From Rushworth Kidder’s Moral Courage, chapter one. Walter Eric Duckworth (OBE), who I believe went on to serve as Head of the Fulmer Ltd. and Chairman of the London Metallurgical Society, describes an incident early in his career with Glacier Metal Company, right about the time that Tavistock and Elliott Jaques started working with the company. He is also a PhD from Cambridge (1945) and an honorary graduate of Brunel (1976) and U of Surrey (1980). Interesting chap.
But the story is great because it illustrates what was possible at Glacier back before Tavistock and Elliot Jaques came in.
The CEO is Wilfred Brown.
Eric Duckworth, an ebullient Englishman with an impish wit, notes with self-deprecating modesty that where moral courage is concerned he “usually fails.” But “on one occasion when I was young and idealistic,” he recalls, “I succeeded-and have been proud of it ever since.”
In 1949 Duckworth and his wife were newly married and applying for a mortgage to buy their first home in suburban London. A metallurgist by training, he had joined the Glacier Metal Company, now part of Federal Mogul, a firm that specialized in making bearings for internal combustion engines. Among his tasks were examining damaged bearings returned by customers to determine the causes of the failures, reporting back to the customers, and if necessary recommending changes in production processes to correct the problem.
Most of the time, he recalls, the failures were due to problems such as misuse, improper installation, and lack of lubrication. But “very occasionally,” he says, Glacier had supplied a faulty part. As Duckworth got more experience, he came to understand that those occasional faults were not being accurately reported. His boss, the chief metallurgist, regularly tried to cover up such faults by refusing to divulge all the facts.” He salved his conscience,” Duckworth recalls, “by saying that he was prepared to commit sins of omission but not of commission.”
As a result, bearing failures for which Glacier should have taken responsibility were attributed to mishandling by the end users, and no effort was made to compensate customers.
“After a while,” says Duckworth, “I disagreed.” He had been with the company for only six months when a particularly egregious case of failure by Glacier came to his attention. Instead of shifting the blame, he “wrote the report with complete honesty.” When his boss rejected his findings, Duckworth recalls that “in my altruistic, youthful fervor, I said I would resign.”
Moral courage or rash bravado? At the time, says Duckworth, “It was very foolish of me.” The sales department, agreeing with the chief metallurgist, protested his report vigorously, certain that such an admission of mistakes would cost them this customer and perhaps many more. Fortunately, Duckworth had already made suggestions that had increased the productivity of the manufacturing line threefold. Those actions, he suspects, had won him the admiration of the CEO, who backed him against his boss. The report was sent to the customer.
Shortly afterward, Duckworth says, “we got back a very congratulatory letter saying that the customer had always suspected concealment in some of our reports.” Welcoming the company’s newfound candor, they increased their orders as a result.