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Americanisation in 20th Century Europe: business, culture, politics. Volume 2

 | 
Nick Tiratsoo
, 
Mathias Kipping

Following the American lead: Dutch firms, 1945-1965

Keetie E. Sluyterman

Résumé

Cet article étudie comment la forte influence américaine après la Seconde guerre mondiale a affecté l’économie néerlandaise et en particulier deux entreprises de ce pays. Le premier cas étudie les relations difficiles entre l’entreprise chimique de taille moyenne Océ-van der Grinten et ses licenciés américains. Le second cas porte sur l’industrialisation d’un relieur traditionnel, Proost en Brandt, une entreprise de taille moyenne installée à Amsterdam. Ces deux exemples démontrent que le pouvoir politique des Américains était un élément dont les entreprises néerlandaises devaient à tenir compte. L’influence américaine sur la productivité et le management était très visible, mais les résultats plus contrastés. L’apprentissage était avant tout un processus à sens unique. Les entreprises qui ont le mieux réussi tirèrent leur enseignement des États-Unis de façon sélective.

Texte intégral

  • 1 M. Roholl, “Uncle Sam: an example for all? The Dutch orientation towards America in the social and (...)
  • 2 ‘Hoe morgen hier?’[How tomorrow here?] was the telling title of one the reports on US human relati (...)

1After the Second World War the Dutch were full of admiration for their American liberators. They were impressed by their political power, economic prosperity and high standard of living, which were seen as the direct result of the efficiency of their industry. Naturally, the Dutch wished to copy the ‘American way of life’ with its connotations of freedom, liberty, vitality and casualness.1 In fact, many believed that looking at America was like a ride in a time machine: you could see your own distant future.2 This feeling was reinforced by the Americans themselves, who were eager to show old Europe the way to a free and prosperous future and help it on its way with financial aid and the transfer of US technology, management Systems and marketing techniques. The American influence in the Netherlands remained strong during the 1950s and 1960s.

2In this chapter I will examine how this American influence affected individual Dutch companies. I will start by discussing the findings of recent Dutch literature in this field. The celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan in 1997 resulted in a number of books relevant to this theme. However, nearly all of these books stop at the factory entrance. Therefore I will broaden out this general picture by looking at two companies in more detail on the basis of monographs and research in the company archives. I will take the story up to the mid-1960s. The first case examines the uneasy relationship between the medium sized chemical firm Océ-van der Grinten and its US licensee. For the second case I have chosen the industrialisation of the traditional bindery of Proost en Brandt, a medium sized company in Amsterdam. In both cases I will focus on two aspects: first, the direct relationship of Dutch firms with US companies, and, second, their response to the US drive to improve labour productivity and more generally the response to American-style practices in labour relations, industrial organisation and workplace routines. The two cases demonstrate that the American influence was strong, that the benefits were mixed and that learning was mostly a one-way process.

  • 3 M. Kipping and O. Bjarnar (eds.), The Americanisation of European business: The Marshall plan and (...)

3The effects of the Marshall Plan and the Americanisation of Europe’ have been the subject of intense debates among historians. The scope of this chapter leaves no room for summarizing this debate. A few remarks must suffice. The debate moved from interest in the political power of the US, to the macroeconomic influences of the Marshall Plan (how important was the US aid for Europe) to, recently, more detailed studies on the micro-economic level (was European business really Americanised). Business historians in particular have been interested in the transfer of American technology and managerial knowhow to Europe as part of the US drive to close the productivity gap between the US and Europe. Detailed research has considerably blurred the once clear picture of American models regenerating European industry. Kipping and Bjarnar concluded that American models were not transferred from the US in an ‘imperialistic’ fashion, but that individual actors and organisations played an important role in this process, because their perceptions and choices determined to a large extent the content of what was being transferred. The ultimate success of the Americanisation process resulted from a selective and partial adaptation of different elements of the US management model rather than a fully-fledged adoption.3

  • 4 - J. Zeitlin, Americanization and its limits: reworking US technology and management in postwar Eu (...)
  • 5 J. Tomlinson and N. Tiratsoo, “Americanisation beyond the mass production paradigm. The case of Br (...)
  • 6 Zeitlin 1999: 10-11.
  • 7 J. Mcglade, “From business reform programme to production drive. The transformation of US technica (...)
  • 8 M. Kipping, ‘“Operation Impact”, converting European employers to the American creed” in ibid. p. (...)

4Zeitlin argued that in fact Europe and Japan were wise to refrain from taking over the American model of mass production together with a host of systematic management techniques, organisational structures, and research and marketing services, because their own way of producing with greater diversity and flexibility turned out to have lasting value, as developments in the 1970s made clear.4 In the British case, however, Tomlinson and Tiratsoo felt less patience with the adherence to old traditions. They concluded that even without turning to mass production, the British industry could have learned more than it did from a wide range of American techniques with regard to specialisation, standardisation, simplification, materials handling and quality control.5 The debate became somewhat confused when arguments were raised that there existed in fact no clear American model, but that there were many different lessons to be learned from America.6 Also, there was not one united policy in the US, but different factions pursuing different goals.7 Europeans often felt frustrated by the high moral stance of the Americans, which - in their view - could go hand in hand with a chauvinist nationalist policy.8

  • 9 T.R. Gourvish and N. Tiratsoo, “Missionaries and managers : an introduction”, in T.R. Gourvish and (...)
  • 10 - Kipping and Bjrnar 1998: 3-4.

