A fresh management breeze in Silicon Glen. High-tech in the Lowlands breeding more democratic, less stuffy style
Glasgow — A more modern, democratic, and less class-ridden management style is infiltrating Britain - especially here in Scotland. In part, this new style is arriving through the electronics industry, which is mostly nonunionized. To a large degree, these industries are owned by companies based in the United States and, increasingly, Japan.
Business executive Llew M. Aviss knows the difference between new management methods and the old stuffy and privileged approaches typical of Britain in the past. Several years years ago, when he started work with an auto parts company in Coventry, England, he would drive up to the plant entrance in the morning and an employee took over the wheel of his car. That attendant drove it away, vacuum-cleaned it, washed it, filled the tank with gasoline, and returned it at the end of the day when Mr. Aviss left for home.
Aviss ate lunch with other executives in a special dining room, his meal served on a tablecloth and with genuine silverware. (There were two other canteen levels offering less fancy provisions for the other employees.) Tea was delivered to his office. He had a separate bathroom.
That West Midlands company was in deep financial trouble when Mr. Aviss and another ''modern'' executive took over its operation. Management and labor were at loggerheads. The company had a grim strike record, frequent brief work stoppages, and high employee turnover. It was unionized and workers had an extreme ''them-us'' attitude to management.
The two new managers abolished executive privileges. They established direct communications with the employees, not always going through union officials. They organized a team of senior management and directors (the ''Old Contemptibles'') that would accept a challenge from employee teams for almost any game - football, rugby, volleyball. The goal was to abolish the jealousy, suspicion, and hostility that characterized management-labor relations, Aviss said.
Over time, the changes worked. Productivity rose, turnover dropped, product quality improved. And the company survived, despite severe competition and a recession in auto sales in Europe.
Four years ago, Mr. Aviss joined National Semiconductor (U.K.) Ltd. at Greenock, Scotland - a subsidiary already practicing the modern management techniques of its Texas parent.
Many British companies, noted Mr. Aviss, who is National Semiconductor's ''support service manager,'' are dropping the old-fashioned distinctions between management and employees.
''The extension of class systems into the working system doesn't do anything for you,'' he said over dinner here. ''I wish the trade unions would recognize that.''
Nor, of course, has all company management made the shift in style - union resistance or no union resistance. But in general, management has modernized and become more active. The role of unions and shop stewards has been diminishing.
Enjoying especially rapid growth over the past 10 years, Scotland today has some 270 companies in the electronic industry, many in such ''new towns'' in the Lowlands as Glenrothes and Livingston. Industrial-development officials say there is enough demand for electronic parts and services to generate a ''snowball effect'' in what is sometimes dubbed ''Silicon Glen.''
This past spring, for example, National Semiconductor announced plans for a $ 131 million expansion at Greenock that will create 1,000 jobs. The company claims it will have the world's first ''meaningful'' production center for 4-, 5 -, and 6-inch semiconductor wafers, the first step in the production of silicon chips. The Scottish plant now makes 4-inch wafers, the standard size.
Between 1979 and 1983, 18 multinational companies expanded their operations here, and six others started up operations. Half a dozen British companies expanded their plants, and 43 located new plants here. The nation has enjoyed something of an explosion in domestically owned high-tech firms in recent years.
With the decline of such traditional industries as shipbuilding and steel production, the growth of the electronics industry has been more than welcome in Scotland. The Scottish Development Agency vigorously bids for investments by American and Japanese companies, offering generous financial, tax, and other incentives. By now the industry employs some 42,000, very welcome in an area where unemployment runs about 15 percent.
The industry has brought social change. Although mostly nonunionized, it is in a part of Britain where the Labour Party generally wins elections. Since the Scottish electronics industry is mainly engaged in manufacturing and subcontracting (vs. mostly software, sales, and research and development in the electronics region west of London), the firms employ more women - in a rather conservative society where men have tended to be the proud breadwinners in a family.
Pregnancy, says Mr. Aviss, is the prime reason for employees leaving the National Semiconductor plant at Greenock. Aviss's supervisory duties include personnel, and he has found that men are not happy to do the delicate assembly-line work necessary in electronics. ''They don't like sitting there for eight hours or 12 hours.''
Aviss says National Semiconductor has ''deeply enshrined'' a merit-pay system for its employees which takes account of output per hour, quality of product, safety consciousness, and other factors.
A democratic style of management also prevails at ACT (Computers) Ltd. in Glenrothes. Rick Bainbridge, production manager with this maker of personal computers, notes that there is a ''single status'' for all employees. None of the 135 employees punch a clock. Everyone, including assembly-line workers, is on a monthly salary. There is a common cafeteria. The office area and shop floor have identical features in furnishings.
New office workers spend five weeks helping out on the shop floor - ''screwing things together,'' Mr. Bainbridge notes. There is an ''open-style management,'' involving meetings of everyone once a week to report on corporate and plant events.
''Everything is there to eliminate us versus them,'' Bainbridge says.
A brochure boasts that the company uses ''the very latest Japanese production techniques'' in turning out the ''Apricot.'' That's a new personal computer, designed in Britain, which has quickly become the fourth-best seller in this nation after the Apple, IBM's PC, and Sirius, another computer of US design sold by ACT. The company, part of the Applied Computer Techniques (Holding) PLC group of companies, started selling Apricots in the United States only this summer. The group's sales have been growing at a 40 percent annual rate for about a decade.
In Livingston, another company naturally uses Japanese methods. Nippon Electric Company set up NEC Semiconductors (U.K.) Ltd. to make 64-K RAMs (random-access memories) for the European market. Production, which started last year, has gradually moved up to about 1.1 million per month, noted Masamichi Shiraishi, managing director.
''Our basic policy is harmony,'' he said. ''We are trying to harmonize the Japanese way (of management) and the Scottish way. Until now it is successful for us.''
All the plant's workers meet every morning for five minutes to hear Mr. Shiraishi tell the latest news (like this reporter's visit later that day). But they don't sing a company song or do calisthenics, as they might do in Japan. Mr. Shiraishi goes about the plant a couple of times each day, talking to the employees about both work and personal affairs. There is one canteen for all employees. Shiraishi has a desk in the open-style office area (although he also has a more private office). ''We have good communications with one another,'' he maintains.
These modern styles of management appear to be successful. Shiraishi says his small assembly plant has already reached 90 percent of the productivity level of similar Japanese plants. Other managers make similar points. And that is one good reason that modern management techniques are now spreading in Britain.