Catering Crisis in Edwardian England
Of the six catering companies relying primarily on working- and middle-class custom examined in this chapter, only the Express Dairy Company avoided internal upheaval in Edwardian England. Boards of Directors at Ye Mecca, Lockharts, Slaters, the ABC and the BTT in turn confronted disgruntled committees of inspection in the years 1904–1909 and 1915. Each company had similar problems—declining profits, dividends and gross sales, together with un-remunerative shops. Three of them—Ye Mecca, Express Dairy and Slaters—had periods of missed dividends, while Slaters and two others (ABC and Lockharts) had plummeting share values. Whether the companies had set aside reserves or declared some or no goodwill matter not at all in terms of long-term financial health. What mattered most in restoring a company to stability were skills of the general manager, as Arthur Pearce demonstrated at Lockharts.
Serious economic woes among catering firms in Edwardian England provoked directors to assert greater control over management. ABC, Slaters and Lockharts—three of the largest firms—eliminated the position of managing director, substituting instead a general manager. This liberated the chairmen and Boards of Directors to pursue policies independently of another rival source of authority and potential criticism as well as conflict. In focusing on organisational structure rather than expertise, managerial skills, experience and talent, the Boards of Directors were in many ways seeking a scapegoat to placate unhappy shareholders. These difficult years required imaginative, tenacious, shrewd and insightful leaders with wide practical experience. Such men were in short supply, except in the Pearce clan. As distinguished clan leader, John Pearce grasped fully those traits necessary for leadership.