By Patrick Mennem
For motor tycoon Sir Donald Stokes this is the moment of truth. In the next fortnight he must mastermind the streamlining of the newly-merged British Leyland Motor Corporation.
British Leyland, employer of more than 200,000 people and the biggest, potential overseas currency earner in the country, is balanced like a seesaw. If it tilts one way, exports of British motor vehicles, from 60 ton lorries to mini cars could be thrown into chaos. A move the other way and the motor industry could be launched on the greatest, overseas sales boom it has known since the war.
And the thing that could tip the scales is redundancy. For the boss Sir Donald Stokes, 54, this means the toughest decisions of his life. He has steered clear of any talk of redundancy. But he has stressed that there is no point in a merger without streamlining.
The unions have talked about massive figures like 30,000 redundancies.
Sir Donald dismisses these as wild exaggerations. Obviously, what ever you call it, some people are going to lose their
jobs. In everything he has touched Sir Donald has been an outstanding success. He built up Leyland into a giant.
Now he faces the formidable, belligerent battalions of the old British Motor Corporation, whose attitude to trade unionism is steeped in antiquity. They have paid lip service to co-operation so far, in the new merger, but as Dick Etheridge, top shop steward at BMC’s Longbridge factory, has said: ‘We realise that there must be considerable change. We do not oppose change for the sake of opposing it, but we shall fight redundancies’
Sir Donald would not pretend to be infallible, but he is very efficient. He claims that his organization made £111,000,000 in overseas currency in the first four months of this year, and promises that he can go on doing it—and better. But, first the row that is looming in his 200,000 labour force must be settled. An unofficial shop steward’s committee, set up after the merger and led by Dick Etheridge, wants talks on redundancies within a fortnight.
Sir Donald is sailing in his yacht off the Spanish coast. He plans to be back early next week — which leaves the deadline with
the shop stewards very close. But he will not come back empty handed. He knows what is at stake and has surrounded himself with the best economists and planners in the business.
Sir Donald is not used to losing battles and if the shop stewards Committee will budge just an inch, I am sure he will win this too.