ELBOURNE, Edward Tregaskis
12th June 1875 to 18th October 1935
Elbourne was an engineer who developed his own consulting business. He was one of the first management consultants to practice in Britain. His book Factory Administration and Accounts was widely read during the First World War. During the inter-war years he was also a pioneer of management education.
Elbourne was born in Birmingham (Urwick (1956) says Hampshire) on 12 June 1875. He was educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, and then served several technical and engineering apprenticeships in Birmingham and Barrow-in-Furness. In 1896 he took a post as a draughtsman. In 1900 Elbourne went to the USA to study machine technology and factory organisation; it is not known whether he was sent by his employer or went on a private visit. Returning to the UK that same year, Elbourne took up his first management position as works organiser and accountant with the shipbuilder John Thorneycroft & Co in Chiswick (the company later moved to Southampton). By 1914 he was factory works accountant for Vickers Sons & Maxim’s plant at Erith, southeast of London. It was at this point that he published his best-known and most successful book, Factory Administration and Accounts.
During the First World War Elbourne served as departmental works manager for Birmingham Small Arms, and then as assistant general manager of the Ponders End Shell Works. At Ponders End he worked with Henry (later Sir Henry) Brindley, who like himself was interested in the problems of industrial administration and efficiency. After the war they set up an engineering consultancy business, Brindley and Elbourne. Brindley died in 1920; Elbourne carried on the business for some years, although according to Urwick (1956), Elbourne lacked Brindley’s organising ability and the business increasingly lost direction. Becoming interested in issues connected with marketing, he took up a post as director of marketing investigation at Shaw, Wardlow & Co. in London. He continued also to work as a freelance organisation consultant until his death in London on 18 October 1935.
Urwick (1956: 182) describes Elbourne as ‘a man more interested in ideas than in money-making.’ His visit to America in 1900 was a formative influence. It is not known whether Elbourne visited Bethlehem Steel or met Frederick Taylor, but he certainly seems to have returned to the UK convinced, as Urwick says, that management was a science with its own set of laws and principles. Elbourne was never a rigid adherent of Taylorism, and rarely mentions Taylor in his own works. Instead, he set out to develop his own principles through practice and observation (indeed, much as Taylor himself was doing).
The result was his book Factory Administration and Accounts, later updated under the title Factory Administration and Cost Accounts. Urwick and Brech (1957: 149) note that the book came to the attention of Sir John Mann, a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Munitions, who encouraged managers in firms engaged on government work to buy it. Largely as a result of Mann's endorsement, the book sold some 10,000 copies, a phenomenal figure for a book on management in the UK at that time.
Elbourne also came to believe strongly in management education. In 1920 he and Brindley established the Institute of Industrial Administration in London, in part as Brech (2002) says to further the cause of management education. Elbourne served as the IIA’s honorary director of education until his death. In 1927 he and a colleague, B.C. Adams, established a series of courses in industrial administration at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London (now the University of Westminster). Around the same time he persuaded both the Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers to include industrial administration as a subject within their examination schemes, and helped to establish the department of business administration at the London School of Economics, where he lectured on cost accounting. He served as an examiner for the commerce degree offered by the University of London.
Elbourne also argued for the need for further education for mature managers, courses of the kind that later became known as executive education, and succeeded in establishing a first, experimental course at Loughborough College in 1934, not long before his death. His final book, Fundamentals of Industrial Administration, was intended as a textbook for this course.
During the first half of his career, the ‘science’ that Elbourne applied to management was fundamentally the discipline of accounting. In Factory Administration and Accounts, Elbourne divides management into three sets of interrelated activities: works administration, sales administration and financial administration. Attention to the first two is fairly cursory, and it is to financial administration and accounting that the bulk of the book is devoted. There was in the UK before the First World War a strong school of thought that underpinned management theory with accountancy practices, perhaps best exemplified by the works of Laurence Dicksee, and Elbourne followed very much in that tradition. In Factory Administration and Accounts, Elbourne attempted to bring accounting into the mainstream of management thinking, to make it a fundamental part of management rather than a specialist or ancillary activity. The book’s primary goal is to make accounting methods and measures understandable to and useable by non-accounting specialists.
As noted, Elbourne also became interested in marketing, and here he borrowed fairly heavily from contemporary American theory. His book The Marketing Problem summarised the work of American thinkers and practitioners, most notably the economist L.D.H. Weld. In this book, Elbourne recommends the adoption of many American practices such as market research and analysis, supported by the work of independent marketing consultants, or ‘counsels’, and also the use of new techniques in advertising, promotion and distribution. The book includes a twenty-five page list of books on marketing published up to 1925 by American authorities such as Weld, Paul Cherington, Melvin Copeland and Fred Clark.
