6.  The Consultants

Our Directors took part in our Trade Association Golf Competition on an annual basis and learned from the amicable directors of the successful Newman Hender Company of Woodchester, Glos, that they were tackling their problems by employing some new-fangled, so-called experts, known as industrial consultants and these were pretty bright boys who were full of good ideas.  A meeting was arranged in our offices with the same consultants as Newman Hender employed and at 2.30 pm one afternoon Urwick Orr Partners came on their first visit to us.  

Cuthbert Meynell.

The meeting was quite hilarious as my father, Cuthbert Meynell, was in an entertaining mood.  A lot of the first meeting was spent by Father swapping funny stories with them but after at least half an hour he said: “You buggers have got a bit of a cheek you know, coming to a company like ours and trying to tell us how to run our place.  We’ve been in business for over 150 years and you can’t know much”.  

He then explained that he could not stay any longer as England were playing Wales at Wembley and the second half of the match was being televised; and if they wanted to see it they could come to his office as long as they kept quiet. 

Judging from the expression of bewilderment and unbelieving registered on their faces I can assume that this type of invitation was pretty unusual to them.   

Anyway, Father disappeared to his office where he had a couch and a TV and my cousin, Lionel Meynell, and I resumed the meeting.  We were very impressed by  Urwick, Orr, & Partners and they were appointed on an 18 month contract at the huge sum of £300 per week We were told that Joe Cross would be the senior consultant supervising the assignment and the resident would be one of their “more senior residents”, D E P Howard. 

Euan Howard, aged about 27, arrived on a bicycle for the first day’s work when the contract started. He let the cat out of the bag when he told me in an off guard moment that this was his first assignment.  He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met and in a short time was very popular with the factory personnel.  He kept his private life very private and was totally accepted by the workforce and staff. I later found out, by piecing together his off duty activities, a bit more about him. The picture gradually unfolded that he was a very different person in his private life to his works image. His grandfather had owned the Bank of Montreal and had left £18m when he died. Also Euan was heir to a Baronetcy and was later to become Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal. He travelled on a bike from his lodgings to work, because his car licence had been taken away and he flew home at weekends in his private plane from Wolverhampton Airport to the Isle of Colonsay.  He owned the Isle (his phone number was Colonsay 1).  He had served in the Navy during the War, when he had commanded a Motor Torpedo Boat.  Much later, in 1979, he became Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Air when he was Lord Strathcona in the House of Lords.  The personnel in our Company knew him as Euan and he was popular in the offices and on the shop floor and he did a good job for us whilst working at the Company.

I was assigned to work with him on a daily basis and his first task was to put an individual incentive payment scheme into the various sections of the shop floor. The basis was that an operator was timed doing a job and the time was written on to a Standard Sheet which was then increased by a percentage (already agreed) to allow reasonable time for relaxation, toilet and hand washing.  The total figure was assessed by assuming the operator to be working hard and the final figure was increased by 25% so that the operator was rewarded with an easier chance of earning extra bonus for hard work. Payment was fixed by the weekly wage divided into minutes and therefore operators were told that the Company would pay, say, five minutes for machining a plug cock body and if it was machined in 4 minutes they would still be paid for five.  Euan Howard spent long periods of time in meetings with chargehands and union representatives, explaining in great detail how the system worked.  To do this a Union representative had to be found or elected.  The Machine Shop had never bothered too much on Union matters as Albert Maxfield was the Shop Steward Convenor who settled everything.  I think that Urwick Orr found this most unusual and were quite astounded when they asked if there were any questions at the end of meetings to be told “If the Meynell gaffers say its okay, then it’s alright with us, as we trust them”. 

The first section to be attended to was the Fine Boring and Turning with Boneham and Turner lathes, also Bryant Excello.  The young ladies were highly co-operative and they were satisfied when their wages increased and the Management were satisfied with the ensuing increase in production. 

One of the young ladies, Miriam Bond, married “young Albert” Tilley in the Foundry and when “Old Albert” died, after more than fifty years service, “young Albert” reverted to Albert in his own right.  He had been with the Company for nearly 40 years when he retired in December 1982.

Another young lady was Jeannie McGregor, a very cheerful, good looking and high spirited girl who left us to get married at 26 years old.  Their chargehand, Albert Holmes, was still with us, as Works Director, having completed 48 years with the Company when he died in December 1982. 

The embracing of all departments of our factory into the Time and Motion Study, which was required for the Incentive Scheme, gave me a splendid opportunity of getting to know very many, if not all, of the factory employees and I sincerely believe that this helped me to form a balanced point of view, when industrial problems were discussed.  It was a time for learning about our products and how they were made. 

All was not a bed of roses however.  One day I was asked to study Ted Wesley who operated a hand lathe.  He was threading an inside screw into a big 3” hose coupling.  When I had finished the time assessment he asked what it was and when I told him he said it was not enough.  I enquired why not and he recounted that only two people on the ground could inside-screw such a large unit - himself and Ron Adams;  he maintained that this was a job of considerable skill.  I was slightly dumbfounded and asked him what he had in mind and he said “Your Grandfather was a fair man who would have given me another 10%”.  So I offered to agree to this, saying “How would you view that?”  He replied “In the Pink” - an old Black Country rejoinder often used when you asked someone “How are you?”.   

Urwick Orr & Partners left us after approximately 18 months, during which time their resident consultant, Euan Howard, was replaced by Walter Hewitt and their senior consultant, Joe Cross, by Bob Till.  Their work schedule had included putting the operators in all productive departments onto an individual “payments by result” scheme which, by and large, seemed to be cheerfully accepted by the workers and management as a rewarding step forward for each of them.

In the middle of the UOP assignment I was sent to their school at Stoke Poges near Slough to attend one of their management courses lasting six months. This was probably the first indication that our company was moving towards an era of a more professional approach for its thinking strategy.

When UOP had finally departed I moved to the Sales Office where I worked under the Senior Clerk, later to be Sales Manager, Sidney Evans.  He had a great knowledge of our products and was a most conscientious, hard working gentleman who had completed over 54 years with us when he died in 1980.  

This was a period when we tried hard to get more customers for what were termed “specials”.  These basically constituted producing a special product to a client’s own design and specification, usually working from a drawing or a sample.  One of these products was an air closing cock to control the mechanism on the braking systems for commercial vehicles and it was supplied to Douglas Ltd of Kingswood, Bristol.  We must have made hundreds of thousands of these over the years and if ever I found myself trapped by some uninteresting female at a cocktail party and she enquired “What do you do, young man?” I used to take the greatest delight in saying “I make vacuum cut-off cocks” and watching their faces, which usually showed bewilderment or horror and the conversation was hurriedly changed.  That product was typical of how we could adapt to make almost anything, usually in bronze but occasionally in brass or cast iron or aluminium, providing it was within the size parameters of our machine shop.

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