Sunday, 20 September 2015

In charge at Hammonds

I’ve only just started looking in more detail at the takeover madness of the 1950’s and already I’m starting to see a pattern.

British brewing industry was a pretty staid and conservative industry in the first half of the 20th century. Partly because many owners had lost a close connection with the business and only saw it as a convenient source of income. Professional managers, with little power or money to effect major changes, were left to keep the brewery ticking over and generating cash.

At the breweries that began rapid expansion in the 1950’s, things were slightly different. There were the same apathetic owners, but these firms had a chairman with vision and drive. And, most importantly, power and money.

Bradfer-Lawrence, long-time chairman at Hammonds, was just such a man. (HLBL is an abbreviation for Bradfer-Lawrence.)

“HLBL was in his seventieth year when I joined Hammonds. In the twenty years he had been in charge, he had built it up from being a Bradford and district brewery with two hundred and fifty six tied outlets and indifferent beer, to one spread across the West Riding (and trickling into the neighbouring counties), with nearly one thousand outlets and a growing reputation for its draught and bottled beers.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 9.

1,000 pubs would have been easily one of the largest in the North just after WW II. Not a bad achievement. But Bradfer-Lawrence wanted more.

“He had changed its name to Hammonds United Breweries to reflect its growth. During that time he ran the company single-handed, in the sense that he was the guiding light and the moving genius, the originator of every expansionary initiative. He had taken charge of a company which had experienced no firm control by an executive manager with authority for over thirty years. After it had passed from being a family owned and directed business in 1889 to being a public company, its board of directors were all part time and it had a general manager to handle its day to day administration; this state of affairs continued until HLBL took over. Financially, the company had indifferent trading success throughout the same period, its woes added to by the trade depression prior to and following the first war. The directors had their own local businesses to look after, also in recession; unwise purchases of brewery companies in the short-lived economic boom of the early 1920s deprived Hammond's of such capital reserves as it had accumulated.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 9.

At a brewery where the owning family had been more engaged with the business Bradfer-Lawrence wouldn’t have had the same opportunity for total control

“The founding family of Hammond, now Aykroyd through marriage, still held a significant slice of the company's equity and large debentures on its assets; the ordinary shares could hardly be given away, let alone sold. HLBL came to this situation with experience - of managing real estate, of running a brewery company, of being ruthless with assets and employees. He had some advantages too - the national economy was just beginning to recover, and he was in sole charge, as the principal shareholders had brought him in to deal with a mess and were glad to leave him to it. His style and demeanour were those of an authoritarian; he did not encourage dissent of any degree. He had confidence in his own ability, which he made apparent in his manner, and endorsed financially by purchasing all the parcels of Hammond's ordinary shares he could from vendors only too relieved to get some money for their declining holdings. He built up a large portfolio, which in turn bolstered his position within the company, and quietened his fellow directors.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, pages 9 - 10.

It’s ironic that a stronger board would probably have curtailed Bradfer-Lawrence’s activities and ultimately weakened the company. This attitude of family owners who felt that they had inherited an income rather than a business wasn’t unique to brewing. It was just as true in other industries.

Clearly Bradfer-Lawrence was a man with vision:

“He told me, when recalling his early years in Yorkshire, that he could see the future for Hammond's and the way the 1930s were going, and was astonished his fellow directors could not; it was not often, he said to me, that the opportunity was given to a man to be able to control his major investment so closely. And that was what he did for the ensuing ten years, to his good fortune and that of the rest of the shareholders. Hammond's success was due to him and dependent on him, a one man band operation. His health was good and he had no problem of stress, overwork or being beyond his capabilities.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 10.

I’m surprised that the whole dynamic of the company relied so heavily on a single man. I’m intrigued to see if this was the case at all the ambitious players in the 1950’s.


J. Karanka said...

Being a ruthless, authoritarian micromanager is sort of the opposite of what is thought to be a good leader / manager nowadays :D

Helge B. said...

The Wikipedia article on HLBL has an entirely different perspective. Although his brewery career is mentioned, the article focuses on his historical interests.