The problems confronting a manager in rationalizing a small, formerly family-owned carbon strip steel factory are the subject of the present work account. Now a management consultant, kmk has worked for the Iron and Steel Federation and also the gas industry. Aged 46, he was educated at a grammar school and Oxford.
I was an industrial training officer employed by a trade association. As such I came into contact with a considerable number of firms of varying size. Some were run by career managers, some by the owners. I met a number of both kinds of men, mainly to get them to be speakers at residential courses for foremen. One day, one of them rang up and asked me if I’d like to go into business, and if so, to go round and see him at his home in the evening.
The upshot was that he had bought a business in Yorkshire that had gone from clogs to clogs in less than two full generations, and he offered me the job of general manager. I took it. I was 34 at the time, 12 years ago. I was to get £1,000 a year, plus a commission on profits, and the use of a car (a Hillman Minx), for which I was to pay £50 a year. A few days after I started, I remember being told by the man who gave me the job, that I could, if it was necessary for the business, spend up to a fiver or more on lunch; but if I did so when it wasn’t heaven help me.
My first sight of the place was on a Saturday morning in December, seven weeks before I started, when I went up to Yorkshire with my new boss and two other directors from the parent company, a hundred miles away. I remember virtually nothing from my visit, for then it was a blur of activity I was not familiar with. Looking back, I can see that I was lucky to land in a business in which the processes were few and simple. There were five main departments. Steel was prepared before heat-treatment, then in the furnace-shop it was heat-treated. There were then three finishing operations and packing and dispatch was combined with the last of these.
The only man with any technical training had been head warehouse-man. He was promoted to Production Manager, and, when necessary, operated the hardness testing machine. In addition there was a tool room with a lathe and a shaper. It was the special preserve of the chap who ran it, a man of real skill who was very much his own lord and master. There was also a hand shop staffed by tough middle-aged women with brown parcel-paper aprons, in which spring products were made. There was a raw material store and an office, and there was a relative of the founder of the business, in his seventies, who typed his own letters on an ancient machine. All told, we numbered nearly 50.
The buildings (which, incidentally, have since been bull-dozed flat) on three floors, were, I suppose, over a hundred years old. In the middle of them, there was an open, unpaved space which became very muddy in wet weather. It goes without saying that you had to cross it to get to the men’s lavatories. (For the gentle, i.e. the management and the office staff, there was a small wash-room and lavatory off the office.)