The root problem, in the opinion of Alastair Nicholson, Professor of Operations Management at the LBS, is that top management takes a profitability model of the business - not an operational one. In other words, it concentrates on the hoped-for result rather than the process by which that result is to be achieved. Some of Professor Nicholson's students - 20 to 30% of aspiring MBAs elect to take operations management courses - spend a week in line management "ankle deep in a steelworks". Then the professor asks them: "Are there too many shell plates on the floor?"
They do not have a clue how to work it out, yet the technical issues involved in recognising efficient manufacture and detecting bottlenecks are something that any manager can and should understand, Professor Nicholson claims. The problem is rather one of interest and motivation. "Thousands of operations managers go on financial appreciation courses, but virtually no financial people go on OM appreciation courses." The way to build bridges, he argues, is to push commercial responsibility down to middle management levels. He also advocates a further step: to tackle, head on, the largest and most influential group in British management - the accountants.
There are more than 120,000 qualified accountants in the UK, twice as many as in the whole of the rest of the European Community, and dwarfing the number of MBAs. Although many are in professional practice, finance or consultancy, they may nevertheless have a wide, and in some views unnecessarily constricting, influence on manufacturing.