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RIP: Finbarr Flood 1938-2016

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jan 2nd, 2019 at 11:07:25 AM EST

Finbarr Flood was one of my first bosses in Guinness and taught me much of what I have learned about surviving in big business. He had joined the company as a messenger boy aged 14 and also played semi-professional soccer as a goal-keeper in both Ireland and Scotland. Having risen through the ranks to become Managing Director, he left to pursue a further career as Chairman of the Irish Labour Court, Chairman of Shelbourne Football Club, and Chair of a number of city rejuvenation projects.  Having left school at 14 he was extremely chuffed to receive an honorary Doctorate from the Dublin Institute of Technology and to become an adjunct Professor to Trinity College Dublin.

a retrospective story for the season that's in it...Originally published Jul 26th, 2016.

He joined Guinness in 1952, which from then until the 1970's can perhaps most accurately be described as an outpost of the British Empire with a clearly defined pecking order of Brewers (all Oxbridge graduates); other graduate professionals (Engineers, Accountants and later Marketeers); No. 1 Staff (mostly protestant secondary school graduates); No. 2 staff (mostly catholic secondary school graduates who worked as lab technicians); Supervisors and Foremen (promoted from the shop floor on seniority); Craftsmen (19 different trades who had served their time as apprentices); and General Workers, Lads, and Boys who joined aged 14 and worked their way up from messenger boy to largely manual jobs in raw materials handling, brewing, engineering, kegging, bottling, loading and driving delivery lorries.

Each Category had their own dining room and there where numerous distinctions as to what overtime rates, medical benefits, and other services and facilities were provided.

Finbarr was a great story teller who regularly regaled all and sundry on the stories of his ill-spent youth or misadventures at work where the joke always seemed to be on him. His first job was as a messenger boy where he had to wear a uniform with a jacket of shiny brass buttons and a cap. His job could involve stoking the open coal fire in the Head Brewer's Office or turning the pages of the Brewing Reports Manual as the Brewer read...

He was one of the first of the Catholic manual general workers to be promoted to the No. 1 Staff and was working as an assistant Personnel Manager when I joined the Personnel Department fresh from a chequered college career which had ranged from the Natural Sciences to Politics and Sociology. I was doing a post graduate diploma in Personnel Management and Guinness was one of the Companies offering a placement. The company had just set up a "Human Resources Development Team" chaired by Finbarr with a brief to modernise the Company's Victorian attitudes and work practices and seemed to think it was a good idea to employ a student who refused to wear a tie and seemed to have some far out ideas on worker equality.

The Human Resources Development Report which eventually received Board Approval had some pretty far reaching proposals for the Guinness of that time:  All (waiter service) dining rooms where to be closed and replaced with one large self-service catering facility with the exception of a small Board dining room and a facility intended for visiting guests. All pay structures were to be harmonised to provide for the same working hours, payment rules and non-pay benefits including access to medical and recreational facilities. There was to be an emphasis on team working (across previous category boundaries) and the 8 level organisational hierarchy was to be reduced to 4. All promotions were to be on merit, and the glass ceilings which had effectively prevented most manual workers from being promoted to "staff" and most women from reaching senior management were to be abolished. It took a few years, but all these changes were eventually achieved.

There were a number of internal and external factors driving these changes. Firstly, the Brewery had been starved of Capital Investment for many years and needed about £100 Million pounds spent on it to bring it up to "best industry practice" - the largest investment by any business in Ireland at the time. There had been several proposals to close down the Brewery and build a new one on a greenfield site elsewhere. The Company needed a plan to justify such a massive investment to the Board in London.  Unit costs were way out of line with costs in other Breweries elsewhere both within the Group and in competitor breweries.

Guinness had already down-sized from 4,000 to 2,600 employees but the new plan was to reduce this to 1,400 through a combination of new technology automating manual work, outsourcing non-core activities to cheaper outside suppliers, and more efficient team working.  The Human Resources Development Plan thus became an integral part of the overall plan - focused on re-skilling the work-force and eliminating inefficient working practices and managerial hierarchies.

