When a 22-year-old Tony Morris finished his National Service and joined a small animal feed company he had just three colleagues.
The business counted less than 100 local farm customers on its books and generated sales of little more than £100,000 a year.
As he marks his formal retirement 60 years and one million miles around the roads of the Yorkshire Dales as a salesman later, the company he joined has somewhat changed.
Today, I’Anson Bros of Masham, North Yorkshire, is one of the leading, independent, family- owned and managed animal feed producers with annual sales in excess of £40 million, serving 2,000 farm and trade customers around the UK and exporting its award-winning equine feed to more than 40 countries worldwide.
Staff numbers in the business have grown to 95 and production mushroomed from the 3,400 tons a year when Tony joined in 1962 to more than 150,000 today.
During his six decades with the business he has worked with three generations of the I’Anson family and is ‘Uncle’ to the current family members, Chris, Sarah and Will, a relationship created when Tony’s father – who also worked as a sales rep for I’Anson – married into the family.
Reinforcing the family ethos within the firm, Tony’s son Paul has been with the company for more than 30 years and another son also worked there for a number of years.
He also served for some 30 years as a director of the company and continued to visit long-standing clients until the pandemic outbreak forced him to finally call a halt to his travels.
Tony formally marks his retirement as I’Anson’s embarks on the biggest single investment in its 120-year history with the £20 million-plus development of a state-of-the-art new feed mill at Dalton New Bridge, which will complement its facilities on the outskirts of Masham.
Reflecting on his career, he says: “I have enjoyed being part of the business and seeing how it has grown and evolved over all these years. The business has always focused on providing great products with excellent customer relationships and I really believe that these attributes have been core to its growth and success.
“Because of the pandemic restrictions, I have not been able to see many of my long-standing customers to let them know just how much I have enjoyed working with them across the years.
“Personal relationships are such a vital part of our business and when they are so enjoyable that’s a real bonus.”
After six decades, Tony has a wealth of anecdotes about his life on the road.
“I was visiting a long-standing customer but when I pulled up in the farmyard I saw a hearse outside the front door.
“My heart dropped. I thought I shouldn’t be trying for sales on such a sad day for the family so I started to turn around and drive out of the farmyard to leave them in peace.
“But before I got very far, the farmer’s son came dashing out asking why I was leaving.
“I explained that I hadn’t realised there had been a death in the family and didn’t want to intrude on their grief.
“He burst out laughing and said ‘No-one’s died. My dad has got a part-time job driving a hearse and he’s home for lunch’.”
Tony also had a reputation within the business for extracting the maximum mileage out of his company car, including clocking up more 240,000 miles over 15 years in a VW Passat that he only agreed to replace when parts could no longer be secured to repair a broken windscreen wiper.
As well as receiving a crystal trophy in recognition of his dedication to I’Anson, Tony was also presented with a long-service award from the Yorkshire Agricultural Society last month.
Managing Director Chris I’Anson said: “Tony has been an integral part of the business for such a long time and was still visiting some of his long-time clients until the pandemic restrictions meant he could no longer do so.
“He has witnessed many of the pivotal initiatives within the business, including the building of our current mill in Masham so it seems appropriate that he leaves as we begin the development of our new, advanced facility at Dalton New Bridge.
“We do have a history of long-serving colleagues within the business, but Tony’s stint is the longest and we all appreciate his contribution and wish him well in his retirement.”