1970 - 2020 and going strong
Fifty years might seem like a long time – but to us it has just flown by. And one reason might be that Collinson Grant still helps businesses and large organisations to improve their performance in many of the same ways it did way back in 1970:
- building the right organisational structure
- maintaining a firm control of costs
- improving productivity and the return on assets
- getting the best out of people
- designing and implementing efficient processes (now often using digital technologies)
- creating strong and lasting relationships with all our clients.
This is the approach that has served us well during some turbulent times and when economies have been doing better. It’s not set in stone. Over the years we have learned a great deal from our clients and tried to put it into action. These are just a few of the highlights:
Collinson Grant was incorporated (as Collinson Grant Associates) on 1st December 1970. The extract below is from the original Memorandum which describes what the business expected to do.
Len Collinson and James Grant were both in their early thirties but with quite different backgrounds. Len, most recently, had been Director of Manpower at Plessey Telecommunications plc. James Grant was Area Manager for Incubon/AIC, the management consultancy that was undertaking a major assignment at Plessey. Diana Wroe, who became Company Secretary, dealt with the administration and answering the phone - originally from her front room. Hugh Dayton, an experienced mining engineer, had joined the business, also via Incubon, by the summer of 1971.
That same year Len’s colleague, Ron Fulford, a Financial Controller at Plessey, had left to become Managing Director of Stoves, a Newholme-Veritas company. Ron became Collinson Grant’s first client in a job to design and implement an improved payment system at the Rainhill factory near St Helens. A decade later, Ron Fulford was an important conduit for many much larger assignments.
Our first job on the shop floor at Stoves factory in Rainhill, Merseyside
Other early work came from relationships - some from a network of former Plessey contacts, others from managers in the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) where Len had also worked. Turnover for 1971 was a modest £40,000. Other directors soon joined. David Jones, was a Personnel Executive at Otis Elevator; he went on to lead Collinson Grant's work on employment law and HR with distinction. David had skills in wages and salaries administration, incentives and employee relations.
Pip Mosscrop had been an Industrial Engineer at GKN and had led a major reorganisation of CWS. He specialised originally in works study and management services and energetically managed many major jobs. Alan Payne joined in 1980 and later went on to run Sapling Enterprise, which managed the Lancashire and Merseyside Investment Fund.
Industrial unrest and economic crises!
The early 1970s held some inauspicious signs for a new business: an oil price crisis in 1973 which heralded sky high inflation; a stock market crash in 1973/74; the three day week imposed by the Heath government in early 1974 - in order to conserve electricity during industrial action by coal miners; and steadily rising unemployment throughout the decade. What’s more the country made the momentous decision to join the European Economic Community!
Nevertheless, Collinson Grant thrived. A model built on proven skills, strong relationships and measurable results withstood this early economic onslaught and began to prosper.
Jogging with clients
Len Collinson started writing a regular newsletter called the Client Jogger in 1975. It was a melange of news, comment and opinion - meant to entertain, amuse and inform those who were on its mailing list. Content was sometimes irreverent, often opinionated and usually thoughtful. It was both a powerful marketing tool and a useful running commentary on current economic conditions: recessions, inflation, boom and bust, Mrs Thatcher and whatever else.
The Colburn way – understanding our customers’ priorities
The 'Profit Centre Manager'
Richard D Colburn died at his home in Beverley Hills in 2004 at the age of 92. Born in Illinois, educated as an accountant, with early experience in the rag trade, Richard Colburn became an influential entrepreneur, investor and business owner in the United States. He also had a significant impact on Collinson Grant. His memoir highlights several familiar business tenets:
- 'decentralisation' – empower managers by pushing responsibility down to the line level, that is, the profit centre level
- 'return on investment' – apply this measure almost to the exclusion of other metrics or ratios
- 'systems and procedures' – with a decentralised model ensure there are formalised policies and operating procedures, accompanied by regular internal audits
- 'profit sharing' - profit centre managers should share in the profits realised after they have paid an investment charge to the owner of the assets they are managing. And then have the discretion to further distribute profit to other workers in the business.
This model depends on ambitious, profit centre managers with the right balance of entrepreneurial, commercial and financial skills. Getting recruitment right is critical, hence the emphasis that is given to rigorous selection and the use of psychological assessments.