5One of the most intensely researched topics in recent year has been the influence of the US on management education, which lasted long after the postwar productivity drive. Gourvish and Tiratsoo conclude with some reservations that the American offensive had indeed a substantial impact. The transfer process was, however, complex. The agendas of the American missionaries were eclectic and even contradictory and the reception of their ideas by European managers was mixed. Other actors, such as politicians, government bureaucrats, employers associations, trade unions and the educational establishments played a decisive role in the outcome of the transfer process.9 Even if the introduction of US management education in Europe was a success, we still do not know whether the ideas were actually adopted in companies, as Kipping and Bjarnar remind us.10 My chapter is intended as a contribution to further research at this company level. With all the reservations and nuances recent research has highlighted, the fact remains that the US was the dominant political and economic force after the Second World War and that it acted as a sort of ‘reference society’ for Europe.

american influences on dutch labour productivity and management

  • 11 H. A.M. Klemann, “Economy and industry during the German occupation. The Netherlands 1940-1945”, i (...)

6At the end of Second War the Netherlands was severely damaged and impoverished. Even though modem research qualifies the total damage suffered during the war, the perception of contemporaries was that their country lay in ruins.11 The Americans were prepared to help Europe back on its feet through an extensive aid programme, the European Recovery Programme that has gone down in history as the Marshall Plan. This programme consisted of direct financial assistance through aid and loans combined with pressure on European countries for economic co-operation and liberalisation of trade. Only in an integrated Europe could European industry reap the benefits of mass-production and mass-consumption in the same way as in the US. A small but essential part of the aid was technical assistance to help increase labour productivity, because higher productivity was necessary to increase standards of living. The aid went hand in hand with propaganda emphasising the virtues of the free market economy.

  • 12 E. Bloemen and R.T. Griffiths, “Resisting revolution in the Netherlands”, in D. Barjot, J. Gilling (...)
  • 13 F. Inklaar, Van Amerika geleerd. Marshall-hulp en kennisimport in Nederland, Den Haas SDU 1997, p. (...)

7Initially, the Dutch government was slow to participate in the US supported technical assistance projects to increase labour productivity. It was not that the government was not aware of the importance of raising productivity, but it was disquieted by the US claims that the benefits of a rise in productivity should be shared equally between producers, employees and consumers. For the government full employment and high exports were the first priorities, while higher wages would have to wait until economic recovery was well under way. Nonetheless, in 1950 a Dutch national productivity centre was set up to coordinate activities in the Netherlands. A year later a minister for the promotion of productivity improvement was nominated.12 Up until 1956 some 1,300 Dutch people travelled to the US to study American technology, management, labour relations, agriculture, distribution methods and consumption patterns. The Dutch were impressed by the Americans’ hospitality and their eagerness in sharing their knowledge. The Americans showed the foreign visitors their most successful companies and their high-level institutions. No wonder the visitors returned home with an almost unanimously positive view of America. The Dutch admired the large-scale production, the modem machinery and the highly efficient internal organisation that they saw. Even more than the technical progress, they admired the Americans’ looser, more informal relationships between managers, bosses and workers, and the stress on internal promotion and learning within industry. Though they concluded that American and Dutch societies differed widely, they were nonetheless optimistic about the possibilities of learning from the US. The only complaint was that the exchange of ideas was very one-sided, taking for granted that the US could not possibly learn anything from Europe.13 The visits were followed by study reports, articles, lectures, courses and seminars to disseminate the newly acquired knowledge in the Netherlands. In some branches of industry, including the clothing and printing industry, the visits led to the establishment of dedicated productivity centres at sector level.

8The most difficult part, however, was to put the newly acquired knowledge into practice, to convince the companies to make meaningful changes. For historians, this is also the most difficult part to trace: how were companies affected? Frank Inklaar, who studied the technical assistance and particularly the study visits to the US and their follow up, came to the following conclusions:

  • 14 Inklaar 1997:423-431, citation 429.

If we take a look at the introduction of American methods and technology in every-day practice, the picture is extremely varied. In trade and industry the study visits seem to have been particularly valuable for ambitious companies of some magnitude. For smaller companies the American practice was not as relevant. Big companies had their own means of remaining up to date.14

  • 15 Inklaar 1997: 343-344.

