Kingston Aviation
Name: Gordon Jefferson
Transcript: 16 – Was Hawkers too traditional for its own good?

In the 1960s Gordon became Chief Engineering Manager of the Design Department and all ancillary activities – such as project management, computing, technical publications etc. – were incorporated into his section. His attempt to introduce ‘modern’ management practices went against the traditionalist streak within the company – e.g. Sydney Camm did not think they needed a wind tunnel.

But the job you were in was actually, sort of, introducing things which were not, sort of, really within the, kind of, the tradition of Hawkers was it? I mean, you used the expression, sort of, ‘management by rule of thumb’, which is certainly my impression. So a lot of these things will have, sort of, gone against the grain.

They did go against the grain; they were not at all popular. In fact the idea that you had to work out how many drawings you were going to have to do a [presentation]. I happened to know because I’d already made sure that we knew how many drawings there were to design, that you had to draw, to have a front fuselage. This was, of course, is required because you make a complete list of all your drawings when your aeroplane is complete. But they never used it for anything. But I changed all that and made it a piece of data, if you like. And also how many man hours it took us because I had it all logged.

So I could now tell you that if you want to design an aeroplane and a front fuselage and the weight will be about, so much, and it will be this type and look like that and there would be so many frames in it, more or less – because these aeroplanes are more or less the same. There was data there which you could use to get a very accurate feel for how much it was all going to cost.

But you can image how traditionalists didn’t want to know that; just wanted to get on with it. And so we were breaking new ground that’s quite true; introducing all these management techniques. But without that, of course, you can’t get a contract anymore.

Well I was going to say because presumably by then you would have to provide this data for governments. So they would have been demanding that sort of level of detail and so you were forced down that road really.

Yes exactly, we were virtually forced down the road. And they had to find somebody who was prepared to do this useless job more or less.

You used the word traditional and you said that a lot of these things had – a lot of these new fangled practices – probably went against the grain. Do you think that Hawkers was a company that was too traditional for its own good? Or do you think they got the balance right?

Well, nobody’s ever asked me that question before and I frankly never really thought about it. But I suppose, well yes, that is true, it was a real struggle to get people to accept the fact that there was a need to move into a different era.

But why? We’d been very successful in the past but we just do it as quick as we can. We don’t need to have all this – who the hell cares how much it costs, sort of thing? I don’t know whether that’s really what was going on. But yes, the answer is I found it was very difficult to bring what they would have thought you might call ‘traditional management’[modern management] into a company which had been successful in the old days. And a lot of companies are like that.

Because, I mean, it had been very successful.


A lot of the staff were …

Longs serving …

Long serving and had been in the company for years and years and years. And my impression is that it was still, you know, a company were loyalty was – loyalty to the company was seen as a plus. But arguably the company – you know, the world was changing. 1970s it was beginning to change – I mean globalisation was beginning to come in.

Yes, quite right.

And arguably the company didn’t move as quickly as perhaps it needed to.

Well it might not have done, I don’t really know the answer to that question. But we were taking on at the time some very capable young men who subsequently have taken leading jobs in what is now, of course, BAE Systems. And if you look at the chiefs and you recognise the names of the fellers. But in principle it was a bit slow that’s quite true and it was an uphill struggle. And Sydney wouldn’t have worn it at any price.

Of course he absolutely, he hated these things didn’t he? P.E.R.T and main frame computers, I mean, that was the ‘spawn of the devil ‘ to him wasn’t it?

I remember him saying to me on one occasion – because we never had a wind tunnel. And – well there was testing done on aeroplanes at Farnborough. And he said to me one day, ‘ I don’t need a wind tunnel; I can see the air going over the wings.’ Well he might have been a genius but I don’t think he quite reached those heights. You wouldn’t believe he said, ‘I can see the air.’