Reunion 2016 – Guest of Honour

Peter Turrall
Peter Turrall

Introduction to our Guest of Honour, John Shrigley by Peter Turrall, Chairman of the MVA

Mr Patron, Madam President, fellow Veterans

It give me great pleasure to introduce today our honoured guest, John Shrigley.

First of all many congratulations, John, on your recent wedding anniversary celebrating 50 years of married life, well done. (applause)

I first met John when I was overseas sales manager for Tom Mayer in MCSL in 1985. Sir Robert Telford had called me to his office to discuss a project following my recent visit to the Argentine and John was on a visit to New Street waiting to see Sir Robert. At that time I did not know him and it was not until we sat down for lunch later that I found out that he was the director of personnel for GEC Marconi.

After that I recognised him, you couldn’t but help recognise him, he never walked anywhere, he ran.  And I can remember him coming from the top floor down the stairs right the way to the front offices.

John has been involved in personnel, nowadays the world’s word is human resources, following his degree at Durham University. The word human resources, I find, rather a strange name as it conjures up many thoughts far removed from personnel.

Following his appointment as personnel director GEC Electrical Components in 1969 John became personnel director of GEC Marconi in 1976 and for 15 years he reported to Sir Robert Telford. A real move up the ladder came in 1991 when John was appointed personnel director to GEC reporting to Lord Weinstock at Stanhope Gate. In 1994 John decided on a career change working away from large organisations and he became a consultant as well as a civil service commissioner.

At employment tribunal decisions he was an appeals member, a magistrates selector as well as a selector of police authorities in Beds, Herts and Cambridgeshire and finally before retiring in 2002 he was for 13 years a member of the council and vice chair of Brunel University where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.  Now I really should have addressed you John as Dr. John, I do apologise.

Now in his spare time he manages to play golf helps with charity work and even finds time to enjoy family life especially with his grandchildren.

Well John, you’ve had a varied and interesting career and I feel sure you will be giving us an insight to some of the more interesting happenings especially your associations with both Marconi and GEC companies so before I ask you to come up and say a few words, John, we’d like to make you an honorary member of the Marconi Veterans Association and I hope you wear this tie with distinction. (applause)

So, fellow Veterans please raise your glass to welcome our honoured guest Mr John Shrigley. – John Shrigley.


John Shrigley
John Shrigley

Response by John Shrigley

Madam President, Chairman, Veterans, thank you very much.

I was going to concentrate on one or two war stories from Africa and I will do but since you’ve mentioned Stanhope Gate and Lord Weinstock it might sort of kick off with one of those. There are quite a few people here, certainly Tom Mayer remembers, Robbie Robertson, Don Mott and David you’ll remember that annually each company had to present its budget to Lord Weinstock. The budget was presented personally to him and he would put the fear of God into many managing directors – not Tom Mayer.. So with trepidation they would go because this man was larger than life, dominating, domineering perhaps, certainly an autocrat, however, on one occasion we were settled in his office and because there were so many companies presenting their budgets he would have several companies on one occasion; he had a massive office and there may have been 20 or so people in the room. And Lord Weinstock was particularly concerned, as many of you may know about cost. Costs shouldn’t happen and employment costs were of course a significant part of our activities. And that’s why I was there just to help managing directors get through the questions they’d be asked about employment costs, and one of these was recruitment expenses. We were the biggest employing companies. Companies were constantly recruiting engineers and others and we needed to scour for UK people. And we found one of the finest medium, or the best medium to use was the Daily Telegraph so we were frequently advertising. And Lord Weinstock asked

“Where was this money going?”

“So well you know we do spend a lot of money on advertising”.

“Where do you advertise?”

“The Daily Telegraph”.

“You mean you are spending all this money on the Daily Telegraph”.

“Well yes, it’s quite expensive but it’s the most effective”.

“Right, well we’ll put a stop to that. Miss Elscom (his secretary) get me Conrad Black”, who at the time was the boss of the Daily Telegraph. Conrad Black comes on the line.
“Conrad, I’ve got these Marconi people, they’re telling me that in fact they’ve got to spend millions with you on advertising. The costs are over the top and I’m sure you and I can come to a deal”.

