Unilever Organisational Learning 


 NB caution !! ... I only keep these notes on my website so I don't lose them !   

This is an initial draft of musings & gleanings which contain many omissions, errors, inaccuracies & misinterpretations ... but it is only a story, just for a bit of fun ... written, before it was all forgotten ... a story for our great grandchildren's children ... just in case they ever ask; who was great great grandpa? They will now have a clue ... Grandpa was a beer drinker!

The Big Hits -  

Bureaucratic Kluge - Port Sunlight 1964  

Marketing Calls the Shots - David McCarthy 'Four Acres' 1970

Quality Cradle to Grave - Fred Hall 1970 - Jim Louden 1978

Adaptive Control - Bob Lee 'Connoisseur' 1986 - Vernon Hockley 'modular' 1990  

Mergers & Acquisitions - David Bruce 1979


1. Bureaucratic Kluge

Deployment of Chemical Engineers in Production Bureaucracies 

After successfully completing our first commissioning assignment and penning an acclaimed report we were ready for more ... but not Chemical Engineering, our problems were quaintly described as 'management' problems. In 1964 we were initiated into the Port Sunlight bureaucracy on a Management Training Course which offered an opportunity to rattle some cages in a 'presentation' to class mates. At this early stage we had identified the bureaucratic problem ... but not any solution ... we were barking up the wrong tree. Our University had taught about Chemical Engineering but not alas, about bureaucracy.

Bureaucratic Structure

Our company was a manufacturing company producing the goods for specialist marketing companies. Unilever's expertise was in Marketing ... production was a bog standard bureaucracy ... with layers and layers of hierarchical compartments within compartments ... all jealously protecting their independence and privilege. Fiefdoms within fiefdoms.

Development Director = three departments, Fabrics - Soaps - Liquids & Hard Surface Cleaners = each including sections, Process - Product - Appraisal.

Chief Engineer = three departments, Services - Maintenance - Projects & Design = each including sections, Fabrics - Soaps - Liquids & Hard Surface Cleaners ... apart from common services; engravers, heavy gang, sailmakers, building, transport, workshops for all the trades (electrical, mechanical, boilermakers, plumbers, carpenters, sheet metal ...)  

Production Director = Manager & Assistant Manager = six divisions, Powders - Sulphonation - Soapmaking - SAFE Bleaching - Hard Soaps - Toilet Soaps - Glycerine Recovery - Liquids & Scourers - Printing = each including sections, Making - Packing.

... then Commercial, Personnel, Training, Planning, Distribution ...

Chemical Engineers

The opportunity was for more Chemical Engineers to be employed -

in a Chemical Engineering Department providing process services thus simplifying structures and avoiding unnecessary product group compartments.
Chemical Engineers were trained in unit operations common to all product groups.

as Group Leaders to manage merged engineering and chemical sections thus simplifying and avoiding duplication.
Chemical Engineers were trained in both Chemistry & Engineering.

Not an engineer who knows a bit of chemistry nor a chemist who knows a bit of engineering but rather a specialist in basic mass transfer and heat transfer and Unit Operations; distillation, filtration, crushing & grinding, mixing, crystallisation, evaporation, separation, drying ... Port Sunlight was full of such processes ...

Work Load

But the bureaucracy assembled an array of players for our plant commissioning work - .

- Ballestra - process pant & equipment

- J D Wilson - construction & installation contractors

- Projects & Design - design services

- Development - commissioning

- Production - holding the baby

All vitally concerned but no one had overall 'know how' and no one had overall authority.

And the bureaucracy organised chemists cloned by the UCMDS to manage the bureaucracy itself and people on factory production which was beset with engineering problems -

- machines breakdown, people seldom  

- control systems rely on instruments, not people 

We quoted many of the eminent in support of Chemical Engineering - Prof Chiltern -

'There is one summarising attribute that enables the Chemical Engineer to make his greatest contribution to Production Management; versatility'.

Quite rightly our presentation was rubbished by our peers as a blatant power grab which created yet another vested interest within the bureaucracy. But we had learned quickly about the twin evils of -

'restraint of trade' and

'restrictive practices'.

Bureaucracies - 

duplication of effort and waste; a cast of thousands & analysis paralysis

failure to innovate; we were following in awe of P&G with 'Me Toos'

Time consuming effort in our bureaucracy was not about technology.

Luciano Saporiti -

'See, I move my hat from there to there, easy. But in Lever you have to have a committee meeting'!

Zie Eiref -

'Too much paper; concentrate on the vital few'!

We were not alone in misunderstanding the bureaucratic methods as we naively tinkered with structural change ... 'improvements' which only created further vested interests, restraints and restrictions ... but we did learn ... and reflected on too little too late ... if only we'd known then what we know now ... 

2. Marketing Calls the Shots  

And the bureaucracy supplied process development work as service to marketing -

- blue specks as 'indicators' of effectiveness - '50% of advertising is wasted but I don't know which half'

- controlled lather for front loading washing machines - consistency of 'Demarera sugar' a no no 

- fabric conditioners - a 'me too' response to P&G innovation

- production for RBL consumer trials

All vital marketing ploys which required reliable production & scale up to meet marketing deadlines.

Four Acres in 19?? and David McCarthy put us right with a question and a fact -

'Who says 'Omo' NSD Powder was better than 'Persil' Soap Powder'?

'We know the housewifes prefer Persil especially with plastic tulips'!

3. Quality Cradle to Grave  

Fred Hall 1968 - from raw materials to field inspection

Edgar Graham & Jim Louden 1978 - value for money as 12% of NSV for 'indirects' was big bucks  

ORAC 1980 - help for OSC Technical Directors

4. Adaptive Control 

Bob Lee & Vernon Hockley 1986 - 'Connoisseur' solved the moisture control problem

URL Vlaardingen failed to write the algorithms

URL Port Sunlight didn't try, David Sandoz in Manchester triumphed.

5. Mergers & Acquisitions

... and, of course, beer drinking ....



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