How great shoes came to be

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Robert S. Spald­ing III By John Hay­don

Over the years, I have flown lit­er­ally thou­sands of prac­tice bomb runs. Each time, I con­cen­trated on the tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures of de­liv­er­ing the bomb on time and on tar­get. While I may have been con­cerned about threats, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, nav­i­ga­tion or a myr­iad num­ber of things that may cause my run to be less than per­fect, there was one thing I never wor­ried about: the weapon. The cred­i­bil­ity of the United States’ nu­clear de­ter­rence hangs in the bal­ance as the coun­try de­cides whether or not to ex­tend the life of the B61 nu­clear bomb. As Gen. C. Robert Kehler so elo­quently put it dur­ing re­cent con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony, “de­ter­rence state­ments are backed with cred­i­ble mil­i­tary forces — that in­cludes re­li­able weapons, that in­cludes trained peo­ple, [and] plans to use them.”

The B61 weapon is more than 40 years old, and its re­li­a­bil­ity is de­clin­ing. Nev­er­the­less, there are those that think we can make do with what we have. Philip Coyle, a co-au­thor of the re­cent Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists re­port on the nu­clear en­ter­prise, even went so far as to say that “[Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s] plan [to re­fur­bish the B61] vi­o­lates the spirit if not the let­ter of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pledge to not de­velop new nu­clear weapons. It sends the wrong mes­sage to the rest of the world.”

Let’s use the nu­clear bomber in­ven­tory as an ex­am­ple to ex­am­ine the ar­gu­ment. The B-52H is cur­rently un­der­go­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions to en­hance com­mu­ni­ca­tion and avion­ics. No­body is claim­ing that at the end of the mod­i­fi­ca­tion con­tract the Air Force will have a new bomber. They will still be B-52s.

Some ques­tion why we can­not use the B83 in­stead (a newer weapon), and do away with the B61. As Gen. Kehler men­tioned in his con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony of Oct. 29, the B83 is not cer­ti­fied for all of the bombers and fight­ers re­quired. In ad­di­tion, the B83 would have to en­ter a sim­i­lar life-ex­ten­sion plan en­tail­ing more costs in the fu­ture.

In or­der to un­der­stand why the B61 must be re­fur­bished, it is help­ful to un­der­stand the life cy­cle of weapon sys­tems in the U.S. Air Force in­ven­tory. As weapon sys­tems age, their com­po­nents be­come ob­so­lete. Orig­i­nal man­u­fac­tur­ers some­times go out of busi­ness. In some cases, mil­i­tary con­tract of­fi­cers are forced to look for new sources to repli­cate the orig­i­nal man­u­fac­tur­ing or re­pair process. Over time, this be­comes in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive. Imag­ine pay­ing 10 times the orig­i­nal cost for a part that is ob­so­lete just so you can keep your 40-plus-year-old car run­ning. Even­tu­ally, the cost and lack of new re­place­ment parts makes the weapon sys­tem cost-pro­hib­i­tive and un­sus­tain­able.

The B-2, the pri­mary air­craft for the B61, also faces th­ese same chal­lenges, as do other weapon sys­tems in the U.S. nu­clear forces in­ven­tory. In essence, we can no longer re­fur­bish the parts needed to re­pair it, so new parts must be de­signed and pro­duced. Of­ten th­ese new parts carry with them new ca­pa­bil­ity. For ex­am­ple, the orig­i­nal com­put­ers in the B-2 are less pow­er­ful than to­day’s smart­phones. For­tu­nately, th­ese com­put­ers are in the process of be­ing re­placed, and the in­creased com­put­ing power will, in essence, make the B-2 more ca­pa­ble, safe and re­li­able, as well as less ex­pen­sive to op­er­ate.

The plans and train­ing that go into a cred­i­ble nu­clear de­ter­rent is wasted if the equip­ment is nei­ther cost-ef­fec­tive to op­er­ate nor re­li­able. Since the 1950s, the United States has in­vested decades of ef­fort and bil­lions of dol­lars to de­velop a nu­clear force that is cred­i­ble. The time, ef­fort and re­sources re­quired to cre­ate the equip­ment, train­ing and plans that make a cred­i­ble nu­clear de­ter­rent rep­re­sent an in­vest­ment in our fu­ture se­cu­rity. For the most part, this ca­pa­bil­ity is bought and paid for. Yet, it does re­quire con­tin­ued dili­gence to en­sure the nu­clear de­ter­rent re­mains cred­i­ble into the fu­ture.

Thus, re­fur­bish­ing the B61 may seem to be over­whelm­ing in this bud­get en­vi­ron­ment, but the al­ter­na­tive is a nu­clear weapon of de­clin­ing re­li­a­bil­ity. All of the hours spent train­ing and the best plans in the world can­not com­pen­sate for this fact. Per­haps more dam­ag­ing to U.S. for­eign pol­icy, how­ever, is the di­min­ished cred­i­bil­ity of our nu­clear de­ter­rent.

When brothers Cyrus and James Clark, rug mer­chants in the south of Eng­land, re­al­ized that the left­over woolen cut-offs made com­fort­able sheep­skin slip­pers, one of the world’s most fa­mous shoe stores was born.