Secondly, there had already been a number of extremely damaging strikes which had destroyed Guinness's near monopoly of the pub trade in Ireland, as well as more our less destroying the Harp lager brand.  Even a two week strike was extremely damaging as the supply chain for fresh beer is extremely short, and as Publican's then had no option but to install more competitors taps on pub counters. One of my first jobs after being made permanent was to conduct a post audit of one such particularly damaging strike. The workers involved were perhaps the best paid in Irish industry, so the absolute level of reward was hardly the main problem.

I concluded that a number of factors were primarily responsible: resentments at some of the antiquated managerial structures; `resentments at some of the irrational pay differentials between categories of workers; extreme rivalries between 20 odd Unions vying for members amongst the same target population by being more militant than the next; and a lack of negotiating skill on the part of management at the time. It was Finbarr Flood's outstanding skills as a negotiator which were the primary reason for his rapid rise through the ranks from assistant Personnel Manager, to Personnel Manager, to Personnel Director and finally to managing Director in the years which followed.

At some levels negotiation is a game whereby both sides probe for an opening, try to exploit vulnerabilities, and seek to demonstrate to their constituents (Union Members, or up-line management) that what they were getting is an outstanding bargain given the circumstances which they would be foolish to refuse. It is about timing, setting the initial parameters of what is negotiable, gradually lowering the expectations of the opposition and your own side, until such time that both sides are ready to strike a deal through a combination of desperation and opportunity.

Put forward a rational proposal too early, and it will be rejected as people are still in the business of venting their anger. You have to wait until such time as a majority have passed that phase and are actually operating in "solution seeking" mode. There is a wrong time to be right. The same proposal might have succeeded if presented at the right time, but once rejected cannot be re-offered without some people having to lose face. Virtually all strikes are ultimately resolved, but there is a reason the process takes time, and sometimes that process has to involve some blood-letting.

Finbarr was a master at that game. During a subsequent strike I recall him telling me that there was no point in making a proposal (that we had been preparing) today, as the weather was very pleasant and the strikers out on the picket line were enjoying themselves. Better to wait for a cold wet day when everyone is getting fed up and getting worried about the future. He knew every single worker in the Company by name, and often their wives, children, partners and former partners as well. Whereas a previous Personnel manager might have responded to a particularly outrageous union proposal with a measured "I'll have my staff look into that" - thereby raising hopes on the Union side that at least something was going to be conceded - he might respond with a "ah Jasus, Joe, I knew your mother well and she always said you were a chancer!" And the thing was, he really did know Joe's mother...

People knew where they stood with Finbarr and that made for very productive working relationships, although some of the older staff, more used to the "stiff upper lip" conventions of the old Brewery could find it extremely disconcerting. For me he was a godsend. I felt extremely uncomfortable in the privileged surroundings of the brewery and he was a breadth of fresh air. I had the academic language and the concepts and I liked writing. He had the on the ground knowledge and the practicality which made for a very complementary relationship. Having left school at 14 he didn't have the self confidence to write much on paper. I became his memo writer and policy developer who could put his ideas in a broader academic or industry context. When I moved on from Human Resources to work in Information technology his parting presentation gift was a gold pen which he said would stop writing once a paper had reached 100 pages...

My abiding memory of him as a manager was that of a man with a phenomenally high social and emotional intelligence. He could detect a mood in a room instantly and respond appropriately. Awkward situations were transformed into amusing anecdotes. As a young turk unsure of my place in this world he was everything I could ask for in a boss. He gave me my head sometimes responding with a wry "aren't you very brave to be suggesting that," when I made some particularly off the wall proposal. But he was also the first to give me credit for my ideas and to make sure I got the recognition for them from other senior managers (perhaps so he could disown them later!!). Unlike some managers who might feel threatened by a better qualified subordinate, he was proud to promote the work of a subordinate as he felt that to do so would reflect well on him as the manager in charge.