In the 1970s the Colburns began investing in British companies including Edmundson Electrical, now one of CG’s oldest clients. It is a substantial business with over 300 sites or 'profit centres' throughout the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. We provide support on employment law and conduct psychological assessments for all profit centre managers, whether they are internal or external appointments. Several other 'Colburn' businesses are clients.
Some early expertise in employment law
Advising businesses on all aspects of managing people was an early feature of CG’s work. The mid-1970s saw a plethora of new legislation governing the relationships between employers, employees and trades unions: Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974, Employment Protection Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1975. In response Collinson Grant in 1978 published its first edition of ‘The Line Manager’s Employment Law’ – a practical guide on how to manage relationships at work effectively within the law - updated and reprinted every year since. The guide, now renamed ‘Employment law for line managers’, remains a popular handbook for clients.
Ten years in business: Congratulatory telegram is received from an early client, Reed Hamilton of Cooper Industries, Houston, Texas:
“Congratulations to you, your partners and your Company on this big milestone. Since you Brits do not seem to like braggers, you will have to enjoy it with your usual quiet word. We Yanks say, ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. An American says ten years is a fine accomplishment and I am sure the second will match the growth and be as interesting and challenging as the first. I will be thinking of you all on Monday night and wishing you success. Best regards from the colonies”.
Collinson Grant maintains steady, profitable growth – one reason being its developing relationship with Hanson plc and assignments to improve performance in the group’s recently acquired businesses.
Hanson Trust was created in the 1960s by James Hanson and Gordon White. It grew steadily over the next fifteen years, building a reputation as a fast-moving conglomerate acquiring and radically improving the performance of companies in diverse sectors. The advent of the Conservative government in 1979, led by Mrs Thatcher, and its laissez-faire economic policies sparked a further flurry of expansion.
In 1982 Collinson Grant was invited to join Hanson’s reorganisation team which managed and improved the performance of companies acquired by Hanson plc. This led to a number of important assignments for the company – allowing it to hone its skills in restructuring, cost reduction, managerial controls and organisation. And, perhaps even more importantly, it created the opportunity to build close and long-lasting relationships with the managers of the businesses in which we were working.
Collinson Grant’s early work for Hanson plc
The main Hanson acquisitions, operating companies and assignments in which CG was involved were:
- 1981/82 - Berec (Ever Ready) – restructuring and profit improvement
- 1982 – United Gas Industries (Hanson ‘acquires’ Ron Fulford)
- 1983 – United Drapery Stores (Allders Stores) – reorganisation and support on employee relations
- 1984 – London Brick – reorganisation, cost reduction and acquisitions (later leading to large projects for Hanson Brick in mainland Europe, the UK and USA
- 1986 – Imperial Group (Imperial Tobacco) – cost reduction, profitability and restructuring (later acquisitions in France and Spain.)
- 1989 – Consolidated Gold Fields (ARC in the UK and USA) – management accounting, profit improvement and reporting systems.
Much of the work at Hanson companies was focused on the ‘Integration of acquisitions’. This discipline remains a recurring theme for many of Collinson Grant’s subsequent assignments – in the UK and overseas. It reinforces our later strong relationships with private equity houses.
The reorganisation of London Brick was an important early assignment for Hanson plc
Sapling Enterprise: Lancashire and Merseyside Investment Fund
Private equity - a first for Collinson Grant - Alan Payne manages the first regionally-based private equity fund.
The early 1980s were a time of rapidly increasing unemployment: there were myriad initiatives, some successful others less so, to combat a politically and socially corrosive trend. Many were focused on ‘enterprise’ – supporting people taking their first steps to self-employment and helping fledgling businesses to grow. The sponsors included central and local government, charities and educational establishments.
Collinson Grant built a strong partnership with Lancashire County Council (LCC), operating under its banner ‘Lancashire Enterprises’. Louise Ellman (later Dame Louise) was leader of the council and strongly advocated the development of entrepreneurial activity. With her encouragement and others the Lancashire and Merseyside Investment Fund (LMIF) was put together. It secured initial funding from the Church Commissioners and Lancashire County Council. The fund was managed by Alan Payne of Collinson Grant under the banner ‘Sapling Enterprise’. LMIF was the first regionally-based equity fund in the UK. After careful appraisals, it took equity stakes in startup and young businesses, providing financial support with contractual buy-back arrangements.
