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The company’s financial weakness in the 1920s, exacerbated by its purchase of Colvilles, was a key factor in the Royal Mail collapse. The crisis was by no means avoidable given the difficult conditions experienced by shipbuilding and steel after the war; but there is little doubt that the scale of the problem was produced by Lord Pirrie’s dictatorial pursuit of financial integration, a strategy in marked contrast to the organisational integration of best-practice American firms. Pirrie’s death in 1924 left Harland & Wolff both financially and managerially insecure.

But there was still no clear managerial hierarchy, and, according to Coleman, the company ‘was still being run in the manner of an autocratic family business’. A conscious acceptance of the company’s shortcomings came with its decision (in 1937) not to take over the rest of the UK rayon industry. This was a clear example of a firm recognising that it was not in an organisational position to reap the benefits of horizontal merger. 41 Alford’s principal concern is with the operations of the Wills branch inside the Imperial Tobacco group, and he provides comparatively little about the workings of the holding company.

11 III Our first task is to analyse the evolving organisational structures of the case studies (Table 1 provides an outline analysis). The impression they leave is that before 1914 British firms made very few significant organisational changes to match their growth, technological change, and a competitive world increasingly shaped by the corporativism of the United States and Germany. One searches in vain in our selection of commissioned histories for organisational charts to match those reproduced by Chandler for the USA.

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