When did it all go Pear shaped!?

Trevorw
7th November 2007, 23:04
I left Blue Funnel/Glen Line in September 1965. My last ship was, "Glenfalloch". At that time, the combined company's had in excess of 100 ships. True, there were some murmerings about a possible tie up with Elder Dempster, but they were just rumours.

Five years or less later and it had all hit the fan! Glen Line had ceased to exist, or had yellow funnels and were berthing in alien places like Immingham and Glasgow! The H boats didn't go to Australia anymore, and it seemed like the rest were just tramping?

On the face of it, it was probably just as well that I swallowed the anchor when I did; but for such a vast and prestigious company, I've never known such a rapid demise!

Apart from containerisation, (which we could have done) does anyone have any theories (or facts) why such a well managed company went to the wall?

Bill Davies
7th November 2007, 23:07
Trevorw,

This topic has been discussed in detail quite recently. It's in here somewhere!

Brgds

Bill

Trevorw
7th November 2007, 23:11
Bill

I don't subscribe to the, "Bad Management" approach. May be I'm naive, but we should have seen it coming!

cboots
8th November 2007, 02:49
But if they didn't see it coming that's bad management isn't it?
CBoots

Bill Davies
8th November 2007, 09:39
Trevorw,
I think it was was bad management and conducted by men who did not realise there was a world outside BF. As an example. Came face to face with this supreme arrogance when I bought a house off a BF Director in Lower Heswall, Wirral in 1970. He claimed he had never heard of Dan Ludwig and was barely shook my hand when he learned that I was Master in a FOC.

R651400
8th November 2007, 12:42
This chestnut has been roasted more than once in SN.
Where else can the blame lie but within the ranks of management of all British shipping that has disappeared for ever. One only has to look at Maersk.
If you don't mind me saying so but it seems to prevail throughout the entire British psyche. Shipping, shipbuilding, motor car/bike industries and so on ad infinitum all gone...
Can anyone tell me how a country such as France can maintain the above industries eg motor cars with three major marques competing successfully against Oriental competition and the UK has sfa?

cboots
9th November 2007, 00:19
France did not suffer Thatcher and thatcherism. It did not regard anything to do with getting one's hands a bit dirty as primeval metal bashing and so it supported its industries and took a pride in them, rather than sneering and denigrating them. I shall go no further as this is not really the correct site for political discussion, but we cannot pretend it is some great mystery why France still has industries that Britain no longer possesses.
CBoots

makko
9th November 2007, 02:54
ASk me why I am resident in Mexico.........!!!

Rgds.
Dave

tacho
9th November 2007, 07:23
France did not suffer Thatcher and thatcherism. It did not regard anything to do with getting one's hands a bit dirty as primeval metal bashing and so it supported its industries and took a pride in them, rather than sneering and denigrating them. I shall go no further as this is not really the correct site for political discussion, but we cannot pretend it is some great mystery why France still has industries that Britain no longer possesses.

The UK will produce about 1.3 million cars this year an increase of about 13% on last year. Unemployment in France is about 8.5% and in the UK 5.4%.

R651400
9th November 2007, 07:37
I shall go no further as this is not really the correct site for political discussion, but we cannot pretend it is some great mystery why France still has industries that Britain no longer possesses.
CBoots
Perhaps not CBoots but UK shipping management or the lack of is.
Having said that my last two foc companies Niarchos and Marchessini have disappeared from the ranks of the golden Greeks but others have arrived to take their place. You just don't read about them in the tabloid press any more.
For the record I didn't leave the UK thru disillusionment to live here, like thousands of others. My wife happens to be French.
Nor do I feel the Iron Lady is entirely to blame for the situation either.

R651400
9th November 2007, 07:50
The UK will produce about 1.3 million cars this year an increase of about 13% on last year. Unemployment in France is about 8.5% and in the UK 5.4%.
Just for the record Tacho, does that mean from raw ore or scrap to the finished product or 1.3 million cars assembled from imported parts?
Perhaps there is a 3.4% difference in unemployment, it was running neck to neck a few years ago. My point was not to have an Anglo/Gallic battle but to question why our European partners are very much still in the running and we have lost the race completely?

tacho
9th November 2007, 08:06
European partners are very much still in the running and we have lost the race completely?