9Our two case studies, the companies Océ-van der Grinten and Proost en Brandt, both fall in this category of mid-sized and ambitious companies. Inklaar also supposed that the positive influence was more marked for the agricultural sector than for the industrial one. As far as industry was concerned, the interest of the study teams soon moved from technical matters to more general managerial issues. There was a great enthusiasm for the human relations approach, but, according to Inklaar, the knowledge transferred was mostly a template, a concept without a well-defined content. The template was filled with Dutch views on the firm as a working community, on solidarity between classes and with personal preferences of the employers. In Inklaar’ view, management consultants undoubtedly benefited most from the whole productivity drive. They participated in several study teams and received regular commissions from industry branches as well as individual companies. The social scientists were another group of professionals who acquired higher status and wider employment through the application of American inspired knowledge.15

  • 16 P. Helleman and J. Marsman, De organisatie-adviseur. Opkomst en groei van een nieuw vak in Nederla (...)
  • 17 L. Karsten and K. van Veen, “Management consultancies in the Netherlands in the 1950s and 1960s: b (...)
  • 18 de Man and L. Karsten, “Academic management education in the Netherlands”, in L. Engwall and E. Gu (...)

10Other studies confirm that the influence of the US on Dutch on management Consulting was strong and remained strong. The former German influence diminished, while American ideas began to take over. Britain played an important intermediate role. The management consultant B.W. Berenschot was one of the most active promoters of US management techniques. The new ideas ranged from better layout of machinery to discussion methods and sensitivity training. Dutch business complained about the endless introduction of new management fads as early as 1955.16 In the 1960s Dutch consultancy firms took up new ideas on marketing and strategy, developed in the US, often in direct competition with US consultants who came over to Europe. One of the first US firms to settle in Europe was McKinsy & Company. They were hired by the Shell Group to reorganise its The Hague and London head offices in 1957.17 The US influence on management Consulting and education continued into the 1960s. The mid-1960s also saw the founding of new business schools attached to universities.18 Dutch enterprises thus experienced American influence both directly through their own contacts with the US, and indirectly through the productivity work in their sector and the activities of US-inspired management consultants and social scientists. How these influences worked out for two individual companies will be explored in the next two sections.

océ-van der grinten: exchange or transfer of knowledge?

11The company Océ-van der Grinten was a family firm, as was the firm Proost en Brandt we will discuss as second case. It was not a multinational enterprise such as Royal Dutch/Shell or Unilever, but it had a worldwide network of licensees and through this network direct contacts with US companies. Its roots went back to the Nineteenth Century. In 1920, three brothers van der Grinten, all doctors of chemistry, started the company’s document copying activities. Their chemical knowledge was acquired at universities in Germany and Switzerland. First they produced blueprint papers, but in the 1920 they developed their own diazotype printing process, which closely resembled the German Ozalid process. The German chemical companies were world-leaders in their sector and their research was highly esteemed. The company Océ-van der Grinten, located close to the German border, kept in regular contact with its German counterparts, despite fierce competition. Patents, licences and licensees played an important role in their business. The three brothers van der Grinten were the only managing directors of the company until the first outsider made its entrance in 1956. Two years later the firm was turned into a public company and its shares were listed on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. In the mid-1950s the company was comparatively small, with no more than 400 employees, but with about 40 licensees in all parts of the world. A period of rapid growth followed. In 1966, the company had five foreign subsidiaries and the Océ-group employed 2,300 workers.

  • 19 K.E. Sluyterman, “Uitvinden en verdienen”, in H.F.J.M. van den Eerenbeemt (ed.), Van boterkleursel (...)

12During the Second World War, Océ-van der Grinten had been unable to keep in touch with most of its foreign contacts, while production in the Netherlands had become increasingly difficult. The family had been evacuated from its base in Venlo from September 1944 to May 1945, bringing all production and research to a standstill for months. Thus, the company was in a pretty bad shape directly after the war, though the brothers were highly optimistic about getting it back on track. In the US they had two important contacts. Their oldest was with the New York based Charles Bruning company which was one of their most supportive licensees during the interwar years. The other was of more recent date, created when the Second World War loomed. In 1939, the three Van der Grinten brothers entrusted a German friend who had emigrated to the US, Frank Guthery, with the secret recipes of copying ingredients to ensure the delivery of these Chemicals to their licensees abroad if contact with the Netherlands became impossible. During the war Guthery had indeed been able to keep in touch with many of the Océ licensees. He had made a good profit, part of which was due to Van der Grinten. This money was used to send much needed food and clothing as well as Chemical products to the Netherlands. The brothers were delighted to receive Chemical journals to inform them of the main scientific developments during the war. Their licensee Bruning had ended its contract during the war, but was pleased to get in touch again and renew the contracts after the war. It, too, informed the brothers van der Grinten about the developments in the US. So these direct contacts with the US helped the company during its first difficult year of reconstruction, a help that was highly appreciated by the brothers Van der Grinten.19

  • 20 K.E. Sluyterman, “From licensor to multinational enterprise: the small Dutch firm Océvan der Grint (...)

