".
Alas, I had no money, so all I can claim is a certain amount of forecasting prescience.