That just isn't true. Heavy industry only survives in "old" Europe by virtue of massive subsidies. The UK hasn't fallen into that trap...yet.

BTW Nor do I feel the Iron Lady is entirely to blame for the situation either.
We agree on something!

cboots
9th November 2007, 08:30
Like the poster above I did not leave the UK under disillusionment either but, in similar manner, I have an Australian wife and prefer the climate. The hope of being a political refugee from the wretched woman did have its attractions, however but unfortunately we have since adopted her little brother. I do not wish to start a pan-European war here either, I am a neutral afterall these days, but great care needs to be taken in comparing unemployment figures between countries that possess differing social outlooks. In Mrs Thatcher's Britain, before my departure, one practically had to chain oneself naked to the railings outside the Dept. of Employment to get counted as unemployed. Then John Major put an end to all that frivolity by closing down the Dept. of Employment. We have a similar situation in Oz. The federal government claim a very low unemployment figure, I can't even recall what the exact number is currently but it is to all practical purposes meaningless. It must be borne in mind that those governments that have taken the Thatcher/Reagan line will always endeavour to pile scorn upon those that haven't as the whole idea of social responsiblity, of social cohesiveness etc, is a total anathema to their idealogy. Mrs. T. afterall, did famously claim there to be no such thing as society. If you believe that is the way to go well fine, but keep in mind that the fastest growing industry in the US outside of defence, is the building and operating of prisons. Incidentally, the USSR always claimed zero unemployment.
CBoots

demodocus
9th November 2007, 09:19
I don't subscribe to the, "Bad Management" approach. May be I'm naive, but we should have seen it coming!

Through 1968 and early 1969 I was at Mawson, Antarctica. Toward the end of my sojourn I thought it would be a good idea to start looking for a real job again and radio-telexed RE Hutson at Blue Funnel about the possibility of returning to the fold after spending time as Mate/Master on FOC's.

He replied a week or so later that my return to the Company would be most welcome but "under circumstances which are now becoming apparent and having regard to your ongoing career" he wouldn't recommend it.

That was in November 1968. That's how early they knew they were going down the gurgler.

R651400
9th November 2007, 12:59
Heavy industry only survives in "old" Europe by virtue of massive subsidies. The UK hasn't fallen into that trap...yet.
How can the UK fall into a trap that doesn't geographically exist?
Surely subsidised heavy industry is better than no heavy industry at all?
I think the late Fred Dibnah MBE would agree on that one!

tacho
9th November 2007, 13:09
I think the late Fred Dibnah MBE would agree on that one!
Reply With Quote

Pity we can't ask him.

Bill Davies
9th November 2007, 13:51
One or two posts above give examples of BF demise being apparent in the late 60s and I believe that was probably due to people being generally dissatified with the BF/ED amalgamation. On reflection, and putting nostalgia aside how could they survive with the workpractices found in that company and not found elsewhere at a much earlier date. Examples would be:
- Not working by a ship ( left within hours of berthing and joined on sailing day) Cost of the shore gang!!!
- HMBS vans (half a dozen blue painted wagons each belonging to a different depart). A Marine controlled wagon taking a few 'runners' or 'topping lifts' over to Gladstone from Odyssey would not under any circunstance allow a 'fuel pump' to be loaded.

There must be many practices in vogue at the time which I am sure contributed to BFs demise. Interested to hear more.

makko
9th November 2007, 16:33
I think that the original question is one of life's "great rhetoricals"!! BTW, all the other industry questions aside, try and get a casting in the UK! While I was working back in the UK (2000 - early 06) we were invited to refurbish a proprietary machine in Holland. After having checked deliveries, availability etc. we gave a six month programme, having verified that the casting for the drive would take three months to produce and machine. Well, a golden coconut to those of you that guessed! The casting took NINE months for delivery!!!! It was only about 4 foot diameter! The reasoning behind the shop's delay (Middlesbrough) went from the absurd to the sublime and then to the derogatory! The client was very understanding (fortunately) and said that we should have used the workshop 6 Km up the road from them! (We checked and their delivery would have been 4 weeks!)

Its not just BF. Will the last one out switch off the lights!