CG Resources – diversification and skills
Collinson Grant’s experience in training entrepreneurs and supporting smaller businesses provides the impetus to create a separate profit centre to promote this work. Formed in 1986 ‘CG Resources’ develops into the largest enterprise and management training provider in the North West and Yorkshire and launches a number of innovative products – some developed in partnership with the Manpower Services Commission. It focuses on smaller businesses and supporting unemployed managers. Later on the emphasis changes to training in information technology.
Manx Government – new employment legislation
Towards the end of the 1980s officials in the Isle of Man realised that the island was vulnerable to potentially calamitous industrial action because of its outdated employment legislation. Collinson Grant is commissioned to consult with interested parties; develop proposals for new laws and regulations (with reference to UK and Ireland); review and refine papers in partnership with sponsoring departments; support the Tynwald’s draftsmen in producing Bills, secondary legislation and amendments to existing laws; and to support Ministers and politicians to get the new Employment Act and Trade Unions Act passed.
Collinson Grant develops a series of maxims describing much of the company's thinking about running businesses, profit, costs and people - particularly appropriate in the upcoming economic recession. They are neither universal nor exhaustive. Home Truths are used in training seminars for senior managers at Hanson Industrial Services – and commented on favourably by Lord Hanson in a memo he circulates to all company directors in 1991.
- Profit should always be the first charge against sales. This determines the costs that the business can afford.
- Any business that does not constantly emphasise profit will ultimately make a loss.
- Any organisation, system, procedure or individual left undisturbed for three years will become inefficient.
- Managers should treat all overhead costs as variable. If volumes fall, overheads should be cut: if volumes rise, overheads should be held.
- People tend to elaborate rather than simplify their work.
- Human resources functions (tend to) cluster on tasks that have a minimal impact on profitability.
- Any activity managed only on technical criteria will be unprofitable.
- The optional extras demanded by people can double the costs and timescale for any development.
An expanding footprint
In the 1990s more assignments are undertaken overseas mainly in Western Europe and the United States but sometimes further afield.
- Ascension Island is a remote volcanic peak situated in the Atlantic at the mid-point between Africa and South America. It remains an important communications hub. The BBC World Service maintained a broadcasting station on Ascension and administered the island on behalf of the Foreign Office/Ministry of Defence. Collinson Grant is asked to conduct a ‘value for money’ study at this remote location to ensure public funds are being well spent.
- Meanwhile, in the United States John Ryle, based in California, leads work on the restructuring of the Hanson aggregates business ARC, and in particular the implementation of transfer costing procedures first developed in the UK side of the business. Later, Hanson Brick’s first major acquisition is Belgium based Desimpel a brick manufacturing company which also has operations in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Led by David Norris, CG supports the integration of the business. Hanson then acquires Jannock Brick in North America and a large assignment follows over the next three years to restructure the new business, introduce transfer pricing and relocate the head office.
- Poland - the fall of the Iron Curtain meant that former communist regimes had to wake up quickly to a changing, competitive world. This demanded new ways of managing enterprises and people. Employment law and accompanying procedures had to be quickly redrawn and mirror more closely the approach taken in Western Europe. Richard Hendry leads the work with the Polish Ministry of Labour to help reshape employment legislation fit for a new world. Other initiatives focused on the Warsaw Voivodship Labour Office and procedures for handling substantial changes in the labour market. They were aimed at ensuring the state infrastructure was better geared to dealing with inevitable closures in large, inefficient communist enterprises in coal, steel and manufacturing.
European Consortium of Management Consultants
To help promote work throughout Europe Collinson Grant forms the ‘European Consortium of Management Consultants’ (ECMC). It is a group of independent management consultancies with a member in each country of the European Community (only 12 at the time). The Consortium offers skills and resources to support our work throughout Europe. Colleagues are drawn from Aärhus, Athens, Dublin, Lisbon and many other locations. A dinner to launch ECMC is held at Château Sainte-Anne in Brussels. It is hosted by Heinrich von Moltke, Director General of DG XXIII of the European Commission and attended by a number of other Commission officials. The event unfortunately follows closely after ‘Black Wednesday’ – when the UK has to embarrassingly fall out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).
Disseminating cultural knowledge - Château Sainte-Anne is sited on the outskirts of Brussels (near Waterloo) and its landscaped gardens contain a number of large horse chestnut trees. As it happens to be early autumn, Len Collinson decides to educate our new European partners in an ancient English pastime. A junior colleague is despatched to collect suitable specimens of recently fallen conkers and then to donate his shoe laces to facilitate the game. It’s not recalled how the critical ‘hole boring’ was achieved but after suitable demonstrations to our curious new friends a few rounds are enthusiastically played. The ‘ice-breaker’ is enjoyed by all, although colleagues from Greece, Luxembourg and Spain take some time to cotton on to the basics of this really, relatively simple game.