Clarks shoes was founded in 1825 in the small town of Street, not far from the bu­colic Glas­ton­bury Tor, in the English county of Som­er­set. Its head­quar­ters is still based in the town and from its of­fices on the high street op­po­site the Bear Inn, the pri­vate com­pany pre­sides over the pro­duc­tion and de­sign of 52 mil­lion pairs of shoes an­nu­ally. Most of the shoes to­day are as­sem­bled in China and Viet­nam, but the firm’s huge dis­tri­bu­tion center, with a ca­pac­ity to stock 5 mil­lion pairs of shoes at one time, re­mains in Street, which has a pop­u­la­tion of just 11,000.

In his book, “Clarks, Made to Last: The Story of Bri­tain’s Best­known Shoe Firm,” au­thor Mark Palmer gives us an in-depth his­tory of the re­spected shoe brand that now boasts 1,156 stores world­wide and em­ploys more than 15,000 peo­ple.

The Clark brothers were de­vout mem­bers of the Quak­ers, a Chris­tian off­shoot faith that sprang up in the late 17th cen­tury in Eng­land. Quak­ers pro­posed a prac­ti­cal form of Chris­tian­ity, fo­cus­ing more on char­ity, rather than on dogma and the clergy. They of­ten took up un­pop­u­lar causes, such as op­po­si­tion to slav­ery and war and the need for prison re­form. They were also noted for their pa­ter­nal­is­tic at­ti­tude and eth­i­cal com­mit­ment to their work­ers. Still, work­ing hours in the fac­tory in the 1820s stretched from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a break for break­fast and lunch. On Satur­days, the day ended at 5 p.m.

It’s not sur­pris­ing that many Quaker com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Clarks, helped fuel Bri­tish cap­i­tal­ism in the 19th cen­tury. At the time, Quaker in­flu­ence on Bri­tish in­dus­try was hugely out of pro­por­tion to their num­bers, and their progress be­came some­thing of a busi­ness phe­nom­ena. Many of those Quaker com­pa­nies still ex­ist to­day, no­tably the con­fec­tionery and choco­latemak­ers Cad­bury, Fry’s and Rown­tree; cookie and cracker firms Huntley and Palmers, Ja­cob’s and Carr’s; along with ma­jor bankers Bar­clays and Lloyds.

Mr. Palmer, an ed­i­tor at The Daily Mail, and a scion of Huntley and Palmers, has trawled the archives of Clarks and un­earthed some novel in­sights. Iron­i­cally, Huntley and Palmers, the largest cookie fac­tory in the world at the time, bailed out the shoe com­pany in 1863.

Queen Vic­to­ria vis­ited the shoe firm’s stand at the famed Great Ex­hi­bi­tion of 1851. “Very pretty,” her high­ness com­mented.

Dur­ing the Crimean War, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment re­quested that the com­pany make sheep­skin coats for the troops. At first, Clarks de­clined the or­der based on moral prin­ci­ples, but then de­cided to use the prof­its from mak­ing the coats to build a school in the town of Street.

One of the com­pany’s most fa­mous shoes was the Desert Boot, in­vented by James’ great-grand­son Nathan Clark while he was serv­ing in Burma with the Royal Army Ser­vice Corps in 1941.

The boot was de­scribed in a 1957 ad­ver­tise­ment as the “world’s most trav­eled shoes” and has been sold in 100 coun­tries. It was named one of the “Fifty Shoes That Changed the World” by the Bri­tish De­sign Mu­seum in 2009. Ten mil­lion pairs of the boot have been made, and for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair as well as noted celebri­ties — for­mer Oa­sis singer Liam Gal­lagher, Ri­hanna, Rob­bie Wil­liams and Bob Dy­lan — of­ten donned a pair. Be­fore them, Hol­ly­wood ac­tresses Mar­garet Lock­wood, Anna Nea­gle, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer and Mar­lene Di­et­rich all mod­eled Clarks shoes. Even soc­cer player David Beck­ham was a poster boy for the footwear in his Manch­ester United days.

The com­pany has weath­ered some bumpy days. In the early 1990s, af­ter a bit­ter feud, share­hold­ers voted by the slimmest of mar­gins to keep the com­pany pri­vate and avoid go­ing the way of so many other Quaker firms that had been bought out, no­tably Bar­clays and Cad­bury.

The firm’s longevity is a tes­ta­ment to his­tory, as fam­ily firms sel­dom stand the test of time. Ac­cord­ing to the United King­dom’s In­sti­tute for Fam­ily Busi­ness, only 13 per­cent of fam­ily com­pa­nies sur­vive to the third gen­er­a­tion. Clarks has gone on for seven.

The com­pany now has more than 290 stores in the United States and Canada, with 130 more planned for open­ing by 2016.

Clarks has re­mained true to its Quaker foun­da­tions in its com­mit­ment to its work­force and the lo­cal com­mu­nity of Street. Around 80 per­cent of the share­hold­ers are fam­ily mem­bers, and the re­main­der is owned by em­ploy­ees or for­mer em­ploy­ees. The com­pany’s brand aware­ness for com­fort­able shoes has re­mained in­tact for nearly 200 years. Clarks’ longevity de­served a book, and Mr. Palmer has pro­duced a slice of Bri­tish en­tre­pre­neur­ial his­tory worth record­ing.

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