Much of the success of Guinness in those years is attributable to Finbarr and the people who worked with him. The £100 Million investment programme was delivered and the future of the Brewery was secured - albeit, by the time he left, one with only 900 in-house jobs. The Brewery became one of the most modern in the world and survived the closure of other Breweries in the Guinness Group (now Diageo) in Dundalk, Kilkenny, and Park Royal in London. I have little doubt that without Finbarr's leadership, the Guinness Brewery in Dublin would have shared their fate.

This was achieved at a time when Ernest Saunders (aka "Deadly Ernest") was running amok as Chief Executive of the Guinness Group (now Diageo). Saunders was notorious within the business for allegedly sacking a senior executive by introducing him to "his successor" at a meeting and telling him he had until lunchtime to clear his desk. (Saunders later became famous as the only person in medico-legal history to make a full recovery from the Alzheimer's disease. His defence team had suggested he might be suffering from the disease when pleading for mitigation of his sentence for his fraudulent activities at the time of the United Distillers takeover).

At one point morale within the senior management group in Dublin became so poor that Finbarr asked me to do an anonymous survey of morale within the senior management group. Interviews with those managers were scheduled for 30 minutes but often took two hours or more. As a relatively junior staff member I was shocked at their insecurity and anger. My written report was a composite of those views containing verbatim quotes without attribution organised according to a number of themes. This caused further consternation. Nobody denied they had said what was quoted, but hadn't expected it to appear "in print". Many were relieved to discover they were not alone in feeling so angry and insecure. It became a bit of a game to guess who had said what, but thankfully most of those guesses were wrong and anonymity was preserved.

A senior management "strike" was narrowly averted some years later, but Finbarr knew there would be consequences. He was unlikely to progress further within the organisation and in any case would not have wished to move outside Ireland. Like any good negotiator, he had an "exit strategy" prepared: He took early retirement and left to become deputy chairman (and later chairman) of the Labour Court. He also became Chairman of Shelbourne FC when it got into difficulties, became Non-Executive Director of Beacon Medical Group, and served as Chairman of the Government's Decentralisation Implementation Group, the Fatima Regeneration Board, the St. Michael's Regeneration Board and the Members' Advisory Council of the VHI. His Memoir, In Full Flood is available from Liberties Press and Amazon.

Those who retired early left Guinness with generous redundancy benefits, good retirement pensions, and continued entitlement to use the company Medical department, catering and recreational facilities. The joke was that you could see the doctor or social worker in the morning, go for a swim in the pool, eat your lunch and play some snooker with your mates in the afternoon all without leaving the premises. The pain of early retirement for those who did not wish to go early was much reduced in consequence.  

The Medical Department remains the place where most pensioners get to see one another. A few weeks ago I met Finbarr there, seated in the waiting room like everyone else. Although in the meantime he had taken up the offer of a Directorship in a private medical group and could no doubt have availed of exclusive private healthcare, he felt more comfortable with his peers in the Company, greeted by almost everyone who entered the building. They don't make his sort any more. My condolences to Anne, his wife, colleague, collaborator and co-conspirator; and to all his family who cared for and supported him throughout his illness.


May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.

Finbarr once literally caught me napping as he entered my office.  Naturally I jerked up the moment I realised someone had entered the room. He explained I was doing it all wrong.  My sudden jerk was an effective admission of guilt. The thing to do, if you are having a nap and suddenly realise your boss has entered the room, is to very slowly open your eyes with a comment on the lines of "you know, I was just thinking about that suggestion you made earlier ... I think you're onto something there... T'm glad you dropped by would you have a moment to explain it a little more?" - all the while hoping that his reprise of his earlier suggestion would give you time to come to your senses..

