MT 40: Scrapbook 1960s

Harold Wilson's white-hot hi-tech revolution was under way, the Beatles had released Rubber Soul and England was about to win the World Cup when MT set out its stall ...

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Last Updated: 27 Jan 2016

APRIL 66 - Management Today is born

The cover story on the first issue of MT was the takeover of Wall Paper Manufacturers by Reed Paper. Elsewhere, there was was a piece on US TV company RCA predicting that Britain was 'only 18 months away from a colour television revolution'.

MT was also in at the birth of two post-war British industrial legends - GEC and its autocratic boss Arnold Weinstock. 'The General Electric Company has been so transformed in the last five years that "doing a G.E.C." has become a catch-phrase for the regeneration of ailing giants,' wrote MT's founding editor Bob Heller. 'Yet Arnold Weinstock, its 42-year-old managing director, whose theories and actions are primarily responsible for G.E.C.'s revival, says that "we are not half-way in terms of the efficiency of some operating units".'

By the late '70s, GEC-Marconi - as it had become - was the UK's largest private-sector employer and a world player in everything from consumer electronics and white goods to defence technology, with a reputation for parsimony. The ennobled Lord Weinstock retired in 1996, and in 1999 GEC's defence business was abruptly sold to BAE Systems for £7.7bn. The firm, renamed Marconi, refocused its efforts entirely on the then booming telecoms sector. Even in the heat of dot.com mania, this extraordinary decision raised more than a few eyebrows. Not without reason, for by late 2001 the firm was in meltdown, with debts of £5bn on sales of only £2.5bn.

Its paper value - £25bn just a year earlier - stood at a mere £867m, surely some kind of grim record for the destruction of shareholder value. CEO George Simpson and chairman Roger Hurn resigned, having presided over one of the most spectacular and calamitous corporate failures in British commercial history. The Marconi name is now owned by Ericsson of Sweden.

OCTOBER 66 - 'Whiskers with wonder strength'

Nowadays, carbon fibre-reinforced materials are used in everything from aircraft and racing cars to bicycle frames and protective clothing. But 40 years ago these long black fibres with a miraculously high tensile strength had only just been invented. One of their first experimental uses was in the fan blades of a huge Rolls-Royce jet engine called the RB178. 'This is the engine which Rolls proposed for the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet,' wrote MT, going on rather presciently to add, 'and which could power a giant European Airbus'. R-R lost the 747 deal to Pratt & Whitney, and the RB178 never saw the light of day. But its direct descendant, the Trent 900, did indeed power the new Airbus A380 superjumbo on its maiden flight last year.

DECEMBER 66 - Sorrell sows seeds of discontent

A youngster just down from Cambridge called Martin Sorrell penned a forthright account of the graduate recruitment milk-round. Forty years on, we asked ad supremo Sir Martin what might have happened if he'd pursued a career as a wordsmith. 'I doubt whether I'd have got very far - keeping to deadlines was not something I found easy. Writing my essay in our annual report causes angst. Perhaps I might be a venture capitalist in China trying to find university graduates in a garage in Shanghai.'

MARCH 67 - Old boy network

A profile of the directors of 102 leading UK firms gives a snapshot of what looks like a clubbable life in '60s boardrooms (above). Then, there was no need even to ask if any of them were women.

APRIL 67 - 'Why Vauxhall relaunched the Viva'

Anyone who remembers the Viva these days is probably wondering why they bothered relaunching it at all, but in 1967 this car was going down a storm. 'Vauxhall cars have been called many things,' said MT's man in the driving seat, Geoffrey Nicholson, 'usually epithets like roomy, comfortable and sensible. But never "the prettiest car of the year" (Car Mechanics), "svelte" (Queen) or "deserves to be evaluated in almost sexual terms" (Car).'

OCTOBER 67 - Constructing Concorde

Concorde's last flight was in 2003, but in the early days of MT it had yet to make its first. We reported on the construction of the iconic supersonic airliner thus: 'The Cleopatra of the aerospace industry, Concorde represents the most ambitious attempt yet to wrest from the Americans their natural pre-eminence in long-haul aircraft.' We also revealed that leading US airline Pan American ordered six Concordes in 1963 (never delivered).

We hinted at the many troubles yet to come: 'Despite its design excellence, British airframe manufacture could become a sort of "British ship building industry" of the air, possessing all of the skills but not enough of the world market.'

DECEMBER 67 - You couldn't make it up ... Attitudes to nuclear safety have hardened since this snippet, in which plans to use atomic explosives to speed up railway construction were mooted - yes, really: 'This is a proposal to blast a colossal railway cutting through a range of hills in southern California ... Twenty-two nuclear charges ranging from 20 to 200 kilotons would be needed.'

No. of directors per board 12
Average age 56
Average remuneration per director £13,000 p.a.
Average length of board service
9 yrs Professionally qualified 27%
Oxbridge educated 32%
Public school educated 71%
Business school educated 18%

JUNE 68 - Cohen's Tesco coins it

Tesco was top of MT's profitability league even 38 years ago, with 250 supermarkets and £6.7m profits (for comparison, Tesco's current annual profit is around £2.2bn). 'It's a curious paradox that in spite of Tesco's 17,000 employees and its increasingly complex operations, at the top level it still functions like a small firm,' said MT. We quoted its boss Jack Cohen (above) thus: 'I'm the biggest nagger in the business. I like to see things kept alive.'

SEPTEMBER 69 - Environmental crisis: early warning

MT has always kept at least one eye on the bigger picture, as a piece from the very early days of global warming shows: 'Some calculations now suggest that by the end of this century, enough carbon dioxide will have been added to the atmosphere to raise the global temperature by 2 degC.

This sounds very little, but in terms of global climate it represents a major change - quite enough, for example, to start irreversible melting of polar ice. A recent report from the US president's science advisory committee noted that if the Antarctic ice cap melted completely, the sea level would rise 400 feet. Even if the melting took 1000 years, sea levels would rise 4 feet every 10 years, enough to produce a catastrophic situation in almost every coastal city.' You read it here first.

FORTE IN FULL FLOW

Hotel chain Forte's had some 550 hotels and catering concerns by the late '60s - including the Cafe Royal, where this photo was taken - when MT looked at the business. Boss Charles Forte declared himself a team player: 'At the top of the line, my 15 or 20 colleagues know exactly what I think, what I do, what I earn, what I have done, what my plans are and what I feel.' The name survived (as Trusthouse Forte) until a bitter takeover in 1996 by Granada, led by Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen.

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