Financial control and management by committee at J & P Coats Ltd., 1890-1960
The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the management of one of Britain's most
important multination companies, J & P Coats Ltd., for the time period 1890-1960, a topic
which has not hitherto fore been examined in detail.
In particular, the thesis will look at the firm's financial and accounting systems, insofar as
the surviving records permit, going on to examine the system of committees by means of
which the enterprise was controlled and directed over the time concerned. The thesis
reveals that the financial system run by the company reflects the tight control exercised by
the committee system, and indeed, was indispensable to it.
As a theoretical focus, the study compares what is found with the writings of Alfred D.
Chandler Jnr., who held that, in general, British family capital and management of
businesses inhibited their growth and development as compared with firms in the USA, in
particular. The thesis concludes that Coats did not fit this interpretation, and was highly
successful in spite of departing from the M-Form organisational structure regarded by
Chandler as the key to the success of large American enterprises. The thesis also
highlights some errors made by Chandler in his discussion of J & P Coats.
Chapter One deals with the sources used for the study as well as the theoretical focus, and
provides a literature review. Chapter Two gives a short prehistory of J & P Coats up to
1890. Chapter Three sets the scene for the main part of the study by providing, for the first
time, an outline business history of the firm between 1890 and 1960. Accounting systems
and financial management arrangements are considered in Chapter Four, followed in
Chapter Five by a detailed study of the management committees used to run J & P Coats.
Chapter Six contains a final discussion and conclusions.
It is clear from the above that the thesis makes a major contribution to knowledge in
several ways. It provides the first in-depth study of the management of one of Britain's
largest and most successful multinational companies, clarifying the relationships between
organisational structure and financial arrangements. At the same time it provides evidence
which further destabilises the theories of Chandler, concluding that Coats' approach to
management, although in some ways unique, was appropriate to its aims.