Management the McIvor Way
When I was doing my Business Management degree there were three recognisable tiers. The top level was Executive, headed by a CEO answerable to a Board of Directors, then there were middle managers who were essentially on the firing line between the Executive and the Regional Managers. Below the Regional level were the local managers and their underlings, deputy managers, supervisors and the like. The top level controlled vast numbers of worker ants who were there to do their bidding or face the axe. I laboured under this regime for five years in the banking industry and by sheer luck or hard work, depending on your opinion of me, I was transferred to the Los Angeles branch. There were many changes to adapt to, like seeing a sun that was actually warm and no snowbound roads, but the three tier system was still in place.
Some three months later, much to my surprise, my boss put me forward for a Management Enhancement course, (MEC). The three week course is run by a loose conglomeration of companies who run courses at various retreats to share their management skills and expertise. The final ten days saw us paired with one of the CEOs who’d given the lectures. We were then ‘employed’ by them for ten days as PAs in order to gain on the ground insight. These placements are always carefully vetted in advance and thus my hope I’d be picked up by Bank of America was dashed, instead I was placed with House of McIvor.
At the time I was disappointed to be dumped with fashion. I’m a man’s man, blue suits, white shirts and if I’m feeling bold, a red tie. Weekends it all goes to pot with a tee shirt and faded jeans, or whatever my wife has found for me. On the other hand it was mildly intoxicating because I was informed that rather than work with her PA, I’d be working with the lady herself. I may be a Brit and a bit too reserved, even by English standards, but even I’d heard of her and in my own very British way dreamed of what I might say to turn her head. Sadly it was more like William Thackery meeting Anna Scott but without the Hugh Grant rumpled sex appeal. Thankfully I didn’t have a cup of orange juice in my hand at the time (I did learn something from Notting Hill).
But with that rather humiliating let-down my ten day education began. Elizabeth operates at two speeds, flat out or at a dead stop. She has boundless energy and to my relief, a refreshing earthiness. She apologised that she couldn’t spend the entire ten days with me but that she was going to show me her bottom up leadership model. I found her PA, Anna King to be just as forthcoming and hands on as her boss.
Bottom up the McIvor way is more than meetings at grass roots level where employers ‘listen’ to their disgruntled employees. Elizabeth called that paternalistic bull. “You’re top of the food chain, the one with the power to hire and fire and they’ll say anything they think might make you like them and avoid subjects that might make you angry.”
Anna is a little more blunt.
“It’s like holding a gun at someone’s head and asking what they think of you. Only Superman would dare call you a black hearted bully but he’s made of steel.”
Her model involves getting in on the ground floor and she admitted at first it was difficult.
“People were unwilling to tell the CEO of House of McIvor to bring a rail of garments up to the shop floor to put out. I had to order them to order me.”
But as she worked alongside employees at every level she learned more than if she’d brought in a team of business analysts.
“All it cost me was loss of pride and a few broken nails.”
House of McIvor is what it is today thanks to her Bottom Up strategy. When she found that the pricing guns kept discharging too quickly she sourced new guns. When one employee suggested she use an Open Source software system for the tills she switched to a Linux system and in her words, ‘saved a ton of money in licensing fees.’
“The people at the coal face know what’s going on, they do the job day in day out. It’s in their best interests to see the company trading successfully. Work with them, don’t make them work for you just to increase your profit margin or deliver returns to shareholders who are only going to sell their shares when the next big fish surfaces.”
My ten days with her were the hardest I’d ever worked. She had me at a store in Detroit, working on the shop floor and at management level and at the end of the day she’d quiz me about what I’d learned. She would ask about the people I’d met and she was not querying their competence, instead she asked me their names. Are they married? Do they have kids? What are their names? It took about three or four days before I finally asked why was this so important? I thought it almost intrusive at the time.
In answer, Elizabeth told me about a manager she’d met early on who had two children and didn’t want any more, but was worried that if she got pregnant again, she wouldn’t be able to get cover for an abortion. Elizabeth made inquiries and discovered to her shock that the insurance company her company was using had just changed its policy. It no longer covered abortions. Had she not spoken to this woman she might not have known and so she brought in her brother’s company, who do cover abortion, contraception, family planning and at a much lower cost.
“That woman rose to become a middle manager,” she remarked, “but if I hadn’t known about her worries I might have lost her. People remember the little things you do for them. It’s no good telling people that your employees are your best resource when you squander your best resource as if it’s a well that’s never going to run dry. Resources are finite. People have limits, boundaries and if you respect the limits and boundaries they’ll reward you with increased productivity. Forget it and you’ll still get the results but you’ll spend more money training new employees when you’ve worn the last crop out.”
They were words I’ve never forgotten. I came back to the bank two weeks later with the Bottom up strategy well in place. Granted it wasn’t appreciated in that environment but in my current role as a lecturer back in Britain I find myself referring to the McIvor Bottom Up Strategy in my lectures. It does more than fly in the face of the new neoliberalism, it’s a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and does more to address the problems of inequality than a hundred government programs.
Now that she’s branching out to the UK I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to her management strategy. She might find herself coming up against the class structure still prevalent in businesses up and down the country but I’m betting the bank that House of McIvor will hit the ground running and find its niche on the High Street. I’ve worked with both systems and while the Bottom Up is harder and riskier, the companies that use this strategy always seem able to ride the waves no matter how hard the wind is blowing.
Daniel Matheson is a lecturer in Management Principles at London’s Kings College.
When my stepmom’s plane went down a part of me died, Cat was my world. In her place she left us to her friends, the Grey Ravens. Over the years I slowly came to realise her death was a mere facade. When we were reunited I learned the truth about Clan Grey Raven and her remarkable history. Some people will always love. Some people never lose hope. Some people never die…