How we manage to fail: British industry's long-term surrender to foreign manufacturers is a direct result of management inadequacy in a society that favours the shop-floor hunch over educated decision-making And we still delude ourselves, argues Simon Cau

How we manage to fail: British industry's long-term surrender to foreign manufacturers is a direct result of management inadequacy in a society that favours the shop-floor hunch over educated decision-making And we still delude ourselves, argues Simon Cau

by SIMON CAULKIN

In all the finger-pointing that followed the near-collapse of Rover, the shadow never quite fell where it belonged. The truth is that Rover was an accident waiting to happen and the cause was the chronic national affliction - poor British management. Blaming it on a lack of commitment by BMW or the government's maintenance of a strong pound is as simplistic as blaming a car crash on the driver or road-builder, while ignoring the failure of the car's previous owner to maintain it over the past 30 years.

What happened to Rover is not an aberration but the logical culmination of a saga of decline that was of purely British making. In his account of domestic industry since the war, From Empire to Europe, Sir Geoffrey Owen calls the British-owned part of the UK motor industry 'an avoidable disaster'.

The shrivelling of the great British motoring names to just one, Rover, is in striking contrast to the world stature of continental firms such as Renault, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, even Fiat. It is a story of defeat snatched from market dominance as a result of misguided strategic choices, hopeless merger integration, technical weakness (the Triumph Herald, among others, was so badly made that it couldn't be exported) and marketing complacency. Dire labour relations were, too, a symptom of management inadequacy, not an excuse.

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