14th June 1869 to 9th May 1950

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Biographical Text

Hackett spent most of his working life at Cadbury Brothers, rising to the post of works foreman. He was also a Birmingham city councillor and was active in the co-operative movement. 

Hackett was born at Smethwick, near Birmingham on 14 June 1869. He was educated at Dudley Road board school, but left school at thirteen to take up an engineering apprenticeship at the Dowlais Iron Company (later part of Guest, Keen and Nettlefold (GKN)). He remained here for ten years before joining Cadbury Brothers as a night foreman. In 1896 he was appointed general works foreman at the company’s Bournville factory. He married Elizabeth James in 1892. 

Hackett was closely involved with the co-operative movement, joining the Ten Acres and Stirchley Co-operative Society in 1892 and becoming a director in 1894. He served as president of the society from 1923-46. From 1919-23 he was also chairman of the Birmingham branch of the Co-operative Party. He later served on the central education committee of the National Co-operative Union. 

By 1913 Hackett was a member of the Labour Party, and in that year was elected as a Labour member of Birmingham City Council, representing the Rotton Park ward. He opposed the First World War and registered as a conscientious objector. In 1918 he resigned his council seat to stand in the general election of 1918 for the King’s Norton seat, but his pacifism told against him and he was heavily defeated. He never returned to the national political arena. In 1920 Hackett was re-elected to Birmingham City Council for the Northfield ward, and served until 1949, becoming an alderman of Birmingham in 1941. 

Hackett retired from Cadbury Brothers in 1932 after thirty years of service. He devoted his remaining years to public service, serving as president of Fircroft Adult School, governor of Birmingham Blue Coat School and representative on the Joint Board of the University of Birmingham and the Workers’ Educational Association. He died in Birmingham on 9 May 1950. 

Hackett was sixty years old when he gave his paper. He indicates that he had attended a number of Rowntree conferences in the past, and he begins by telling his audience that he feels strongly about the purpose of the conferences, which he describes as ‘a necessary step forward in the consideration of our industrial future.’ 

Hackett describes modern industry as ‘a great co-operative undertaking.’ Large companies, he says, have two prominent features: first, specialisation, the dividing up of these organisations according to function, and second, coordination, the harmonious working together of all the parts towards a common goal. The members of the organisation who make this coordination happen are the foremen and forewomen (though he speaks of foremen throughout the paper, Hackett points out that he regards both male and female supervisors as being entirely equal; this is very much in keeping with the ethos that Edward Cadbury had instilled in his company). 

‘No task could be more vital than the actual first-hand control and organisation of labour’, Hackett says, ‘and that is the task of the foreman.’ 

The reason for his importance is twofold. First of all, so far as management is concerned, he is the person who comes right down to immediate contact with the worker. Secondly he is, or should be, the interpreter of the higher management to the worker, and of the worker to the higher management. He must make each intelligible to the other. 

The task of the foreman concerns the management of labour, plant and capital. In terms of labour, one of the key requirements is to fit the right people to the right jobs, which requires knowing a great deal about the people who work at the plant and their aptitudes and abilities. Otherwise, the foreman must be fair, impartial and tactful. Also, ‘the foreman should, as far as possible, take interest in the things that make for the health and happiness of his operatives; and I am very strongly convinced myself that if he can appeal to men on the human side, he will win their sympathy more completely than if he tried to appeal to them in any other way.’ 


In terms of plant, the foreman must possess the requisite technical knowledge, not only of the machines themselves and how they operate, but also of the quality of goods they produce. He must also know how to assess the quality of materials and be able to spot defects. Hackett then returns to the boundary-spanning role and assert that a good foreman must always be prepared to stand up for his men, before a few final remarks on issues such as timekeeping. His final comment concerns the need for development and training of foremen so that they are kept up to date and encouraged to learn about and try new things. ‘You must not only train him’, Hackett says of the foreman, ‘you must encourage him to train himself, and open out fresh paths of advance for him.’ 


Martin, D.E., ‘Hackett, Thomas’, in Dictionary of Labour Biography, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1977. 

‘Tom Hackett’, Grace’s Guide to Industrial Historyhttp://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Special:Search?search=tom+hackett&fulltext=  

Original Source

‘Some practical problems of foremanship’, 28 September 1929, Balliol College


“HACKETT, Thomas,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed August 5, 2020, http://rowntree.exeter.ac.uk/items/show/612.