What were the 60s like for business?

It's 50 years since MT was first published, so we've trawled the archives to bring you some golden nuggets from times gone by. First up: 1966-70.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 09 Jun 2016


On the quiet British high street, disruption was afoot. Back when nobody outside of Germany had heard of Aldi or Lidl, a new breed of self-service grocery chains was gobbling up market share. As these supermarkets expanded, they often found it hard to let go of the family business mentality. Tesco founder Jack Cohen told MT in 1968 that he couldn't help interfering in everything from the price of peas to the state of the toilets. 'I'm the biggest nagger in the business; I like to see things kept alive.'

Data dump

We may like to think that IT has transformed beyond recognition since the days when computers were the size of a small tank, but even in 1967, they contained more data than we knew what to do with. The result, 'although it does not smell and is only visible to experts, is something uncomfortably analogous to a slum - a wasteful congestion of programs and data'.


'The 2,000 shareholders at Volkswagen's annual jamboree in Wolfsburg didn't like it,' wrote Wolf Luetkens in October 1967. Back then, of course, the problem wasn't nitrous oxide emissions or crippling regulatory fines, but innovation - VW needed new cars to wean consumers off the 20-year-old Beetle, which had 4.7% of the US auto market. What the board of supervisors would give for a problem like that now.


The milkround hasn't become any easier since 1966, when a Cambridge grad called Martin Sorrell wrote a piece about it for MT. The future WPP boss once mused what it would have been like had he stuck with journalism: '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 trying to find university graduates in a garage in Shanghai.'


Oh dear. The days when MT would be the great champion of women in business were sadly still far in the future, as this ad (below) from 1968 shows. There were some stirrings of hope. In 1967, Bryan Cooper wrote dismissively of the modern PR: young, overpaid and overwhelmingly male. 'There is one all-woman firm, whose head finds that "in a man's world, a woman has to work that much harder to compete".'

SATIRE  60s-style

MT has always had an irreverent sense of humour. Today, it’s the exploits of Smokehouse’s comms chief in Smoke & Mirrors).  In the 60s, it was all Minipute – Europe’s only manufacturer of ‘expendable computers’.


Environmentalism - '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°C. 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.' September 1969

Knowledge economy - 'The main challenge to management is to make knowledge productive. A hundred years ago, nobody knew how to make the manual worker productive. It was not until the end of the century that we found that the answer was to work wiser, not harder. Yet we still do not know how to make knowledge workers productive.' December 1967

'There are ideas for using lasers and nuclear reactors to incinerate wastes into fine ash.' April 1968

'Men have started to live underwater for extended periods, conversing in squeaky voices produced by oxygen-helium mixtures, and going out to work in electrically heated frogman suits.' The oceans are a 'new, risk-worthy technological frontier ... which could become as important and worthy as aerospace.' March 1969

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