Time and time again
Home sweet home

Boss Swap - Mrs S

The first programme in the Boss Swap series (shown second by ATV) was less dramatic, but almost equally pointless. The story so far seems to be that people get very upset when you suggest that you should change the way you run your business, though it clearly makes things more difficult when they deliberately choose bosses with very different styles.

The setup was once again two companies that operated in totally different ways. Union Industries manufactures automatic doors, and focuses on quality rather than quantity. There is a clear management structure, and it seems as if nothing is allowed to disturb the smooth running of the factory. By way of contrast, Barneyz manufactures scaffolding parts, and focuses on being able to respond quickly when orders are placed. There is no real management structure, and the factory is perpetually trying to catch up with demand.

The formidable boss of Union Industries, Mrs S, set about trying to make Barneyz more organized. Her plan was to pay a premium rate for overtime and build up buffer stocks so that they could plan production rather always "chasing their own tails" trying to catch up. She largely succeeded, but within days of leaving all of this was reversed - they stopped paying a higher rate for overtime and sold off the excess stocks.

Dave, the boss of Barneyz, had greater difficulty making an impact at Union Industries. His plan was to increase production, which made sense because they were clearly operating below capacity. His idea was to allow the workforce to go home once they had met the production target for the week, and in the longer term he would obviously have increased the production targets. However, this was blocked by the Engineering Director, who was worried about possible quality problems. Dave decided not to force his plan through, and in the context of the programme he came out looking good whereas the director appeared inflexible and narrow-minded - especially when he rather unwisely commented in front of the cameras that Dave was not achieving anything.

It reminded me of "Troubleshooter", a BBC programme many years ago when Sir John Harvey-Jones (ex-boss of ICI) was sent to various companies to recommend how they needed to change. Most memorably, he went to Morgan cars and discovered that they were setting prices too low and not producing as many cars as they could have done. This meant that they had a long waiting list of eager buyers, but were not very profitable. Harvey-Jones made the modest suggestion that they increase production from six cars a week to seven, but this was met with stiff resistance.

Back in Union Industries, Dave also set up the PCs in the office so that they could access the Internet, and installed anti-virus software, which gives you some idea about the way the company operated. The chairman (who seemed to be Mr S) objected strenuously to these dangerous innovations, but the sales team seemed impressed.

The brief meeting between the two bosses (at the end of the two weeks) was apparently acrimonious (though it's hard to tell whether it was just edited to look that way), and neither seemed to take very kindly to the implied criticism. Certainly the staff of the two companies seemed happy to get their real bosses back, and it very much appeared that life would carry on very much as before.

Although it is slightly depressing that the two bosses seemed so unwilling to make any changes, it is also unsurprising - they had built up their companies by doing things their own way. Compare and contrast with the identikit corporate managers with MBAs who actually know very little about the real world, and you can see why the two companies were successful and the staff felt loyal towards their bosses.

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