Rgds,
Dave

R651400
9th November 2007, 18:02
Pity we can't ask him.
We don't have to..
Fred Dibnah through his programmes lionised everything that was great and British.
From the Whitworth screw to the ingenious and mighty Tower Bridge engines and other great British industrial achievements too many to mention.
Now there is beggar-all, or as I said before sfa..
End of story..

tacho
9th November 2007, 20:13
From the Whitworth screw to the ingenious and mighty Tower Bridge engines

Yes but none of it was subsidised. That was the point I meant to make.

The fact is that the rest of the world now has the technology and also a vast supply of cheap labour and it doesn't suffer from British conservatism and love of restrictive practices. No use banging on about old glories.

makko
10th November 2007, 02:38
There is a serious move to relocate "off shore" work to Mexico. Labour rates are higher but the educational standards are good and it borders the Pacific, Atlantic and USA. There is some serious modernisation being done at Mexican ports to accept vessels like Emma Maersk. I agree too on subsidies, US Merchant marine, Germany, etc.

Dave

Tai Pan
11th November 2007, 11:22
not her fault, try the unions in the 50,s they did more damage to the UK than anybody.

Bill Davies
11th November 2007, 17:40
John,
If we are fosussing on what went Pear Shaped with the BF I don't think the Unions had much involvement as you will remember the Unions had very little impact on 'the China'. Generically, I would agree the Unions and their brothers in the ITF were instrumental in the demise of British Ships.

kevinseery
20th November 2007, 22:30
The way I see it is that the accountants took over. They told management that if they put the capital they had tied up in ships into a building society they would get a better return without the risks. As for the company, it didn't disappear! It took the money and diversified into enterprises that would give a better return. Unfortunately ships didn't figure in the plans. It wasn't just Blue Funnel that disappeared but the majority of the Merchant Navy. And the process is still going on. I was working for Everards who have just been swallowed up by James Fisher. There are very few British companies left and unfortunately thats what passes for progress I'm afraid.(Smoke)

Chouan
20th November 2007, 22:38
not her fault, try the unions in the 50,s they did more damage to the UK than anybody.

But if we are discussing British shipping generally, and BF in particular, what did the Unions have to do with that? Ellermans, for example were doing very nicely as a British company, with Indian crews going deep sea. What did unions have to do with them? Yet their interests in shipping disappeared along with all the rest of the "good" companies that weren't unionised to any extent.

Hugh Ferguson
21st November 2007, 13:43
We all know when it went wrong. Click on this to know why and how!
www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=7575&page=2xhighlight=British+Leyland

Chouan
21st November 2007, 15:36
What your link gives us is a variety of conflicting views. All of which we've all heard before.
How about entrenched restrictive conservative management, suddenly being replaced by "young turks", a change in technology with containerisation that we, the Brits, were too slow to pick up on? Rather than "the unions"? Given that a good half of the "good" British companies had Indian, Chinese or West African crews, you can hardly blame "the unions" for the decline of the British Merchant Navy.

John Campbell
21st November 2007, 16:00
We all know when it went wrong. Click on this to know why and how!
www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=7575&page=2xhighlight=British+Leyland

Hugh, there is an element of truth in what you are saying. We remember the power of the Trade Union Leaders and how these men , Scargil,Dash etc. were household names in those dark days. It is a great pity that the management of our great companys, Blue Funnel, Clan and P and O could not stand up to them but they had to bow to the Government of the day. Being slow to adopt new technology is only part of the answer as I well remember the new technology and the nightmares that that brought us when companies were sold the latest labour saving devices. Engines that would not start, valves that would not shut etc.
Now might be a time for the UK to get back into shipping. The World is crying out for good management,officers and crews, but alas the UK cannot find the men/women. Seafaring is no longer seen as an attractive or exiting way of life.
JC

Orbitaman
21st November 2007, 16:12
I fail to see how Arthur Scargill was instrumental in the decline and fall of the british shipping industry. The industry as a whole was already in terminal decline before he or his contemporaries appeared on the scene. It is interesting to note that two of the three companies you quote either weathered the storm to a greater extent, in the case of P&O and went on into the 21st century before effectively departing from the shipping industry, or were forced out of business by poor financial decisions, as in the case of Clan Lines parent - British & Commonwealth - whose accountants decided that money was to be made in commercial property, just before the commercial property market crashed.

