From time to time, we will ask interesting people to contribute some of their wisdom and experience about business and management. We start with that of a man whose ilk has become regrettably scarce - a master engineer and leader - Douglas Stevenson.

The Wit and Wisdom of Douglas Stevenson.

Douglas Stevenson died several years back. He had enjoyed very successful international career, becoming the chief executive of ITT Components, Europe. He finally left ITT because he could not agree with the company's values.

He then joined Thorn EMI, which at the beginning of the 1980's was struggling with the problems of producing video discs, using technology from JVC, who were equally grappling with production problems. Douglas succeeded where others had failed, and moved on to working on the production of digital audio discs. He and his team set up one of the first audio disc factories in Europe.

In his latter days with Thorn EMI, he took over the leadership of Inmos, a muchtroubled semiconductor venture and through sheer intelligence and tenacity turned a technologically challenged political rats' nest into a viable business with a positive value. He did all of this whilst taking care of a wife with a serious depressive illness.

Douglas was an inspiration to those who were lucky to know him. He was a small Scot with a slight speech impediment, and his values, integrity and sheer force of personality imposed themselves on all around him.
He had strong beliefs - one of which was always to approach a new business through the experiences and perspectives of front line staff. So he would disappear for several weeks, and then burst into the open armed with a change agenda derived from a combination of his own experience and that of the 'workers'.
Douglas could not stand those who hid behind hierarchy, or who were autocratic and punitive. He had his own very effective means of dealing with them, no matter what their seniority.

Douglas was a superb engineer, a practical, hands-on manager - and a philosopher.
Here are his observations on management and organisation.


  1. Objectivity is that which you apply to other people's problems and recommendations.
  2. Assertion and axiom are not synonyms.
  3. Grinding axes and blowing your own trumpet while putting your best foot forward generally results in doing yourself an injury.
  4. Avoid and resist "HELP" which is purely the enforced imposition by an external agency of other priorities without responsibility for the consequences.
  5. Avoid the creation of phantom managerial power centres which can only be maintained by those above.
  6. When calling a meeting you must decide what form:
    1. a one-act play with you in the lead role
    2. a charade
    3. a personal therapeutic session with a compulsory audience
    4. a prayer meeting
    5. a teach-in
    6. a genuine attempt to inform and reach agreement on policy
    Note: Only add information which reinforces or supplements the total wisdom and intelligence available in the system.
  7. Managerial "eddy current" losses are directly proportional to the square of the frequency of organisational change.
  8. Those who would play the permanent role of eminence gris, agent provocateur or recording angel although they appear to live, breathe and have their being are but the vestigial remains of the pre-democratic age.
  9. Any major organisation is the face of mankind writ large and therefore must reflect greed, self-seeking power, lust and irresponsibility. Do not despair; we have all come from the risen ape rather than the fallen angel and there is hope.
  10. In the final analysis, any manager who would maintain his integrity and sanity must irrespective of pressure from above and below continue to do the right thing and accept the consequences of his actions. The worst thing that can happen to him is he will get fired.
Douglas Stevenson
ITT Components Group Europe

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Rachel Owton 3 Feb 15 11:08

Thank you for this article. Douglas Stevenson was my Grandfather. He was an amazing man. The only thing you missed about him was his passion for education. He believed you were never too old or clever to learn about new things and find new ideas. Many Thanks Rachel Owton

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