Newsletter 2009

It’s what normally happens – worry when it doesn’t!

Keith Chittenden

I was delighted to read the comments last year on Lord Weinstock’s management style by my old friend and colleague, Dr John Williams. He seems to have suffered slightly less from it than I did. I still remember being told that my monthly report should never discuss our aims and achievements but merely explain why any of the 47 statistical ratios did not show improvement. It’s difficult for companies selling only a few very high value products such as Martello (or for Yarrow a warship) to show that the second derivative of the profit ratio (ie the monthly rate of increase in profit) always continues upwards!

But one of the most trenchant and abiding criticisms of Lord Weinstock’s management style was his belief that, rather than encouraging synergy between his constituent companies, they should rather be expected to compete against each other even more than with those outside his control, and that any co-operation between his subsidiaries was not to be encouraged. (I still remember trying to explain to the President of Indonesia why three Marconi companies were simultaneously making presentations in Jakarta and bad-mouthing each other!)

The joint visit by Paul Robinson (Managing Director of Marconi Communications) and me, his opposite number as MD of Marconi Radar in 1986 to the Sultanate of Oman was thus somewhat remarkable. True, we two had previously been closely connected; I’d served as Paul’s Deputy General Manager at MSDS Frimley before both of us were translated to posts in Chelmsford in the early 1980s following Arthur Walsh’s acquisition of Marconi Group management responsibility.

But both companies had long been involved in the Sultanate, and, in typically encouraged GEC fashion, now had competing local representation. So the protocol of the joint visit was convoluted, while arrangements were not helped by Paul suffering a severe attack of shingles.

The itinerary initially concentrated on visits (usually by helicopter) to sites on which either company had previously installed equipment, but became more exciting as some of the proposed locations for Martello 713 Surveillance Radars were visited. It was, for instance, a little nerve- racking, (especially for those susceptible to altitude sickness), to visit the Jebel Akbar overlooking Muscat! But a trip to the Musandam, (the detached area of northern Oman), by helicopter far out into the Persian Gulf (to avoid Abu Dhabi airspace) was even more challenging. (Although we all regretted the recent death of the then newly designated Head of the Omani Air-Force who had lately died there in an air crash at Masalah).

We two MDs and our cohorts were first flown to Gebel Hamza (a proposed radar site) and there abandoned for an hour or so. It was difficult to forget that earlier personnel marooned there had perished from cold. We then flew on to Goat Island overloading the Strait of Hormuz. Here we were briefed by a British captain seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Navy. An American destroyer had positioned itself in the Strait and reaction was immediate. The Omani Navy (under British control) dispatched a gunboat, while Iranian, Omani, and US aircraft (ex Masirah Island) appeared on patrol. This confrontation was dismissed by the local British commander as ‘What normally happens – worry when it doesn’t.’

Then we were all were flown to a picnic lunch on an uninhabited island once used as a repeater station on the telegraph line established in the mid 1980s to permit British communication with India. It was unfortunate that our visit coincided with one arranged (with very special permission to afford them privacy) for officers of the Sultan’s Army.