As a PhD student I have had to get used to being continually asked what my topic of study is. I don’t mind this, as I have always felt that there is no point writing a 90,000 word thesis if I don’t tell anyone what the contents is, or, at the end, put the manuscript in a cupboard to gather dust. After four years (out of six) I have come to some interesting conclusions regarding the management of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) which I thought I would share with all here.
The first chapter of the thesis basically covers the background, describing what has been said previously in the literature. It is in the second chapter that will start to discuss my findings. As the basis for the rest of the work, this chapter is on the financial health of the L&SWR. I have concluded that while suffering from increased costs after 1870 as a result of laws on the implementation of safety devices, employees working conditions and the rates that they charged, the L&SWR’s financial results (for example their return on capital employed and operating ratio) were above the industry’s average, but not to a significant extent.
In chapter 3 I will show that the L&SWR’s management structure, where each department had a specific function, such as Way and Works, Locomotive and Traffic, emerged because when the line was initially being built the different functions of company operation were initiated at different points. As departments grew in size because of company expansion, they became institutions in their own right. This meant that within the organisation the departments became increasingly isolated and focussed on their own operations to the detriment of internal operational cohesion. Furthermore, as the departments grew in scale underneath the management of the company, decision-making and inter-departmental communications became increasingly centralised at the head of the organisation. Lastly, the management structures that were created early in the company’s history tenaciously held on until 1914.
Chapter 4 will demonstrate that within the company there developed early on two employment streams, these being the primary (or clerical) and secondary labour markets. It was from amongst the clerks in the primary labour market that almost all senior Traffic Department managers were chosen in the later nineteenth century. This meant that almost all managers had similar, if not identical, career paths, which could have potentially led to a lack of innovation within the company. The company try to improve the quality of management in the early 20th century through London-based L&SWR clerks attending the railway department of the London School of Economics, however, this would have had limited effect on the management of the L&SWR, coming too late before 1914 to make a difference.
In chapter 5 I will investigate the external business activities of the L&SWR directors, and look at how these could have affected the management of the L&SWR. Before 1880 the company’s board was dominated by directors who were involved in land and agriculture. However, between 1880 and 1900 the L&SWR directors started to attempt to gain control over companies associated with the company’s business by taking directorships on their boards. Yet, the majority of the directors appointed after 1880 had no directorships on joining the L&SWR, and as such cannot be considered to have been appointed to it because of their business links. Lastly, directors were chosen for seats because of their political activities throughout the L&SWR’s history. However, they were more likely to be chosen because of this factor when the L&SWR and the railway industry were under threat politically.
Therefore, this is the state of play in my PhD, and I am currently working on my last, highly important, chapter. The challenge of the last chapter is to link all of these conclusions together, and combined with new information provide a picture of how exactly the L&SWR made decisions between 1852 and 1914.