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The Reyrolle Story: 39 Divisionalisation

Robert Owen tells of the biggest change in the history of the giant Tyneside manufacturing firm, Reyrolle.

Frank Krause, from the General Electric Company was appointed Manager of the Switchgear Division with Brian Tully as his Deputy. Not surprisingly,' Ham' Hamilton, who had occasionally criticised the Company for the relative neglect of Relay and Protective Gear, was appointed Manager of that Division. A few months later, the firm of Nalder Bros, and Thompson was absorbed by the Relay and Protective Gear Division and the old Nalder's factory in London was moved to Hetton-le-Hole near Durham City. Also in 1971, Reyrolle Belmos was formed by merging the Company's MVED with Belmos Peebles and the Ashington factory.

This "Divisionalisation" as it became known, was the biggest change in the history of the Company. Some pessimists thought it was the first step towards the break-up of the old Reyrolle organisation, others said, "It won't make much difference because 85% of the workforce still work in the Switchgear Division." Nevertheless major changes were made to personnel and factory layout to suit the needs of the new Divisions.

In the midst of all this change, Reyrolle acknowledged for the first time that a Personnel Function exists in such an organisation. Previously, it had got by with a mixture of Employment, Education, Training, Safety and Industrial Relations Officers. This was changed in February 1971 when Mr G Urwin was appointed Head of a new Personnel Services Department.

Rationalisation (as well as divisionalisation) was the key word in Reyrolle at the time and the firm's seven boiler houses with a variety of coal, gas and oil boilers did not escape. A large new central boiler house with three 140 foot high fibre glass chimneys was built to serve the needs of both Hebburn and New Town Works.

Frank Krause didn't stay long at Reyrolle before he moved across the river to Parsons. The general understanding for his early move was that he went to Parsons as an "Axeman" with the sole purpose to initiate a major redundancy programme. Many people thought he left his Deputy, Brian Tully, to do the same thing at Reyrolle. Others speak highly of him saying at least he attempted to improve communications within the Company.

He certainly tried to do that at the Supervisory Staff Association Annual Dinner on Friday 21st April 1972. When replying to the traditional toast "to the Company", he said, "Reyrolle is undergoing probably its most difficult period in its long history and this is likely to continue for some time yet." He explained, "We have recently received criticisms of our quality and deliveries, compared to other European manufacturers which have lost us important orders." Ending his speech he said "Everyone can help to win orders by doing their best to ensure that quality is maintained and delivery dates are met. Only if we do this will we obtain a greater share of the orders available. This must be our objective. If we don't get more orders, then unfortunately we will have to reduce numbers even further."

Tully's rallying cry to the workers and what some people called "the big stick approach" didn't work. Possibly one of the reasons was Reyrolle's aging workforce who were reluctant to change and who sought refuge in early retirement. When another offer of redundancy was made, hundreds of workers jumped at the chance. With natural wastage and the many redundancies, the number of employees fell to less than 7,000 by 1972. About 5,000 had gone in less than five years.
Although this mass redundancy created many problems, it also provided opportunities for younger Reyrolle employees to redirect their skills to perhaps a more satisfying career. The Company's hidden talent was released. Some chose self-employment, one fitter used his amateur experience to enter the world of stage and TV, another retrained to eventually become Head of Music at a local secondary school.

The academic world also benefited greatly from the trouble at Reyrolle, as many engineers sought jobs in Further and Higher Education at both home and abroad. Alex Williamson became Principal at Hebburn Technical College and later Ipswich College of Higher Education. Robin Miller(Cork), Jim Harle (Canada), Arther Wright (Nottingham), David Lidgate (Edinburgh), Martin Wedepl (Vancouver), Chris Cox (Sunderland), Colin Adamson (Manchester) and David Little (Huddersfield) all became Professors at Universities. Fen Arthur rose to the dizzy heights of Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Huddersfield University and Norman Shaw left to train for the church.

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To purchase a copy of Robert's book please click on http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reyrolle-Story-History-Co-Ltd/dp/1905295073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678876&sr=1-1

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