Title: John Bolton - at the head of professional management
Pages: 48 - 49
Author: David Wainwright
Text: John Bolton - at the head of professional management
Modular methods of construction appeal to John Bolton as a means of reducing costs, apart from other design advantage. Bolton, whose background is in finance, spent 14 highly successful years, until 1965, in the electronics business. For the past two years, as chairman of council of the British Institute of Management, he has been a leader in the formulation of new policies for management education.
Bolton is by training a professional manager, and therefore as yet a rare being. Articled to a chartered accountant before the war, he read economics at Cambridge, and then went to the Harvard Business School. Finishing top of his year with a Baker scholarship, he became its first English governor. In 1950, he made a studied assessment of British industry, and chose to go into electronics for its growth potential.
The logic and rationale of design is, to Bolton, the most important factor in research and development. Solartron, the electronics company which, under his leadership, grew from a turnover of £30,000 a year when he went there to over £4 millions a year when he left, is founded on the design and development of electronic instrumentation, with many applications from rocketry to medical research.
From its earliest days, Solartron gave board authority to its research teams, which worked in the closest liaison with the production departments. Thus, design and research became an integral part of company policy, a position they do not always enjoy in industry.
But, as a manager, Bolton appreciates the difficulties which the designer must face. "Design is vitally linked with innovation", he says. "Research engineers will sometimes doubt the possibility of achieving a well designed, low cost solution. They will spend weeks proving to each other that it cannot be done. Then they find a competitor beating them to it, and in no time at all they achieve the impossible' themselves."
It is the manager's job to assess a proferred solution. But it must be presented in business-like terms. Some industrialists are frightened of insisting on good design because its costs so often seem to be open-ended. Bolton does not see why this is necessary: he believes that the design process is as subject to cost
The chairman of the British Institute of Management talks to David Wainwright. The design process, Bolton says, is as subject to cost estimating and control as any other.
estimating and control as any other.
He emphasises the importance, in the present climate, of the price performance ratio in new product development. This may not necessarily mean aiming for the best performance in an ultimate sense, but it must be the best achievable within an agreed sellingprice bracket, in order to reach set marketing aims.
Planned obsolescence is now a recognised factor in many industries. Indeed, the economics of a variety of industries are built on it; designers must accept this, and consider it as part of the brief. To Bolton, therefore, design must be costed into the development of a product in the same way as any other basic research.
In electronics, he found design solutions particularly useful when they led to standardisation, to the introduction of modular components which could then be made common to several products, and to variety reduction. "At Solartron, we bought a turret punch press which would punch only a limited number of hole sizes, and this in turn forced us to design standard metal work around this limitation - resulting in a degree of standardisation which we had not previously thought possible." By steering research, development, and design, in the right direction, the most complicated equipment proved subject to simplification and rationalisation. With a rapidly growing range of products, this permitted widespread use of standard parts and modules, and substantially cut manufacturing costs.
In his private life, Bolton admires traditional craftsmanship. His home is a red-brick Surrey farmhouse of 1656, and he has furnished it as far as possible with furniture of the period.
He and his wife chose the house, on their return from America in 1950, by a careful design solution. They worked out by drawing arcs on maps that by living in the Guildford area they would be within reasonable travelling distance of central London, the coast. London airport, and schools and shops, and yet be in the country. And the 10 acres of garden under cultivation are run efficiently as a business, growing roses, azaleas and other shrubs.
Bolton's pride is the panelling, originally in Rubens' house at Breda. It has panels of birds of paradise, intricately carved in oak; and "it's modular, you see - it fits together with admirable simplicity".