Books July 2011

Book Reviews

Made in Britain
Accompanied by a BBC2 series which Evan Davis presented, the book takes an upbeat look at how Britain earns its living, as well as what we are, and what we’re not, good at. The author’s voluble broadcast-journalism style transfers well to print, and he uses some engaging analogies and examples to illustrate his points.

His central arguments are that the doomsayers and smug patriots are both off on their analysis of Britain’s economy, and that the country needs to concentrate on high-value goods and services in areas in which it can compete. Davis points out that, while our share of global manufacturing has halved since its peak, such declines are a natural part of becoming a wealthy nation that can’t compete with the low wages of developing countries.

The author does, however, believe Britain could be doing better and argues in the “Room for Improvement” chapter that a potentially lucrative lead in technologies, such as wind farms, has been unnecessarily relinquished.

Using the examples of JK Rowling and David Beckham, the book argues that earning from a strong pool of knowledge workers—yes he does include Becks in that category—is both advantageous and risky. Rowling has apparently earned the equivalent of one thousand manufacturing workers over the past decade and, just as Beckham has done, she could easily take her talent anywhere.

Managing in the Modern Corporation:
The Intensification of Managerial Work in the USA, UK and Japan

Over the past two decades in particular, middle managers have faced expanding roles and responsibilities, while having fewer opportunities for promotion in “de-layered” organisations. They have also found themselves imposing programmes involving job cuts and efficiency drives on increasingly demoralised and stressed workforces. So argue the authors, three British academics, based on in-depth interviews with more than 250 managers and senior executives in the countries surveyed.

Although some differences among firms in the three countries are identified—the Japanese are shown, somewhat unsurprisingly, still to be more reluctant to trim workforces—the experience of middle management is remarkably similar. The authors also find, to their own apparent surprise that, despite the longer hours, increased stress and, now, the inescapable connection to the office, a lot of middle mangers still derive a good deal of satisfaction, and even enjoyment, from their work.

As well as the life history interviews, the book analyses its findings using some of the major theories of work and employment, though it offers few solutions to the overworked modern manger.

British Factory–Japanese Factory
The Origins of National Diversity in Industrial Relations

This is a reissue of a book, originally published in 1973, which examines the differences between two factories in Britain and two in Japan that manufactured similar products. The early part of the book goes through point-by-point comparisons of various aspects of shop-floor practices, while later it concentrates on a broader analysis of systems and the reasons behind them. It is of more interest now as a historical document than as an aid to understanding what separates workplaces and labour relations in the two countries.