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jul 25th, 2016 at 09:39:18 PM EST
It is a great gift to have a great boss in your first job. And your loving obituary is your gift in return.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 03:49:08 AM EST
as you might imagine, my main idea of Guinness is from the beer. Which has sadly been messed about with to the extent that I won't touch it these days.

the loss of "real" bottled Guinness was terrible, but the loss of the comparator allowed them to change the keg stuff quite radically. Much less bitter and correspondingly sweeter and softer. It's just mush now.

Colman took me to the Guinness museum a couple of years back and I honestly felt horrified by the experience. Less a beer and more the "marketing experience formerly known as Guinness".

But that's the inevitable result of the corporate encroachment that Sanders pioneered I guess.

It's funny now that they're trying to jum on the Craft bandwago now. Rather than messing about trying to do all the modern stuff everybody else is doing, I kinda think it'd be nice if they produced the beer they made 25 years ago. Cos that'd still be a great beer.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 01:05:19 PM EST
The problem was that sales of the more bitter bottled stuff kept dropping.  Consumer tastes change and Guinness had to adapt somewhat to survive as a mainstream brand. But you are right that when Guinness became Diageo it became a marketing rather than a production company.  The corporate motto was "a drink for every occasion", and to that end a number of champagne, wine and spirits brands (and companies) were purchased to fill out the portfolio.  But they never purchased a major lager brand to replace Harp which indicated that they didn't really see beer as part of their core business.  

I once asked the Global Corporate MD whether they were going to buy a lager brand.  His response was that they might buy a lager brand if they didn't have to buy the Breweries as well. The Marketing suits in London didn't understand and didn't want the complications of actually running a brewery.  Guinness was strictly a legacy brand to be automated as much as possible.  Production was a non-core activity to be outsourced wherever possible. Diageo is a brand management business.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 01:20:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
tbh, brand management is what most corporates are about. Very few international brand beers bear much resemblance to their origins.

I never bought the idea that bottled Guinness had to be eliminated from the portfolio. Many corporate brands incorporate niche products which boost the credibility of the brand without interfering with the overall marketing process.

Diageo tried to pretend that it was a small conern wich diverted resources, except it couldn't have done. It may have represented a fraction of the output (3 - 4% as I remember) but, iven the volume of Guinness, that would small percentage would have kept a small brewery and bottling line running very happily.

But, as you say, it came at a time when they were trying to get out of the grubby business of making beer entirely, so it probably felt like a first step on a road to that goal.

And given that they're now trying to re-invent themselves as a craft provider, they could try re-making the actual good stuff

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 01:44:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's still quite a range of bottled Guinness beers available in various markets so it was never eliminated completely.  I quite like the foreign export stuff which has much higher ABV. Lots of variants were tried over the years but few reached sufficient volume to be economic. By definition, a craft beer needs to be brewed in a micro brewery, and that simply wasn't the Diageo business model although  I'm not in touch with current thinking on the subject.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 02:08:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh yes, lots of different variants, but the actual bottled guinness with the sediment, a real ale in a bottle, which was their best beer is the one I mean.

All of the other commercial knock-offs were of no particular value to a beer drinker cos they were all much the same thing. Even the Nigerian Guinness isn't as -cough- distinctive as it used to be.

There's no definition of a craft beer (a major weakness in the whole idea), so it doesn't need to be in a micro-brewery. A small corner of St James would have done fine. And 3% of Guinness output is only small potatoes if you compare it with the rest of Guinness, to any other brewery that's a career.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 02:22:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman took me to the Guinness museum a couple of years back and I honestly felt horrified by the experience. Less a beer and more the "marketing experience formerly known as Guinness".

Allow me to stipulate that it was done in a spirit of disaster tourism.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 02:56:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've added another paragraph on the Saunders period as he was so much in the news at the time. I felt a bit uncomfortable including it at first even thirty years on because it was very confidential at the time.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 01:37:30 PM EST
Yes, Saunders seems to have been very much a product of his time. Hyper-aggressive managment leaving a trail of disaster behind him.

