Magazine article Management Today

WR Morris: No Minor Character

Magazine article Management Today

WR Morris: No Minor Character

Article excerpt

William Richard Morris, who was to become Lord Nuffield, established Britain's favourite. car factory and built an empire to be matched only by his generosity.

'Giving it away is very pleasant,' Lord Nuffield once said, explaining his largess. It is estimated that during his lifetime he gave away about [pounds]30 million, back when that was an awful lot more money than it is today. Nuffield, likened by some to Henry Ford (but without Ford's unpleasantness), was an exceptional industrialist and businessman, but more than anything he was an extraordinary philanthropist, making a fortune and then giving it away.

William Richard Morris, as he then was, was born in Worcester in 1877. His parents, who were farmers, had six other children but only William and a sister survived childhood. The family moved to Cowley near Oxford when William was three, and he attended the village school. He left school at 15 to work for a bicycle company and, a year later, set up his own business - with capital of [pounds]4 - making, servicing and racing bicycles. Morris then became interested in motorcycles, and with a partner he started a garage in 1903, but this went under in 1904 (the same year he married) with debts of [pounds]50. Undeterred, he set up in business again - this time alone and by 1910 was a self-styled garage proprietor and motor car engineer. He also had plans to build a car.

This car became the 8.9hp, 50mph Morris Oxford which was launched at the 1912 motor show, priced at [pounds]165. Morris received an order for 400 and was in business as a carmaker. He turned out to have a flair for business and ran an impressively profitable factory with good working conditions. The company's fortunes were buoyed by the town of Oxford's wealth, which made for a healthy demand. In early 1914 Morris went to the US - where mass-produced cars were rather more commonplace - to procure components for his second car, the Morris Cowley. But the Cowley's production was interrupted by the first world war when Morris turned his facilities over to the war effort, for which he received an OBE.

The company did well in the post-war boom, but it hit the skids in the slump that followed as unsold stock and debts piled up. Morris then made the decision that was to prove his making: he slashed the price of his cars, reducing the Cowley's sticker price from [pounds]525 to [pounds]425. Other manufacturers followed suit, but they were not quick enough. Before long the company was struggling to meet demand for its cars: business boomed and by 1926 Morris was producing 50,000 cars a year, roughly a third of the total UK production, and had also founded the MG Car Company. …

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