13However, they also discovered that the US kept a close watch over its own interests. During the war, the firm’s patent rights and royalty income had been confiscated by the national governments of several countries. Countries such as Great Britain and Canada returned the rights after the war as soon as officials had ascertained that the Van der Grinten family had not traded with the enemy. Not so in the US. During the war, the Alien Property Custodian, later transformed into the Office of Alien Property (OAP), had confiscated 14 Van der Grinten patents and collected the royalties of its licensee Bruning. After the war the Van der Grintens filed a claim to get back their patents and money. First, the OAP had to be convinced that they had behaved loyally during the war. Moreover, the OAP wanted to make sure that they were at that moment not trading with some specified countries of the communist bloc, a demand illustrative of the deep US concern with communism. When the necessary papers had been handed in, the US authorities suddenly brought forward a new argument: ‘the interest of the United States’. This argument had nothing to do with the former reason for the confiscation, but was a direct consequence of US anti-trust policy, another of its deep concerns. Certain provisions in the old agreements between Bruning and Van der Grinten were found to be inconsistent with US anti-trust policy. Even the newly formulated agreements could not satisfy the authorities. The Van der Grintens attempted to retrieve their rights and money several rimes, but in vain. In 1959, the OAP informed them that the return of the claimed property was not in the national interest. The legal Dutch advisor of Océ-van der Grinten remarked that little could be done against the injustice of States. It seems that in a situation like this, a firm from a small country was at a disadvantage. This behaviour of the US came as a shock to the brothers Van der Grinten because they held the Americans in such high esteem as the liberators and supporters of freedom and peace.20

  • 21 Sluyterman 1992b: 218-219, 233-237 ; Annual Report Océ-van der Grinten, 1991.

14In the meantime, their relationship with their US licensee Bruning was not without difficulties either. With the US being superior in so many respects, it seemed unlikely that Bruning would need the research and know how of a small Dutch company. In the development of copying machinery Bruning was clearly moving ahead of Océ, as the brothers Van der Grinten themselves admitted. In copying paper and chemical research, however, Océ was still competitive, particularly in the diazo System. In the drawing office and engineering industry more generally, the Océ diazo process, improved over the years, remained very important well into the 1990s. However, in the office market, Van der Grinten encountered strong competition from several copying Systems based on photochemical paper (copyrapid), introduced in the 1950s by big companies such as Kodak and Afga. It was these Systems that made Bruning doubtful of the lasting value of its licensee relationship with Océ. (Xerox was not a serious competitor until the mid-1960s, but its threat was already looming over the office market). In 1955 Bruning ended its relationship with Océ. It had now its own research laboratories and therefore found it no longer needed the know how of Océ. Also, the new members in the board of directors of the Bruning company did not consider themselves bound by old friendship ties. Interestingly enough, Bruning returned as licensee in 1958, but left once more three years later. In the end Bruning could not escape Océ. It was taken over by Océ in 1991, and, for better and worse, became part of the Océ group.21

  • 22 M.C.M. van Elteren, “Tussen verlicht paternalisme en functioneel-zakelijk management”, in H.F.J.M.(...)

15Apart from the direct influence from America via its business partners, Océ-van der Grinten also experienced the indirect influence of American ideas on management. The human relations movement reached Karel van der Grinten via the Dutch author M.G. Ydo, who was inspired by the work of GE. Mayo. He became aware of the importance of keeping employees interested in their work wherever possible, and promoted Bedrijfskadertraining (BKT), the Dutch equivalent of Training Within Industry, because he thought the Europeans could learn from the Americans about how to manage their employees. However, he had his reservations towards what he considered the “American focus on dollars”. In this respect, he argued, the Americans might learn something from the less materialistically oriented Old World. The company attached great value to the psychological testing of employees. The American trained industrial psychologist J.L.M. Harold was also hired for discussions with higher staff on management development. Karel van der Grinten was particularly concerned about the problem of management succession, realising he and his brothers would soon have to make way for younger and more modem leaders. There was less interest in improving efficiency and productivity before the mid-1950s, perhaps because the brothers Van der Grinten saw Chemical research as their core business and considered production more like an unavoidable necessity. Also they were endlessly experimenting and therefore less focused on standardising. For instance, Karel van der Grinten did not think classification of work useful, because so much work in their factory seemed to have a specific character requiring a personal touch. There was no System of merit-rating, though personnel could receive an individual bonus. In accordance with Dutch social tradition, the company set up a works council before it was officially required. The management used the works council to discuss all kinds of labour issues. Karel van der Grinten even considered giving the council the right to comment on the nomination of managing directors, but this right was not formally constituted. Despite some American influences, the management was predominantly characterised by the informality of the family firm with few written rules and a great emphasis on personal relationships.22

  • 23 In this respect, their policy resembled that of Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken. Personnel mangers fr (...)

16The post-war experiences of Océ-van der Grinten with the US were mixed. The brothers received support in rebuilding their company directly after the war, but they also encountered the political power of the US State in their lost struggle to get their patents back. The increasingly uneasy relationship between Océ-van der Grinten and its licensee Bruning seems to confirm the impression that, after the Second World War, US companies became more interested in handing out information than in receiving it, let alone paying for it. As mentioned already, this one-sidedness of US attitudes towards Europe was also commented on negatively in the Dutch study team’s reports on their US visits. The Van der Grinten brothers, on the other hand, had an open eye for US research and technology and were pleased to learn from their licensees. In the long run, this was very much to their own benefit, which is illustrated by the fact that they were able to survive in the very competitive market of photocopying machines. They also welcomed US inspired ideas on management, but used them selectively.23

the bindery of proost en brandt: modernising into decline

  • 24 Inklaar 1997: 161-178.
  • 25 [Anon.], Zes jaarproductiviteits bevordering in de grafische industrie, Den Haag, C.O.P., 1958, p. (...)