Important new clients in the FTSE 100
The early 1990s saw the acquisition of a number of significant new clients:
- Balfour Beatty – we worked on assignments in UK, Europe and the United States in the construction and rail engineering sides of the business, largely devoted to examining overheads, organisational structures and the options for reducing costs.
- Rolls-Royce – an initial restructuring of the Engineering Division based on a process activity analysis. It improved customer focus and design and later led to large projects in the UK, USA and continental Europe to:
- design and introduce more efficient processes
- pinpoint and eliminate inefficiencies and to cut duplication and waste
- establish controls on cost and performance through internal transfer pricing.
- Work at Rolls-Royce remains an important part of the company’s activities and has covered assignments in most of the business’s current and former divisions: aviation (civil and military); engineering; marine; and power generation.
- United News & Media – early involvement in the advertising industry secured involvement with this media giant. Work centred on combining the editorial operations of The Daily Express and The Sunday Express; designing and introducing lean processes; rationalising printing resources; improving the effectiveness of support functions; and determining the profitability of publications in a context where many services are shared.
CG Resources – spreading its wings
Study tour in the United States
Collinson Grant’s involvement with local and regional enterprise continued well into the 1990s. During the Thatcher administration it was common for government ministers and officials to visit the USA to investigate novel approaches to training, productivity and education. These would then be brought back over the pond and promoted as ‘new ideas’.
CG Resources had forged strong links with a network of local Training and Enterprise Councils throughout North West England and in Yorkshire. Marc Sussman was CG’s contact in New York – an oil executive with a broad knowledge of business and contacts throughout the US. Marc helped to put together a programme of visits to Colleges, Universities, and state and federal officials in New York State, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. In spring 1994 a party of ten chief executives, led by David Brown and Alan Payne, visited the US for a one week study tour. They had the opportunity to discover ‘new ideas’ first hand, discuss them in depth and judge how they might best be applied in the United Kingdom.
Management training in Portugal and Spain
CG Resources organised a development programme, funded by the European Commission, aimed at helping young, female arts graduates to secure a first job in management. An initial training programme in Manchester was followed by work placements with small firms in Portugal or Spain. Our partners in the European Consortium of Management Consultants helped to set up and supervise the overseas secondments. For example, did you know that a bakery in Bolton regularly (daily) supplied barm cakes to the numerous fish and chip shops in Benidorm and all along the Costa Blanca?
Russian managers visit Brussels
Evgeny Brödsky was a Russian entrepreneur who asked Collinson Grant to help him develop stronger ties with the European Commission. The deal was settled with a glass of champagne at Colgran House. We organised a three-day programme of visits to the Commission’s institutions and officials in Brussels. It was for a group of managers from various industrial concerns throughout that vast country. They listened eagerly for some of the time but seemed to look forward more intently to lunch, which was always washed down with plenty of beer. An attempt to provide some culture in the evening programme with a visit to a concert was thwarted by a popular vote to attend a rather less respectable venue.
Building pan-European businesses
Collinson Grant undertakes more research into the development of businesses that operate seamlessly throughout the European continent. The study concludes:
‘Pan-European structures follow from a radical examination of markets, supply chains and the structure of costs. There is no single market in Europe but there is a multiplicity of different consumer and business-to-business groupings. What is certain is that more and more often these are not defined by national boundaries.’
The report generates useful discussions with clients and leads directly to work with a new client that is attempting to create a pan-European commercial structure. We worked with their country managers at a seminar in Oslo to develop and test new ideas.
Partnerships with prestigious business schools
Collinson Grant undertook a number of research projects in collaboration with Manchester and Warwick Business Schools. In 1991, the Company funded a four-year doctoral scholarship at Warwick Business School. Morten Andersen, a Danish post-graduate student, won the award and presented his successful thesis on how employment practices were transferred during European transnational mergers and acquisitions. Morten has gone on to have a successful research career in pharmaceuticals.
Managing costs in the public sector - Improving efficiency and effectiveness
In 2004 Sir Peter Gershon was commissioned by the Labour government to review efficiency throughout the public services. In line with this initiative Collinson Grant is asked to test the efficiency and effectiveness of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) worldwide, field organisation. CG’s report, at times controversial, shows how up to 1,200 jobs could be saved in the UK and overseas – with related cost savings of £87m. It also points out how working practices and managerial controls could be improved.