The final chapters of Fundamentals of Industrial Administration are perhaps the most interesting work Elbourne produced. Here he attempts to get to grips with what management actually is, and he acknowledges a debt here to Oliver Sheldon’s The Philosophy of Management, from which he quotes at length. Like Sheldon and also like Urwick, Elbourne reveals himself to be a follower of a British cultural tradition in which management is seen as an art rather than a science. American-style scientific management is a useful tool, but no more; the manager’s task is not just to manage systems and machines, but also to manage people.
Elbourne then goes on to establish his own set of principles of management: investigation, ‘objective’ (goal-setting), organisation, direction, experiment and control. ‘Experiment’, as Elbourne describes it, could also be defined as ‘continuous improvement’: ‘If the principles of continuity and mobility are to be observed it is necessary to make arrangement for constant experiment with a view to improving features of the organization or system’ (Elbourne 1934: 575).
Elbourne’s importance is as a disseminator, rather than a truly original thinker. His books were widely read, though some were undoubtedly more successful than others, and his was one of the leading voices calling for more and better education. Urwick and Brech (1957) cite Elbourne as one of the major forces in the development of management education and training in Britain following the First World War.
Elbourne’s Rowntree conference paper can be seen as an attempt to synthesise some aspects of industrial psychology with the more general, philosophical approach about the purpose and meaning of management which was beginning to emerge as one of the themes of the conference series. Elbourne begins by rejecting brainpower as purely a matter of mental capacity. This is important, he says, but there are also two other aspects of the brain, which he terms ‘moral power ‘ – never fully defined but which seems to reflect the ability to reason and also to empathise with others – and ‘cultural power’, which Elbourne defines as technology and acquired knowledge.
Elbourne points out that some jobs require different kinds of ‘power’; a works manager might require more moral power, whereas a designer or works chemist probably needs more cultural power. However, he is careful to not privilege one kind of ‘power’ over another, and rejects the notion of ‘management as the brains of industry’ that had been popularised by the American engineer Harrington Emerson. Elbourne believes that all kinds of work require mental power of some sort; all work needs brains, but different kinds of work need different kinds of brains.
Two other issues preoccupy Elbourne for much of the lecture. One is the notion that people’s brains are not being used to their full capacity; that is, people are given work which does not require them to think as much as they might. This leads to two problems: first, workers grow bored and disenchanted, and second, the company is missing out on an opportunity to be more creative and productive by engaging more of its people’s brains. Ensuring that people do have a chance to think and use their brains creatively is, Elbourne suggests, one of the key tasks of administration:
If there is to be recognition of the individuality of rank and file workers, it will be found that administration must take on a broader meaning than the mere exercise of authority. It must seek to become a factor that co-ordinates and facilitates duties rather than compels obedience, and that makes co-operation both possible and effective.
The second issue that Elbourne discusses in detail is the need for education. There is, he says, not enough training in business, neither for shop floor workers nor for administrators. Training, he believes, is a way of expanding all three powers, mental capacity, training and technical knowledge, and moral understanding. Many people coming into the workplace have only limited education, and Elbourne asks the question: do employers have a duty to provide more education for their staff, to increase their effectiveness as workers, but also to develop them as human beings? He sees an increasing hunger for knowledge among the less well-educated, and believes that education is both an economic and a social good.
Factory Administration and Accounts, 1914.
The Costing Problem, 1919.
Factory Administration and Cost Accounts, 1921.
‘Staff Organisation in Factories’. Journal of the Institute of Industrial Administration, October 1921.
The Marketing Problem: How it is Being Tackled in the USA, 1926.
Fundamentals of Industrial Administration: An Introduction to Industrial Organization, Management and Economics, 1934.
Brech, E.F.L. , The Evolution of Modern Management, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2002.
Sears, J.E. (ed.) Who's Who in Engineering, London: The Compendium Publishing Co., 1922.
Urwick, L.F., The Golden Book of Management, London: Newman Neame, 1956.
Urwick, L.F. and Brech, E.F.L. The Making of Scientific Management, vol. I, Thirteen Pioneers, London, 1957; repr. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1994.
Witzel, M., ‘Elbourne, Edward Tregaskis’, in M. Witzel (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of Management, Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2001.
‘The organisation of brains in industry’, 26 September 1924, Balliol College