17One of the sectors that enthusiastically embraced the productivity gospel was printing. This sector consisted predominantly of small and medium sized companies and was already in the 1930s in the process of changing from a traditional to an industrial way of producing. As soon as the sector learned about the possibilities of making a study trip to the US, two productivity teams were formed, one of typographers and one of lithographers. The latter prepared its visit to the US very carefully. It even hired the management Consulting firm Raadgevend Efficiency Bureau Ir. P.H. Bosboom en F.C.M. Hegener to study the main factors influencing labour productivity in the printing industry. The teams returned in the spring of 1951 and caused an ‘America’ mania in the printing sector with a stream of lectures and publications. Their reports contained a mix of scientific management ideas and the human relations approach. The teams concluded that mechanisation in the US was indeed further advanced than in the Netherlands, but more important was their lead in organisational matters. The Dutch could learn much from their ways of planning, routing, work analysis and control Systems. But most of all they were impressed with the relaxed working relationships, the close co-operation and individual dedication of employees from top to bottom. Inspired by the American example, the teams started two large-scale projects to visit each other’s companies. In 1954 they set up a productivity centre for the printing industry.24 The sector even published a follow up report on the improvement of productivity in 1958. This report concluded that the sector was divided in two groups of firms. One was actively increasing the productivity of labour and machinery, and working on improving the quality of input and output ; but the other was passive and conservative, reluctant to make changes. Some companies had made important improvements on the basis of the American example. However, the report also wondered whether this was the result of the courage, collaboration and initiative of the entrepreneurs or the logical outcome of rising demand for all printed matter.25

  • 26 K.E. Sluyterman, Winnen met papier. Vijftig jaar uit de 250-jarige geschiedenis van Proost en Bran (...)

18The firm Proost en Brandt (hereafter P&B) was not a printer but a paper wholesaler and bindery, thus active at the beginning and the very end of the printing process. It also had a number of related activities. It was an Amsterdam family firm, dating back to 1742, when it started publishing bibles and hymnbooks. With around 700 employees in the 1950s, it was one of the largest companies in the printing sector. The business culture was protestant and sober. The management lunched with home made sandwiches, and the director Ulco Proost, then in his late sixties, still came to his work on his bike and was even reprimanded for not putting it in the bike shed. In the course of the 1950s, the Proost family decided to incorporate the old family business. The shares were listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange and management from outside the family was included in the board.26

  • 27 Papers on personnel, 6.7-12 and 6.7-16, Proost and Brandt (hereafter P&B), Amsterdam Municipal Arc (...)
  • 28 Sluyterman 1992C: 97-99.

19The family Proost was clearly open-minded towards changes. It was interested in new ideas from the US. After the war, it organised annual two-day conferences for the senior staff with a mix of lectures, excursions to printers or paper manufacturers, and some entertainment. One of the first subjects to be discussed in 1946 was “what can we learn from the US printers?”. In 1951 the management consultant P.H. Bosboom explained the importance of increasing productivity, underlining how much the Netherlands could learn from America. Another speaker introduced the American concept of ‘creative selling’: making customers aware of their needs instead of simply waiting for orders to appear.27 An expert in personnel management was invited to a meeting of the works council to discuss the relationship between management and workers in 1952. Already during the Second World War, the company had decided to give serious candidates a psychological test. The Nederlandse Stichting van Psychotechniek was one of the agencies the firm consulted for this purpose. The family Proost attached high importance to harmonious working relationships. There are no references to the human relations movement in their archives. However, they used the more traditional Dutch way of connecting with their personnel by reinstating the works council directly after the war, ahead of the official requirement to install such institutions in 1954.28

  • 29 Reports on bindery, 540.30-5 and paper on personnel, 6.8-3, 11 Nov. 1953, P&B, AMA.

20For the P&B case, we will concentrate on the developments in the bindery, the oldest part of the firm. In 1937 the auditor Hanken was asked to investigate the company. He concluded that the bindery was important, large-scale and well organised. It had the potential to compete with any other bindery in the Netherlands. Fifteen years later, the management consultants Bureau Hendriks en Monster were less optimistic. They were hired to create an incentive System, but came to the conclusion that this was not yet possible. Psychologically and organisationally the workers were not yet ready for such a System. The bindery was too traditionally organised with the focus on high quality instead of such issues as routing, layout, working methods and required performance. Productivity was about 60-70 per cent of what could be achieved. They advised management to start with analysing the organisation, the routing, and so on, before introducing MTM (Methods Time Measurement), which was so successful in America. Convinced of the need to make changes, the company hired the consultants to improve the organisation and instruct the workers according to BKT principles. The activities included time measurement, which led to complaints in the communist newspaper De Waarheid that the poor girls at the P&B bindery were rattled. Two years went by with productivity measurements and norm setting. It is not clear whether a new System of incentives was introduced in the end or not.29

  • 30 Minutes Works council, 1957-1962, 6.8-08; minutes board of directors 1959 0.01-14 P&B AMA.
  • 31 Reports on bindery, 540.30-1, P&B, AMA; SLUYTERMAN 1992c: 184-185.