K urgess
21st November 2007, 16:59
Doesn't anybody else find this constant fascination with the demise of the British Merchant Navy boring?(Cloud)
It's gone. The same arguments are trotted out every time the subject comes up, which is about once a month.
We have in the blue corner those that blame the unions and in the red corner we have those that say they were sold up the river by the management/government.
Enough already.
The chain between generations going to sea has been largely broken and it's irrepairable. Maybe in about 100 years someone will decide a mistake was made and try to resurrect it.
The world has changed. Something had to give and it was our pasts that did.
Besides this thread is supposed to be about Blue Funnel which, as far as I can make out, is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Steve Woodward
21st November 2007, 17:57
I Do Yes (Cloud)

Geoff_E
21st November 2007, 18:08
Well Gents, this one can run and run; there is no one answer to Trevor's initial question.

Management in the, so called, "blue chip" companies was largely, woefully conservative and by the '70's too many general cargo ships were well past their sell by date. Our continental competitors were much quicker to respond to changing trade patterns, though they too were not immune from "heads in the sand".

Offshore oil; a glittering prize where rich pickings might have been made, but no - sadly again the boat was missed (pardon the pun!). Not only missed but it contributed to the downfall of several long-established companies. Only Houlders seemed to show any real spark of initiative there and it was a bit faint hearted after the initial splash with "Orelia" (Arguably one of the most successful offshore vessels ever, if more than a bit uncomfortable to live on!).

Then, there was "us". Officers and men of the established companies who changed from being an asset to an overhead when the era of the "bean counter" dawned. I spent most of my time at sea with BP and the change of attitude from ashore was very obvious from the early '80's. Suddenly, instead of being a flexible hedge against the charter market, the vessels were expected to become profit generators. Fine, if we hadn't had a fleet blighted by the dead hand of BP's naval architects. There were many fine, modern, well equipped, tankers around at the time but most were FOC (Greek?) etc.

I don't that's a unique picture, I'm sure the same can be said of the cargo companies and their ships too. I think really though that it boiled down to the good old British Shipowner who saw easy profits elsewhere and didn't have the will, foresight or acumen to remain in a fast changing and competitive business.

Hugh Ferguson
23rd November 2007, 12:54
What your link gives us is a variety of conflicting views. All of which we've all heard before.
How about entrenched restrictive conservative management, suddenly being replaced by "young turks", a change in technology with containerisation that we, the Brits, were too slow to pick up on? Rather than "the unions"? Given that a good half of the "good" British companies had Indian, Chinese or West African crews, you can hardly blame "the unions" for the decline of the British Merchant Navy.

There wasn't just one factor that contributed to it-there never is. But if you tried to pin it down to the major factor, I would suggest that shipping, being so highly internationalised, just got too competitive for us. There were lots who could, and would, do it cheaper.
Blue Funnel, especially, went hopelessly off course by building faster and more complex conventional cargo ships-fabulously expensive to run and needing large crews. I would not have liked to have been a manager at that time of such dramatic change.

tacho
23rd November 2007, 16:44
It goes back a long way have a look at this link (http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/features/353906/how-labour-unrest-nearly-lost-us-the-battle-of-britain.thtml)

Bill Davies
23rd November 2007, 20:12
Just a thought on this thread. In the 70s a Management Consultant ( these type of consultants were still in their infancy and were Harvard/Chicago Business School graduates) was hired by NBC to rationalize ( if that was possible) the management style within that company. Two points are made.
1. A questionnaire was circulated asking all employees to design a 'logo' for the company funnels (It would have had to be small).
2. One of the management 'gurus' was heard to say in one of the Manhattan diners that they were going to 'straighten Mr Ludwig out'.

1.a The reply's to the questionnaire were in the main based on the 'winners' artwork who showed 'Two hands stretching a dollar note' ( as thought it was a dish cloth and it was being 'wrung out')
2.a. The 'guru' and his team were dismissed that very day soon after 'old DK' heard about the comment.

Ludwigs SMS ( called General Directives those days) were well ahead of there time and it's template emulated by many today.

Ron Stringer
23rd November 2007, 22:02
In the 70s a Management Consultant... was hired by NBC to rationalize the management style within that company.