A true Seagull-manager. I've met a few in my time.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 26th, 2016 at 01:51:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of my jobs for three successive managing Directors was to draft various speeches and to produce the annual results presentation to all staff. The latter started off as a straightforward speech followed by a Q&A session.  In the following years slides were added.  Then it became a video production - initially face to camera - but gradually more and more video elements were added - pictures of plants being built, technology being introduced, and people doing various things as well as the usual graphs of costs, sales,market shares, profits, investments etc. A particular favourite where the racy advertisements produced for overseas markets with less stringent advertising standards legislation...

Finbarr introduced further innovations: interviews with popular radio and TV current affairs commentators and talk show hosts like Al Byrne and Pat Kenny which produced some genuinely confrontational questions and answers and debate.  The more confrontational, the more Finbarr liked it.  He was at his best in the heat of debate.  Although we started off doing two takes, the first was invariably the best and was used in full.  The interviewers had been given a tour of the Brewery beforehand where employees and their union reps would delight in feeding them the most awkward questions possible...

Filming these interviews, voiceovers and face-to camera pieces had it's hilarious moments. One of my failings as a writer is a tendency to produce some long and convoluted sentences with a lot of sub clauses.  You can sometimes get away with that on the written page, but it doesn't work as a speech script or a video voice-over.  Finbarr kept stumbling over one particularly convoluted sentences, and refused all attempts by me to re-write it.  He wasn't going to be beaten.  At this stage we had been filming for hours and it was approaching mid-night.  The camera crew were getting increasingly ratty and were casting dirty looks in my direction.  Finally he got it right to a great sigh of relief by all.  He told me afterwards that he, too, could use big words and joined up writing and he wasn't going to let me beat him!

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 27th, 2016 at 01:54:38 PM EST
One of the best things I found in your account was the description of the health clinic cum cafeteria and recreational lounge to which all retirees, including forced early retirees could come. That alone had to be a balm to the soul for those forced into retirement.
Did you have a role in getting that in place?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jul 27th, 2016 at 03:08:43 PM EST
I had a role in maintaining the medical centre when we were under extreme pressure from HQ to reduce costs, but I wasn't part of the team, led by Finbarr, which negotiated the "Future Development Plan" by which the Unions agreed to the redundancies and changes in work practices required by the plan. Although few retirees actually use the (separate) Catering or recreational facilities on site, their inclusion in the retirement "package" was crucial to winning the majority support of Union members. The costs, from a company point of view, were marginal, as the facilities were in place for active employees in any case.

Most redundancies were voluntary, with attractive lump sum and early retirement pension enhancements, but some jobs were unavoidably going, to the distress of those who might have been doing them for many years, and who didn't want to move on to another job.  Providing them with a means of remaining part of the "Brewery Community" was crucial to their acceptance of the plan, worth more than the redundancy money in some cases. For all its faults as a somewhat antiquated social construct, Guinness was famous for looking after its people well, especially if they got ill or were being made redundant.

Guinness also encouraged its workers to pursue further education or interests outside of work which made the later transition out of work easier.  Many Guinness employees played prominent roles in outside voluntary bodies and some shop floor manual workers qualified as barristers, etc. I was given time off in lieu of overtime to pursue a Masters in Peace Studies with half my fees paid, on the strength of a somewhat tenuous connection between the course and my work...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 27th, 2016 at 03:40:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I was given time off in lieu of overtime to pursue a Masters in Peace Studies with half my fees paid, on the strength of a somewhat tenuous connection between the course and my work..."  Tenuous?! Well, they wouldn't want war in the work place, now would they?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 28th, 2016 at 12:55:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea, but the course was more to do with international relations etc.! My thesis was on Apartheid and a major focus was Northern Ireland (pre- Peace process).  However conflict resolution at both the macro and micro level has always been a key focus for me, and yes, it had more relevance to the workplace environment than might have been obvious to others at the time.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jul 28th, 2016 at 09:18:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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