21The big problem of 1953 was overwork, as the bindery could not cope with the workload, and trained personnel were hard to come by. Part of the work was brought over to an additional workplace outside Amsterdam. Complaints about bad organisation and low productivity persisted, but at the same time orders kept coming in and each year could be closed with profits. There did not seem so much urgency for change. Nonetheless, the company decided to enter the high volume, low margin world of pocket books in 1957. New machinery was purchased in Germany. As usual there were start up problems, including long periods of machine downtime. In 1959 the company decided to consult experts from the Productiviteitscentrum Grafische Industrie, the productivity centre of the printing industry set up as part of the Technical Assistance Programme. At the same time an in-house productivity department was established to raise productivity and look after the well known scientific management issues such as layout, internal transport, planning, and cost calculation. Even a merit-rate System was introduced which led to the predictable unrest among the workers and did not satisfy the management either.30 But the management persisted in its efforts to renew the bindery. In 1961 it introduced the largest Rotor binder then available, creating a revolution in the Dutch pocket books industry, at least according to one of the national newspapers. All efforts to modernise the bindery and respond positively to the productivity drive did not lead to rising profits. On the contrary, from 1961 onwards, the bindery experienced losses, particularly the modem pocket books department.31

  • 32 Sluyterman 1992c: 113-116, 140-146; reports on bindery, 540.00-10, 540.30-1 and 540.30-4, P&B, AMA

22The triumph of modernisation came in 1965 when P&B installed an American Sheridan High Speed Heavy Duty Perfect Binder, which basically doubled total production capacity. This new piece of advanced machinery was bought to serve one client, the American publisher Time Life. The managing directors were so impressed with this important client that they were prepared to buy the machinery the Americans thought most suitable. The traditional bindery, focused on specialised high quality work, had become an industrial company for mass production. It was also the beginning of the end. The Sheridan suffered start-up problems, but that was to be expected. However, in later years, it never produced the promised turnover. A year after the introduction of the Sheridan binder, the losses in the bindery rose so dramatically that the management consultants Berenschot were asked to analyse the problems. They concluded that something was wrong in the co-ordination of selling and producing. The sales manager had better access to the managing directors than the production manager, who needed more support. The production manager himself complained about a lack of discipline in his foremen and insufficient clearness and consistency in the instructions of the managing directors. Berenschot was asked to improve planning, work regulation and preparation, to create productivity norms, and train the workers. The big challenge was to increase the productive hours of both workers and machinery. After a year, Berenshot was also asked to help bring more co-ordination between production and selling. The publisher Time Life was reasonably content with the work P&B delivered, but disappointed in their scientific approach. Even after three years of working with the Sheridan binder, the firm was unable to show productivity rate figures. What was worse, at least for the firm, was that losses in this department remained high. Despite endless managerial advice and frequent changes in management, the modernised bindery never fulfilled the early high expectations. In the early 1970s, the results became so disastrous that this part of the company had to be closed.32

  • 33 In fact, many Dutch trading companies experienced difficulties in managing their industrial activi (...)

23A number of factors caused this disappointing outcome. The modernised bindery had become dependent on exports, while the rising wages in the Netherlands from the early 1960s onwards affected its international competitive position negatively. More importantly, however, the traditional bindery had become an industrial company, one based on mass production and mass consumption, which demanded a different kind of leadership : more systematic, more rigorous and less opportunistic. The managing directors of P&B, with their main interest in Wholesale trade, were unable to provide that kind of leadership. They were open to the need for changes and were prepared to hire experts repeatedly, but that was not enough. The far-reaching implications of the industrialisation of the bindery for management were insufficiently realised by the company as well as its many advisors.33

  • 34 Inklaar 1997: 143-177.
  • 35 M. Dierikx, De vrijheid in beeld. Nederland en Amerika, 1945-nu, Den Haag, SDU, 1997, p. 29.
  • 36 Tomlinson and Tiratsoo 1998: 116.
  • 37 WJ. Dercksen, Industrialisatiepolitiek rondom de jaren vijftig; Een socialogisch-economische belei (...)

24The history of the P&B bindery raises some doubts about the relevance of American inspired managerial advice. In this respect, there is an interesting similarity with experiences in the Dutch clothing industry. The textile industry was very active in the productivity movement. No fewer than seven productivity teams went to the US, two of them related to the clothing industry. This sector created a productivity centre and had the constant attendance of management consultants, particularly Berenschot and Horringa. Yet, despite all these efforts, the clothing industry collapsed in the 1960s. Frank Inklaar suggests two explanations for this paradox. First, the implementation of all the suggested productivity measures left much to be desired. Second, the entrepreneurs gave insufficient attention to the issue of marketing their products, because they could sell them easily in the 1950s. When difficulties arose in the 1960s they were unprepared.34 This touches on a more basic problem of the whole productivity drive: Europe, let alone the Netherlands, did not have the kind of mass market that was at the basis of the American mass production. Economies of scale were a typical American phenomenon that could not simply be transferred to the Netherlands.35 The US advisors were well aware of this problem, but considered that many of their productivity measures were still useful to European industry.36 For the clothing industry, and for the P&B bindery and other equally industrialised binderies, these measures did not work out. A similar story could be told about the leather and shoe industry. Here, too, productivity centres were established and rises in productivity achieved. However, nearly all the constituent companies disappeared during the late 1960s and early 1970s.37 The Third World took over the mass production of these goods, while those companies that had specialised and diversified were able to survive.