In the mid-1960s Marconi Marine employed a firm of American management consultants to improve the efficiency of the installation and service engineers visiting the ships in port. Every activity was given a 4-figure code and all time spent had to be logged and coded in accordance with this scheme. The data collected was posted back to Chelmsford where it was entered onto a mainframe computer by a team of card punchers and the results passed to management. Another team of people was employed to look at the engineers' job sheets and try to ascertain where time was being wasted and why some ships needed more service than others. Very labour intensive and costly but no attempt was ever made to compare the costs of implementation of this system with any savings or efficiency improvements.

This system continued for over 30 years but there was never any detailed analysis of the cost/benefits. Like the previous "uncontrolled" or "unmanaged" system, this data collection system became custom and practice and an end in itself, without offering very much to the business.

While they were observing the service engineers at the depots, the consultants were surprised by many "anomalies" of the business, and made proposals for changes. For example there seemed to be much activity in certain times of the day or night, with very little happening for long periods in between. These seemed in some way to be related to the tides (ridiculous, I know, whose business could be affected by the moon?).

Another thing was that if an engineer left the East Ham (London) office to visit ships in the Royals or the West India docks, around tide times they might easily spend an hour or more sitting on the road waiting for bridges to open or close. This was completely wasted time, due solely to the stupidity of the PLA which insisted in closing roads to allow ships, tugs and lighters to pass into, out of and between the docks. If they could be persuaded to arrange all such movements for the night time, when the engineers were not working, great efficiencies could be achieved.

Ships insisted on calibrating direction finders at sea, involving the engineers in long down-river passages, followed by only an hour or so's work carrying out the calibrations, only to have to board a pilot boat and undergo another long, slow journey back into port. (That is if the weather permitted and didn't necessitate the engineer being over-carried to the next port of call.) Marconi should refuse to carry out these at-sea calibrations and insist that the owners arrange for the work to be carried out prior to sailing.

Somebody save us from management consultants.

Chouan
23rd November 2007, 22:24
It goes back a long way have a look at this link (http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/features/353906/how-labour-unrest-nearly-lost-us-the-battle-of-britain.thtml)


Not that a right wing magazine like the Spectator might be biased in its reporting of events in the 1930's!

tacho
23rd November 2007, 23:19
Not that a right wing magazine like the Spectator might be biased in its reporting of events in the 1930's!
Reply With Quote

Well I guess for an academic to agree with anything in the Spectator would be professional suicide.............now where did I put that Salisbury Review!

demodocus
1st January 2008, 00:42
I found quite an interesting document that looks at the effect of the container revolution on Blue Funnel, Ben Line, Hapag-Lloyd, and P&O here :-

http://www.merchantnavyofficers.com/brakebulkliners2.html

The end of that address is "/brakebulkliners2.html" .... doesn't appear when I paste it.

Bearsie
1st January 2008, 03:42
A view from the outside perhaps?
The first time I came to the UK with a coaster was in 62. The place looked quaint to me and the people rather polite. A lot of the machinery seemed more antique than anything else, and some of it rather labor intensive. Like steam colliers for instance.
In a way it appeared as if the country somehow lived in the past. And in a very real way it did. People seemed to think the Empire was still alive and well and providing, after all Great Britain had won the war?
So I think a lot comes down to cultural differences. Germans knew they had lost the war and got on with life. Germans also knew that Communism or any variation thereof would provide little.
The slogan There was: "Free Market Economy with Social Responsibility". It seemed to work by 1970 the West German standard of living was almost twice the British, oddly enough, East Germany had almost the same standard of living as the UK (minus free travel), but how much traveling can poor folks do?
What always stood out in my visits to the UK were the extremely polarised labor relations and class war atmosphere...
While Germans (and others) were modernising Brits elected opposite governments every few years, first to nationalise everything in sight, then the next government to privatise it again. A huge waste of energy and money.
Constant strikes over nothing, shoddy workmanship. People on the continent still bought MGB's, but they made sure they had another car on hand to get to work on time monday morning. I had 2 MGB's by the way, a 1974 and a 1980, one of the last made, I was in the US by then.
British trucks were no longer sold on the continent.
A comment was made how underpaid and overworked British workers were after the war, and old tools to boot... They obviously never checked about working conditions in Germany or other places on the continent.
Germany had failures too, little by little they shut down their oversized coal industry.
In general I believe the Union - Management animosity played a large part in the demise. This in part was caused by the difference in set up. Germany ( and others) had (and have) industrial unions where England had "crafts" unions. So in those countries the question who would turn a switch never became an issue. One example of the "emotional" difference: The company I worked in still had bullet holes in some parts from the war, it was 3rd (5th now) generation family owned, Company fell on hard times, we volunteered for a 15% limited time pay cut so no one would lose their job, which was later repaid. Every man was a "company man" regardless of rank... We all somehow realised that without the company doing well, we wouldn't do well either. Yes we were union.
Thatcherism, seems from the outside looking in that she wanted to stem the decline of her country, IMO she did rather well, although I doubt that everyone liked her approach.
Currently it looks like the UK is doing rather well, even cars are being exported again, new jobs growing in new industries.
Shipping and ship yards are down the drain, but such changes happened in other places too. The UK just took harder to some of these changes based on history, but it is changing. Could it have been a leader in some of them rather than a follower? Perhaps? Hard to say.
Historically speaking everything goes in waves, Empires rise and fall. Great companies disappear and new ones grow...

