Harold Winthrop Clapp - Victorian Railways Career - Management Style

Management Style

Clapp enjoyed cordial relations with his staff, union officials, and was fortunate to have the support of highly capable Railways Ministers from both sides of politics, including future Premier of Victoria John Cain and future Prime Minister of Australia Robert Menzies.

Harold Clapp famously quipped that "The railway is ninety-five percent men and five percent iron." He was possessed of a remarkable memory and learnt the names and faces of many thousands of railway employees. He regarded stationmasters, who dealt with the public at many levels, as "his front line soldiers". Although his approach to industrial relations has been judged as paternalistic, his concern for workers' conditions was genuine and he was personally responsible for improvements such as better sanitation facilities and the provision of decent cafeterias at Newport Workshops.

Harold Clapp's fastidiousness for cleanliness was legendary. He was reputed to polish his shoes up to eight times a day, was renowned for running a finger along high shelves of country railway stations checking for dust, and earned the nickname "Clever Mary", after a popular brand of household cleaning product of the time.

Clapp's cleanliness was matched by his punctuality, a quality he expected in his employees and in his railway. Improvements in service reliability earned the ultimate compliment by way of the following complaint published in a Melbourne newspaper: "Mr Clapp's fiendish efficiency means that we have lost another excuse for being late for work in the mornings."

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