Industry: water, steel & energy

Gronow, Colin (5 of 9). An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK

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  • Recording date

    2014-10-22, 2014-10-18, 2014-12-16, 2015-01-32

  • Interviewees

    Gronow, Colin, 1929- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 5: Comments on move South of Scotland Electricity Board [SSEB]: space heating working party widening CG perspective on electricity industry outside of CEGB; potential opportunities in tariffing; SSEB problem with lunchtime peak electricity demand growing above 18.00 peak; SSEB chief commercial officer John 'Micky' Moule successful development of electric heating systems; widespread uptake of underfloor electric heating on lunchtime boost tariff in new flats causing increased lunchtime peak; SSEB Chairman Norman Elliot contacting CEGB and Electricity Council, leading to Arthur Hawkins and Tony Lingard suggesting CG apply to join SSEB; interview process; [06:45] CG and family moving to Scotland, wife continuing to teach domestic science; CG selling home in Farnborough and buying new home in Scotland; outline of commercial management structure under Micky Moule, CG appointed as Assistant Commercial Officer as probationary post for a year; CG promotion to Assistant Chief Commercial Officer after a year, in charge of tariffs, economics, load forecasting and research. [11:30] Remarks on CG solution to SSEB lunchtime peak demand problem: staggering of lunchtime boost on storage heaters, achieved through altering time of boost on newly installed heaters; obvious solution CG if no one else; effects on peak demand visible within a year. [14:40] Comments on working for SSEB: offices at Cathcart House, South of Glasgow; CG living in Glasgow outer suburbs near, Glasgow suburbs ending abruptly at time; expansion of Cathcart House; CG working in head office, compact and integrated nature of SSEB headquarters compared to CEGB, CG lunching with senior engineering staff from other departments; lack of direct contact with customers, apart from Area Boards, leading to slightly arrogant nature of CEGB; Electricity Council lacking expertise to hold CEGB properly to account; management meetings uniting different SSEB chief officers; outline of the nine SSEB chief officers and their areas of responsibilities, contrasted with equivalents in CEGB; [20:35] mentions area managers; SSEB chairman, such as Francis Tombs, having important position; SSEB chairman Norman Elliot, formerly of SEEB; chief financial officer Alan Christiansen effectively running company; anecdote about Christiansen's reservations about Micky Moule's performance; CG suggestions of departmental improvements leading to Norman Elliot appointing CG to run Commercial Department, with guidance of Deputy Chairman Ian Hulme for a time; outline of split of responsibilities between CG and Micky Moule; importance of recruiting the right people to the smooth running of a department, anecdote about CG's sole recruitment mistake; CG rapid promotion from Assistant Commercial Officer to Chief Commercial Officer within 2 year; [26:00] CG spending 14 years at SSEB; CG hopes to become a Deputy Chairman, hindered by peopel viewing him as a head office specialist without operational experience; Francis Tombs assigning CG to be a district manager for 9 months in Glasgow to gain field experience, CG developing managerial experience from placement. [28:30] [28:30] Short story about CG and distribution engineer Jim Field visit to Switzerland: Swiss use of radio signals not timeswitches to control off peak heating; CG learning from experiences with colleagues rather than formal training. [31:20] Remarks on SSEB shops: CG knowing little about shops so delegating responsibility to Appliance Marketing Manager responsible for all 100 shops; bills paid in shops; shops providing contribution to SSEB profits; shops important in selling storage heaters, freezers and other appliances to domestic customer; SSEB shops benefiting from buying in bulk; [35:50] later Appliance Marketing Manager supporting move to sell televisions, CG supporting move into entertainment appliances as a way if brining in younger customers to shops, in face of reluctance of SSEB board; CG opposition to closing unprofitable shops providing community service. [39:15] Remarks clarifying CG different responsibilities in different posts in SSEB. [41:00] Remarks on changes to electricity marketing: industry reluctance to market electrical appliances prominently; Area Manager Ronnie McLashen good natured disagreements with CG over policy; McLashen sent to Harvard [Business School] for training; McLashen suggesting a change in emphasis to become a commercial rather than service organisation; emphasis of commercial staff work changing from service work to marketing new applications of electricity, such as air conditioning, improved commercial lighting and industrial applications; [47:25] reorganisation of SSEB commercial effort to create roles dedicated to domestic, commercial and industrial market sectors; Electricity Council adopting model for Area Boards in rest of Britain; service oriented CEGB displeasure at commercial stance, CG disagreements with John Baker over similar issues; CG view that electricity was a marvellous technology that could improve people's lives and should be taken up more widely; contrast of CEGB and Area Board stances, CEGB isolated from customers. [51:00] Remarks on SSEB management: close contact between senior staff in different parts of the organisation bringing advantages; Monday morning meetings integrating management of different departments; SSEB profitability relying greatly on performance of large coal fired power stations of Longannet and Cockenzie; anecdote about CG teasing chief engineer over performance of power stations compared to shops, CG supporting idea of senior managers intervening in running on power stations; SSEB chairmen Norman Elliott and Lewis Allan allowing CG leeway to tease engineering staff, unlike Francis Tombs.

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