conclusion

25What can we learn from these two case studies? Obviously, these are only two examples, but they help to broaden the picture. The political power of the US was something the Dutch companies had to reckon with. It was obviously used to further the interest of US companies and there was little the Dutch companies could do in return. The refusal to return the patents to Océ-van der Grinten was a case in point. However, the Americans also showed a great willingness to share their knowledge and expertise. The Dutch were able to look into the American kitchen and were encouraged to make the most of what they learned. With regard to the human relations approach both companies showed an interest in American ideas. The Americans’ insistence that relationships between management and workers should be informal, and their emphasis on internal promotion could not easily be transferred to the Netherlands since Dutch society was far more formal and hierarchically organised. Moreover, one might argue that the voice of the workers was heard and listened to through the Dutch works council in a more structured way than in the so admired American habit of leaving doors open and using first names. The history of Océ-van der Grinten shows that the exchange of information and knowledge with the US became increasingly one-sided. After the Second World War there seemed to have been little inclination on the side of the Americans to learn from Europe.

  • 38 Kipping and Bjarnar 1998 : 13-14.

26The results of the whole learning process and particularly the productivity drive were mixed. The two cases confirm Kipping and Bjarnar’s conclusion that the most successful companies learned from the US in a selective way, while an embrace that was too enthusiastic could prove damaging.38 The Dutch study teams to the US frequently remarked that the US only showed them its most successful companies. The US defended this preference by pointing out that the Europeans could best learn from successful examples. However, one might argue that had the Europeans been given the opportunity to compare successful with less successful companies, they would have been able to better judge what the real causes of success were, and what led to failure. The case of the P&B bindery highlights the limits of US inspired managerial advice. The traditional bindery was transformed into an industry, but both the company and its consultants forgot that this change demanded a kind of industrial management that was not available within the P&B company, which was predominantly focused on wholesaling. Perhaps both parties shared the US optimism that management could be learned.

  • 39 Zeitlin 1999 :30-36.

27More generally, those industries that were most active in the productivity movement - the binderies, the textile, leather, shoe and small metal industries - were also those that faced the most serious problems in the late 1960s. The history of these industries underlines the argument of Zeitlin that the American model of mass production had serious limitations in different organisational and environmental contexts.39 Further research is needed to decide whether these industries could have survived if they had used other competitive strategies based on greater product diversity and productive flexibility.

***

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Sluyterman K.E. 1992c. Winnen met papier. Vijftig jaar uit de 250-jarige geschiedenis van Proost en Brandt, 1942-1992, Diemen, Proost en Brandt.

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Notes

1 M. Roholl, “Uncle Sam: an example for all? The Dutch orientation towards America in the social and cultural field, 1945-1965”, in H. Loeber (ed.) Dutch-American relations 1945-1969, a partnership, illusions and facts, Assen/Maastricht, Van Gorcum, 1992, p. 105-152; M. Roholl, ‘“A full and fair picture’. American foreign cultural policy vis-a-vis the Netherlands, 1945-1960, in D. Bosscher, M. Rohoi.i. and M. van Elteren (eds.), American culture in the Netherlands, Amsterdam, VU University Press, 1996, p. 165-196.

2 ‘Hoe morgen hier?’[How tomorrow here?] was the telling title of one the reports on US human relations in industry : [Anon.], Hoe morgen hier? Mens en bedrijf in de nienwe wereld, Den Haag, C.O.P, 1957.

3 M. Kipping and O. Bjarnar (eds.), The Americanisation of European business: The Marshall plan and the transfer of the ES management models, London, Routledge, 1998.

4 - J. Zeitlin, Americanization and its limits: reworking US technology and management in postwar Europe and japan, EUI working paper RSC no. 99/33, European University Institute, 1999.

5 J. Tomlinson and N. Tiratsoo, “Americanisation beyond the mass production paradigm. The case of British industry”, in M. Kipping and O. Bjarnar (eds.), The Americanisation of European business. The Marshall Plan and the transfer of US management models, London Routledne 1998, p. 115-132.

6 Zeitlin 1999: 10-11.

7 J. Mcglade, “From business reform programme to production drive. The transformation of US technical assistance to Western Europe”, in M. Kipping and O. Bjarnar (eds.), The Americanisation of European business. The Marshall Plan and the transfer of US management models London, Routledge, 1998, p. 18-34.

8 M. Kipping, ‘“Operation Impact”, converting European employers to the American creed” in ibid. p. 55-73, 65.

9 T.R. Gourvish and N. Tiratsoo, “Missionaries and managers : an introduction”, in T.R. Gourvish and N. Tiratsoo (eds.), Missionaries and managers: American influences on European management education, 1945-60, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1998 p. 1-12

10 - Kipping and Bjrnar 1998: 3-4.

