How They are Managed

From the old Dundee Year Books of the 19th Century

 

Calcutta, June.

The mill manager in India is a much more important personage than his brother in Dundee. He lives in a spacious bungalow, beautifully furnished, and has quite a retinue of servants to attend to him. He keeps open house for all his friends. His wife has her weekly "at home" evenings, when she entertains her circle of friends with cards, music, and dancing. He has his horses and carriages; she drives out in her brougham. The policy of the mill is directed by the manager, and as the Calcutta agents for the most, part know nothing about the practical working of the concern, they are almost entirely dependent upon (or at the mercy of, as the case may be) the dictum of the governor at the work. In general they are a superior class of men, with varying qualifications. Some of them have as thorough a knowledge of their business and as enthusiastic a love for their work as the best men in Dundee possess, and that is saying a good deal.

There are others again who are evidently just learning their business at the expense of the Company they are serving. With no previous mill experience, and without any practical acquaintance with preparing and spinning, they blunder on, and complete their education at the expense of the shareholders. When walking through his mill with one of these learners I casually asked how many turns of twist where on his hessian warp yarn. He said he did not know, as he had not that part yet, but he thought there were about eight. Before he went to bed that night he knew the correct twist and how to calculate it. He had been the engineer at the mill, and had fallen into the managership when it became vacant.


Managers are well paid. There are not many under Rs. 600 a month. Rs. 800 is common enough, while those who have been long in the service have considerably more. Some 25 years ago a batching foreman came out from Dundee with no other knowledge than how to batch jute. He had staying power in him, and used his faculty of observation. He rose from one position to another until he got the managership. He said very little, but looked very wise. He picked the brains of his qualified assistants, and had the sagacity not to interfere when he saw they knew much more about their own work than he did. But he had the governing quality in him, tempered by sound common sense and unfailing patience. He knows the native language, and has insight into the native character. The workers almost worship him because he gives them fairplay. He has the reputation of always having a good set of European assistants, because if anyone of them begins, by reason of character or dis­position, to cause friction, his passage ticket for home is immediately taken out.


The mill has made a lot of money under this manager. He has now Rs.1000 a month and a commission on the dividend earned besides. He is also reputed to be worth not less than £10,000. A commission varying from 1 per cent, to 2½ per cent, is a common enough addition to a manager's stated salary. During the good times some of them were drawing no less than Rs. 1500 a month in all.


The commercial management is in the hands of the Calcutta agents. It sounds big to hear of a large well-known firm being agents for a jute mill, and one naturally thinks of the individual partners thereof looking after the buying and selling, and visiting the mill every clay, as in Dundee, But this is not so. The Calcutta offices of these firms are divided into departments, one for piece goods, one for tea, one for insurance business, another for the jute mill, and so on. Over each of these departments presides an assistant. (Note.—There are no European clerks in India. They are all called assistants out here.) He is generally a smart, gentlemanly, well-educated young fellow, who has received his commercial training in one of the home offices of the firm.

Three-fourths of these young men in charge of the jute mill departments in the various offices know about everything except jute and jute manufacturing. They know the names of the standard makes of bags, and the current prices, but that is about all. They could not make up the calculation of cost of an out-of-the-way sample of jute cloth to save their life. When a broker asks for a quotation for anything else than E bags, or cornsacks, or woolpacks, or Liverpool twills, or C's, or for the hessians they are in the constant habit of making they simply have the one invariable answer, "This fabric would not suit us." And so Dundee still has the monoply of all jute fabrics outside the usual Calcutta ranges. Here the times of ignorance5 may be winked at for a season, but they will come to an end. There is no jute fabric made at home which cannot be made here if they like to do it.


The mode of doing business in Calcutta is very simple. The offices open between 9 and 10 a.m., when the streets are thronged near the business quarter with the Baboos going to their respective places of work and and with the gharries of the Europeans going likewise. The young man in charge of the jute mill department takes his seat at a business table, and right opposite to him is another chair for the jute and gunny brokers, both native and European, who flock in and out all day. All the business is done through brokers, who pass the contracts between buyers and sellers.

Their commission is ¾per cent., paid by the seller. When the goods are ready for shipment they are loaded by the crane on the end of the mill jetty into a decked cargo boat, capable of holding from 100 to 150 bales of bags. These boats under the charge of a native manjee (captain) and crew of six, who work the long oars, proceed with the tide alongside the export vessel. A Sircar (a native outdoor Clerk who attends to shipping business) waits on board to see the bales shipped and to get the mate’s receipt. The invoice is sent to the buyer along with the mate's receipt, which latter is only given up when payment is made. "Grippy for grippy" is the Calcutta method of doing business. The Calcutta mills need make no bad debts.


There is one good feature about the Cal­cutta mill management which might be copied with advantage elsewhere. I refer to the monthly profit and loss statement. The cost of production is carefully tabulated under all the various heads of which it is composed, so it can be seen at a glance if there is any increase or decrease going on from month to month;and at the end of every month a statement is made up showing how much the mill has made or lost during its currency. The office hours in Calcutta close about five or six o'clock. There is a break in the middle of the day, when all the European staff assemble in the tiffin room and enjoy a good lunch, but what ordinary people would call a first-rate dinner, cooked on the pre­mises, at the expense of the firm.


A Royal Exchange was started about twelve months ago in connection with the Chamber of Commerce. High 'Change is between one and two o'clock, and is well attended by merchants and brokers. The brokers fly about from office to office in their gharries all the day long.


The remuneration which the agents receive for management, or mismanagement as it sometimes happens, varies considerably amongst the different Companies. Not many are rewarded according to the profits made, which ought to be the true basis. Nearly all of them get a percentage on the gross sales—2 and 2½ per cent, are common enough. Some are even higher. The agents for the Champdany and Wellington Mills are stated to receive 3½ per cent, on the gross sales of these concerns, so that they have to get about Rs. 100,000 per annum before anything can be divided amongst the share­holders. These mills have never been famous for paying high dividends.


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