An organic chemist and businessman details his unusual journey in this debut memoir.
After losing his job in 1983, Australian chemist Killick, a father of three, came to an unexpected decision with his wife, Judy, a part-time teacher. They resolved to buy a 50-year-old chemical plant in Melbourne and go into business for themselves. Although the plant had “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin,” writes Killick in his introduction, “the book records how we reached the point where the grave was filled in whilst the banana proved to be a good fertilizer.” They later found success through the production of “Ee-muls-oyle”—an oil used in the raisin-drying process—and the acquisition of a number of patents. The author and his wife then traveled the world selling their products; eventually, they sold the initial plant and upgraded to a much better facility. As Killick recounts the ups and downs of growing the business over the course of several decades, he makes side trips to inform readers of his early life, his Christian faith, and his deep love of and fruitful marriage to Judy (they refer to their partnership as “the Punch and Judy Travelling show”). He also showcases his goofy sense of humor, which he didn’t hide from his potential business partners. Killick writes in a lighthearted, enthusiastic prose that frequently betrays his own surprise at his own good fortune: “I have a habit of turning to Judy and saying, ‘Drying grapes has got us into some unexpected, quaint places!’ ” The sections of the book dedicated to the building of the chemical company—replete with incidents of improvisation, luck, and near-disaster—will interest anyone who has run, or hopes to run, their own business. The biographical sections, however, are a bit less compelling, and their nonchronological distribution throughout the book makes for an uneven reading experience. That said, readers who have experience with family businesses will find much in common with the author, who’s an entertaining guide through his own story.
A cheerful, if unevenly written, remembrance about marriage, business, and chemistry.