11 H. A.M. Klemann, “Economy and industry during the German occupation. The Netherlands 1940-1945”, in F. Amatori, A. Colli and N. Crepas (eds.), Deindustrialization and reindustrializaion in 20th-century Europe, Milan, FrancoAngeli, 1999, p. 417-435.

12 E. Bloemen and R.T. Griffiths, “Resisting revolution in the Netherlands”, in D. Barjot, J. Gillingham, and T. Hara (eds.), Catching up with America : productivity missions and the diffusion of American economic and technological influence after the Second World War (forthcoming) ; E. Bloemen, “Geestelijke Marshall-hulp : de productiviteitskwestie”, in R.T. Griffiths et. al. (eds.), Van strohalm tot strategie. Het Marshall-plan inperspectief Assen, Van Gorcum, 1997, p. 78-87.

13 F. Inklaar, Van Amerika geleerd. Marshall-hulp en kennisimport in Nederland, Den Haas SDU 1997, p. 51-82.

14 Inklaar 1997:423-431, citation 429.

15 Inklaar 1997: 343-344.

16 P. Helleman and J. Marsman, De organisatie-adviseur. Opkomst en groei van een nieuw vak in Nederland 1920-1960, Meppel, Boom, 1997, p. 282.

17 L. Karsten and K. van Veen, “Management consultancies in the Netherlands in the 1950s and 1960s: between systemic context and external influences”, in M. Kipping and L. Engwall (eds.), Management Consulting. Emergence and dynamics of a knowledge industry, OUP, 2002, p. 102-138.

18 de Man and L. Karsten, “Academic management education in the Netherlands”, in L. Engwall and E. Gunnersson (eds.), Management studies in an academic context, Uppsala, Uppsala University, 1994, p. 84-115; P. Van Baalen, Management en hoger ondenvijs, Delft, Eburon, 1995, p. 237-238.

19 K.E. Sluyterman, “Uitvinden en verdienen”, in H.F.J.M. van den Eerenbeemt (ed.), Van boterkleurselnaar kopieersystemen. De ontstaansgeschiedenis van Océ-van der Grinten, 1877-1956 Leiden Nijhoff, 1992, p. 171-264.

20 K.E. Sluyterman, “From licensor to multinational enterprise: the small Dutch firm Océvan der Grinten in the international world, 1920-1966”, Business History, 34 (2), 1992, p. 28-49.

21 Sluyterman 1992b: 218-219, 233-237 ; Annual Report Océ-van der Grinten, 1991.

22 M.C.M. van Elteren, “Tussen verlicht paternalisme en functioneel-zakelijk management”, in H.F.J.M. van den Eerenbeemt (ed.), Van boterkleursel naar kopieersystemen. De ontstaansgeschiedenis van Océ-van der Grinten, 1877-1956, Leiden, Nijhoff, 1992, p. 268-342.

23 In this respect, their policy resembled that of Philips Gloeilampenfabrieken. Personnel mangers from Philips were active in the Dutch study teams visiting the US, but the company applied the US solutions judiciously. Inklaar 1997: 187-195.

24 Inklaar 1997: 161-178.

25 [Anon.], Zes jaarproductiviteits bevordering in de grafische industrie, Den Haag, C.O.P., 1958, p. 153-158.

26 K.E. Sluyterman, Winnen met papier. Vijftig jaar uit de 250-jarige geschiedenis van Proost en Brandt, 1942-1992, Diemen, Proost en Brandt, 1992, p. 66-74.

27 Papers on personnel, 6.7-12 and 6.7-16, Proost and Brandt (hereafter P&B), Amsterdam Municipal Archives (hereafter AMA).

28 Sluyterman 1992C: 97-99.

29 Reports on bindery, 540.30-5 and paper on personnel, 6.8-3, 11 Nov. 1953, P&B, AMA.

30 Minutes Works council, 1957-1962, 6.8-08; minutes board of directors 1959 0.01-14 P&B AMA.

31 Reports on bindery, 540.30-1, P&B, AMA; SLUYTERMAN 1992c: 184-185.

32 Sluyterman 1992c: 113-116, 140-146; reports on bindery, 540.00-10, 540.30-1 and 540.30-4, P&B, AMA.

33 In fact, many Dutch trading companies experienced difficulties in managing their industrial activities, which they optimistically had acquired during the 1960s. As a consequence they had to sell them or shut them down in the 1970s with huge losses: J. Jonker and K. Sluyterman, At home on the world markets. Dutch international trading companies from the 16th century until the present, Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000, p. 290-325.

34 Inklaar 1997: 143-177.

35 M. Dierikx, De vrijheid in beeld. Nederland en Amerika, 1945-nu, Den Haag, SDU, 1997, p. 29.

36 Tomlinson and Tiratsoo 1998: 116.

37 WJ. Dercksen, Industrialisatiepolitiek rondom de jaren vijftig; Een socialogisch-economische beleidsstudie, Assen/Maastricht, Van Gorcum 1986, p. 182-190.

38 Kipping and Bjarnar 1998 : 13-14.

39 Zeitlin 1999 :30-36.

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Utrecht University

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