"The FCO Board has considered the Collinson Grant report. It re-committed itself to achieving the £87 million target (of savings) and agreed to incorporate the Collinson Grant work as far as possible into the FCO's existing Efficiency Plan.”
This ground-breaking work was reviewed by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons and was considered important enough to warrant a front-page article in the Financial Times.
The work at the Foreign Office led to a number of other significant jobs to restructure, reduce costs and improve productivity in central government departments, including:
- Department of Health: costs and organisation
- Her Majesty’s Prison Service: reducing indirect costs
- Home Office: costs, structure and efficiency
- Ministry of Justice: working practices
- UK Border Agency: organisation and costs.
Disseminating good practice: Collinson Grant starts to publish a series of management handbooks based on its experience and skills built up over forty years working with clients in many sectors:
- Managing indirect costs – 2010
- Managing productivity - 2011
- Managing restructuring – 2012
- Managing organisational design - 2012
- Managing third party expenditure - 2017.
Confidentiality and security
Client confidentiality and the security of information has always been a high priority for Collinson Grant and remains so. A number of large clients are in the defence and nuclear sectors but confidentiality is important for all.
Having held ISO 9001 for several years, Collinson Grant was also certified to ISO 27001 in 2018 – the international standard for information security management.
Digital innovation and new investments: Fiyah, then Gigil
Increasing numbers of CG’s assignments demand skills in the application of digital technologies to improve performance and exploit new ideas. Investment in operations, supply chains and the management of people provides fresh opportunities for working with existing and new clients. It demands additional resources and a broader skills base.
CG supports the launch of two new digital businesses in online retailing: Fiyah – distinctive silver and gold jewellery and Gigil – exclusive babywear garments.
Fiyah and Gigil: two online businesses exploiting new technologies and applying proven business disciplines
An unrealised acquisition sparked the idea for Fiyah – a new digital business, which has grown quickly and managed to capture a significant share of a profitable market. When the proposed purchase of a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ jewellery retailer fell through it sparked the idea that there was an excellent opportunity in online sales.
The fledgling business had to learn how to adapt quickly, use modern online channels to reach customers, and develop jewellery products that are attractive to the broad but well-defined profile of its customers. The show case web site https://fiyah.com was designed and built in-house.
Gigil – launched more recently - presents an original range of baby clothes and related products made from organic cottons and sustainable materials. It also uses online channels and innovative marketing to focus on a closely-targeted customer profile. Using similar technologies to those first developed in Fiyah the company is in an earlier stages of development – but confident that there is a robust market for its distinctive product range. Its web site is at: https://gigil.com
Digital transformation is not just about alternative markets and online sales channels. New businesses particularly need up-to-date managerial information and effective controls. In its early days CG’s staff worked alongside Fiyah and now supports Gigil to ensure that emerging digital processes not only improved customer service and order fulfilment but also generated operational data that supported effective decision-making.
Important new clients
Strong relationships, good work and value for money remain the key ingredients of the company’s success. Attention to detail and excellent customer service should be a given. These elements provide the opportunity to continually renew and sustain Collinson Grant’s client base. New customers arrive from different sectors and with different needs:
- The AA
- Amazon EU
- Barratt Developments
- Bovis Homes
- Hexaware Technologies
- Hong Kong Aero Engines
- Jaguar Land Rover
- Low & Bonar
- PHS Group
- Scottish Rugby
- Shepherd Group
- Speedy Hire
‘Who needs a consultant?’
Collinson Grant has clients in many different types of organisation and in diverse sectors throughout the world. Why do busy executives choose to use our services and what do they really need?
Why use a management consultant? Is this what they really need…
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
As Collinson Grant moves towards its sixth decade there is a feeling that although many things have changed – and still are changing at a rapid pace – there are many aspects of the business that remain familiar. Clients are still predominantly drawn from:
- UK public companies from the FTSE 100 and 250 and particularly their divisional structures.
- Businesses owned by private equity houses – where work can be authorised by the PE owners or by the local managers themselves.
- Foreign-owned companies with operations in the UK or continental Europe.
- Quasi-public sector organisations – often with government funding and regulation but private sector management.
Our success has been measured by securing better returns from the profitable use of all resources. We are fortunate in having such a loyal customer base.