The room was very quiet and Lord Weinstock he didn’t say a word and he put the phone down and said

“I lost that”.

Now that’s, that’s a bit unusual for him, he’s used to winning every argument and for those in the room it was an unusual experience. Needless to say we didn’t get any mention, any further mention, of employment costs from then on.

Coming closer to home, pay negotiations in my secondary period we might talk about, a couple of stories. On one occasion, you’ll remember that in fact in Chelmsford it was a massive negotiation took place; a lot of people who would benefit from the negotiations with the thousands of people employed. And so it was a significant negotiation, it took some time. But eventually it would be concluded and Don Mott would pay, and others indeed, pay employees their increases within about a couple of weeks, a remarkable achievement for thousands of staff. And one day I got a visit from head of personnel, very proud he said “We’re going to computerise”.

Well, that sounds encouraging I’m sure we’ll welcome that. How long is it going to take you to implement the increases?

Six weeks, which is astonishing it seemed to me and we didn’t take him up on that.

Another occasion negotiations had been going reasonably well but there needed to be some sort of game changer to complete the deal. And Hugh Jones with his management team of negotiators came into the office and said. “Look we want to offer staff conditions to manual employees.” Now at that time that was revolutionary. The engineering industry practically, that is to say all manual staff had conditions which involved, for example, waiting ……. And many of us over the years have said this is absurd. You can have a time-serving worker whose modest conditions compare to his 16 year old daughter who’s a typist, but we did nothing about it because it was all too difficult.

Anyway. Hugh Jones had seen the light, he wanted the same conditions for all manual workers. Now normally we wouldn’t bother going to GEC’s headquarters to discuss what we were doing, we’d get on with it. This is one of those cases when I started having worries. And lots of people said look what’s going to happen if all the manual workers go sick because now you’re giving them indubitably higher benefits from a pay point of view man for man.

So I phoned Stanhope Gate. There was a pause

“Who wants to do this. You realise this is very unusual; on your head be it”.

Anyway. Phone down. We went ahead and Hugh you will remember said in fact far from seeing a substantial increase in sickness I think there was a minor spike for a very short time and it settled down to normal staff levels of sickness and it was a major innovation.

One or two personalities past and present. First, Robbie, Robbie Robertson, who as you all know has a substantial career in Marconis. I recall when he was appointed, Arthur Walsh asked him to come and see him.

“Robbie, I want you to take over Norsk Marconi”.

He was a wily bird, Norsk Marconi was a real problem. Small, it took too much time no one wanted to spend any time with it and I think Arthur took advantage of Robbie

And I think many managing directors would have said

“Well, I’ll give this one up there are more important things to do”.

But not Robbie, not only did Robbie visit Norsk Marconi on many occasions and spend serious time with them but he also or at least started with the language but certainly he endeavoured to correspond with them and keep them on board. My abiding recollection is of Robbie and I walking down a street in Oslo in the middle of February at 14 below zero.

There was an occasion, you remember Marconi College, it would have been 1977 when one of the directors decided that he wanted to appear as a woman. Now I think Roger it’s probably before your time. Now that’s commonplace these days. In 1977/78 it was not commonplace at all, it was exceptional and unusual. And the menfolk were very fussed about this and they made me think there were maybe concerns but one concern that they had was what to do about the toilets. And we fussed about it and we couldn’t decide, then it was mentioned to the ladies and eventually one among two or three said “What are you fussing about we go into cubicles so there’s no need to worry about those”. So that sorted out that problem.

I’d like to finish with a little story about a former president in fact Robert Telford. Marconi being so dominant in Chelmsford, the Marconi city, Sir Robert would invite any newly appointed senior person in other companies or activities for lunch at Marconi’s, for example, the chief executive of the local authorities. On one occasion the new general manager Paul Varian. And he was invited for lunch. Just the three of us, lovely lunch. Sir Robert had to go out and I took charge of him. As he turned to leave he looked back at Sir Robert’s retreating figure he said “You know if ever I was fat I would hate to be fat”.

Thank you all very much for having me, clearly Marconi Veterans Association is flourishing and I hope it will flourish well in the future.