Chapter 15: Top Management
“Now we present the first in a new series ‘Our Country Today’, in which we shall be discussing a range of issues affecting all of us. This week’s subject is modern senior management. Our interviewer is Mark Benche and our guest this evening is Sir Percival Stropes, Managing Director of United Vehicle Builders. So without further ado, over to the studio.”
Benche: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our guest, Sir Percival Stropes.
Stropes: Hello, Mark.
Benche: You’ve been in charge at UVB for three years and were recently appointed chairman of the Association of Chief Executives.
Benche: So I suppose there could be nobody better qualified to tell us about the thinking of high-level management.
Benche: I’d like to begin with your overview of the current position.
Benche: Well, perhaps you’d care to give us a start.
Benche: Er ... now, if you will, Sir Percival.
Stropes: Oh, yes. Very well. What do you want me to say?
Benche: I was hoping you’d give us your take on the performance of the economy following the recent boardroom revolution.
Stropes: I’ll put it simply. We now have more hair on our chests than ever before. The gloves are off and we are punching our full weight. That’s in the heavy division. Nowadays, when we hit ‘em, they stay hit.
Benche: Quite. Now, if we could leave the boxing analogy, perhaps you would tell us just how things have changed. I’m thinking of the widely expressed feeling that we can’t sustain our position in the world without massive investment in education.
Stropes: Nonsense. There was a report to that effect as long ago as 1884.
Benche: Indeed there was, and some would say that it was accurate, as we have been sliding downhill ever since then. How can we hold our ground?
Stropes: Easily. We merely continue with our current process of downsimpling.
Benche: Well, I’ve heard of downsizing and downscaling, but you mention something new to me, and possibly to many of our listeners. Could you explain?
Stropes: Nothing to it. One merely needs to match the skills available to the work that can be found for them.
Benche: I see. But is that not the problem? As we fail to produce people with abilities appropriate to the new age, so we decline proportionately. Some would call this social regression.
Stropes: Killjoys, the lot of them. If the Weary Willies can’t stand the heat, they should leave the kitchen. Personally, I have no qualms about facing the future. Anyway, you have to consider the alternative to downsimpling.
Benche: And what is that?
Benche: That’s raising skill-levels to match the work required, is it?
Stropes: You could say so. I’ve no time for such airy-fairy ideas. I’m a plain man and I like plain dealings. Let’s leave these things to the Japanese, Germans, French, Americans and any others who think, in my view mistakenly, that they can make a go of it.
Benche: Forthright comment. Now, if I may widen the scope, perhaps you’d tell us how you tackled the problems you found on taking over at UVB?
Stropes: Head-on, that’s how. It was a question of administration and cognisance. First, we adopted the ‘flat mountain’ system of management.
Benche: That’s intriguing. Would you elaborate?
Stropes: It’s common sense. When I took charge, we had an absurdly hierarchical set-up. There were shop-floor workers, section leaders, assistant departmental managers, departmental managers, function heads, general managers, executive directors and the Board. That was eight levels. Ridiculous.
Benche: Some people might think that was not unreasonable in a company with 68,000 employees.