In a nutshell, Great Britains future looks pretty good. :)

tacho
1st January 2008, 10:58
In a nutshell, Great Britains future looks pretty good.

Bearsie I hope you're right.

I agree generally with what you say. Unfortunately in Britain whilst we have many creative, able, and principled people we also have a flaw in our culture which ensures that they infrequently attain positions of influence.

railroadbill
9th January 2008, 18:54
Well staed Bearsie. I think you are spot on.

Chouan
9th January 2008, 19:36
Our management style is obsessed with "input", rather than "output", ie you have to be seen to be working hard, relatively regardless of outcome. Hence, as long as you are seen to be working hard, it doesn't matter too much whether you are acheiving very much. On the other hand, if you are not seen to be working hard, it doesn't matter what you are actually acheiving, you are clearly not a good worker. This applies to all areas of endeavour, whether it be work or sport.

makko
9th January 2008, 20:27
With reference to Bearsie's comments, I must say that I agree with Chouan. I went back to work in the UK and Spain from 2001 until 2006.

I work as at sea, very attention oriented and efficient. Well! Lo and Behold! I was chastised several times by senior management and they indeed told me in no uncertain terms "Look like you're busy!". Further, without blowing my own trumpet too much, my little Bailiwick was the only area that was making profit! I am well glad to be back Expat.

Rgds.
Dave

Hugh Ferguson
9th January 2008, 22:27
To understand the sequence of events which led up this national disaster you could not go to a better source than Marshall Meek's book, "There Go The Ships"; ISBN: 1 84104 045 2; published by the Memoir Club, Whitworth Hall, Spennymoor, Durham, in 2003.
Marshall started his naval architect's career in the Caledon Shipyard and lived and worked through all of those tremendous up-heavals in British shipping annals.

R651400
10th January 2008, 18:31
Just a teensy weensy thought on the issue of this thread.
In my case does one think that the descendents of Alfred Holt & Co.,
Stavros Niarchos and Philip Marchessini give a tomtit about our metier going pear, lemon, banana or any other shape?
I very much doubt it!

makko
10th January 2008, 20:40
R651400

Valid teensy thought.

However, this thread was hijacked and veered severely off course early on. Despite calls for reason, it rose like a cursed mutant phoenix from the ashes of venom fuelled pedantry.............

Anyway, see Post 1. The original idea was "quaint" and nostalgia.

Rgds.
Dave

Chouan
13th January 2008, 19:51
Referring back to the management style, there is also the "us and them" mentality between workers and management. The management, generally despising and mistrusting the workers and the workers reciprocating.
On the other hand, the Merch wasn't free of this. Officers, perhaps not despising the crew, but not respecting as much as they should, and certainly not trusting them. Crew similarly not respecting the officers, and getting away with things when they could. Not always, but certainly in some cases.
Similarly I think that many of us will have sailed with Old Men who were convinced that his officers were lazy and untrustworthy, and who was constantly checking up on them, trying to catch them out.
Again, office wallahs often seemed to despise and distrust "ships' staff", and the feeling was certainly returned with interest. Marine and Engineer Superintendants sometimes picked up the "Office wallah" attitude; when they did, they always got it worse!