Newsletter 2013

“Will you achieve the half-year review?”

Don Mott, formerly Financial Director MCSL and MIMCO

Readers may remember Dr John Robinson at the 2007 Reunion relating his memories of budget meetings with Lord Weinstock. Here, Don Mott recounts his own experience.

The acquisition of English Electric by GEC in 1969 was quickly followed by radical rationalisation and reorganisation in that GEC was, for management purposes, divided up into management groups such as, for example, GEC-Marconi. Within each management grouping new companies were incorporated and for internal purposes referred to as management companies. In the GEC-Marconi grouping these were initially MCSL, MRSL, MSDS and MEASL.

Each management company, whilst contracting in the name of the asset owning company which for the GEC-Marconi grouping was The Marconi Company Limited (and for MEASL Elliott Brothers (London) Limited) had to send detailed financial reports on a monthly basis to the GEC at Stanhope Gate and the bank balances on a daily basis via GEC Marconi. Bank balances were required to be sent so that overnight deposits could be made and to establish the banking position of GEC as to whether the whole of GEC was in debit or credit with the banks at the end of each day.

These monthly reports compared three schedules, each detailing last year’s actual and current year’s actual and budget for the month and cumulative to date; namely business ratios/percentages (six in total), summary of results and a detailed balance sheet, together with a commentary recording business prospects and reasons for variances against the previous year’s actual results, and the budget for the following year.

Budgets were not unique; we had done them progressively prior to the take-over on a company basis but now the data was more intense in that additional schedules to the now three page report were required. Draft budgets were forwarded to GEC Marconi and, at a meeting chaired by Bob Telford, discussed, amended and finally forwarded to Stanhope Gate where the meeting would be chaired by Arnold Weinstock (once by Kenneth Bond however when AW was ill). All meetings were in London, except once when AW came to Chelmsford.

On arrival at Stanhope Gate the attendees were accompanied to a waiting area where one would find other company representatives awaiting their ‘grilling’. At this time no-one was aware of the batting order but eventually we were told, and at this moment trepidation set in, particularly if you were to be first, as it seemed that later companies had a softer ride!
AW’s PA would arrive and usher everybody into the inner sanctum, his office, where he would be sitting at his desk, normally in shirtsleeve order, reading reports.

The attendees for the first company to be interrogated would sit in chairs directly opposite him: whilst the other company representatives, and GEC Marconi and GEC corporate attendees, sat on the surrounding chairs. At this time, being in the spotlight, one could imagine how the accused in the dock felt being before Judge Jeffreys at the Bloody Assizes or indeed a gladiator at the Coliseum waiting for the thumb movement.

The meeting would commence with a review of the last month’s report, and on conclusion he would ask “will you achieve the half-year review?” I don’t know of anyone admitting potential failure!

The budget was the next item and, as always, the emphasis was for continuing improvement, particularly in orders, sales, profit and cash balance (irrespective of GEC and GEC Marconi taking 50% each of the budgeted profit). Questions were asked, responses given and points made particularly on the detailed overhead schedule which was obviously his ‘bête noire’. Eventually the meeting would draw to a close with a “reconvene at 2 o’clock” or, if in the afternoon session “who’s next?” Never ever was the term rejected or accepted used.

Notwithstanding having attended twelve or so such meetings with four different managing directors, one was relieved to have survived these sessions, particularly later in the adjacent hostelry. Lasting memories, some quarter of a century later:-

  • the cigar story when AW dined with Lew Grade
  • being rebuked with the remark “if you have something to say let us all hear it”
  • the oil paintings of two racehorses in AW’s office, one being ‘Troy with Scobie Breasley’ the other ‘Ela-Mana-Mou’, both Classics winners, reflecting AW’s and his son Simon’s interest in the sport of kings
  • the dumbstruck managing director who did not respond to a question re R&D expenditure. I endeavoured to respond but to no avail and was rebuked with the remark “I suppose if you have engineers you have to give them something to do.”
  • one managing director owes me a fountain pen!