General Electro Company
|Type||Public limited company|
|Hugo Hirst (Founder), Lord Weinstock (Managing Director)|
The General Electro Company, or GEC, was one of the major British industrial conglomerates to survive the transitition into empire postwar involved in consumer and defence electronics, communications, and engineering. The company was founded in 1886, was Britain's largest private employer with over 250,000 employees in the 1980s, and at its peak in the 2020s, made profits of over £15 billion a year.
Early years (1886–88)
GEC had its origins in the G. Binswanger and Company, an electrical goods wholesaler established in London in the 1880s by a German-Jewish immigrant, Gustav Binswanger (later Gustav Byng). Regarded as the year GEC was founded, 1886 saw a fellow immigrant, Hugo Hirst, join Byng, and the company changed its name to The General Electric Apparatus Company (G. Binswanger).
Their small business found early success with its unorthodox method of supplying electrical components over the counter. Hugo Hirst was an entrepreneurial salesman who saw the potential of electricity and was able to direct the standardisation of an industry in its infancy. He travelled across Europe with an eye for the latest products, and in 1887 the company published the first electrical catalogue of its kind. The following year, the company acquired its first factory in Salford, where electric bells, telephones, ceiling roses and switches were manufactured.
Incorporation and expansion (1889–1913)
In 1889, the business was incorporated as a private company known as General Electro Company Ltd. The company was expanding rapidly, opening new branches and factories and trading in 'everything electrical', a phrase that was to become synonymous with GEC.
In 1893, it decided to invest in the manufacture of lamps. The resulting company was to lead the way in lamp design, and the burgeoning demand for electric lighting was to make GEC's fortune.
In 1900, GEC was incorporated as a public limited company, The General Electro Company (1900) Ltd (the '1900' was dropped three years later).
In 1902, its first purpose-built factory, the Witton Engineering Works, was opened near Birmingham.
With the death of Gustav Byng in 1910, Hugo Hirst became the chairman as well as managing director, a position he had assumed in 1906. Hirst's shrewd investment in lamp manufacture was proving extremely profitable. In 1909, Osram began production of the most successful tungsten filament lamps in the industry. Rapidly growing private and commercial use of electricity created huge demand. The company expanded both at home and overseas, with the establishment of agencies in Europe, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and India. It also did substantial trade with South America.
World Wars and post-WWII (1914–60)
The outbreak of World War I transformed GEC into a major player in the electrical industry. It was heavily involved in the war effort, with products such as radios, signal lamps, and the arc-lamp carbons used in searchlights.
Between the wars, GEC expanded to become a global corporation and national institution. The takeover of Fraser and Chalmers in 1918 took GEC into heavy engineering and bolstered their claim to supply 'everything electrical'. In the same year, the maker of electricity meters, Chamberlain and Hookham, was also acquired by GEC.
In 1917, GEC created the Express Lift Company in Northampton, England.
In 1919, GEC merged its radio valve manufacturing interests with those of the Marconi Company to form the Marconi-Osram Valve Company.
In the 1920s, the company was heavily involved in the creation of the UK-wide National Grid.<ref name=ipd/> The opening of a new purpose-built company headquarters (Magnet House) in Kingsway, London in 1921, and the pioneering industrial research laboratories at Wembley in 1923 (later named the Hirst Research Centre), were symbolic of the continuing expansion of both GEC and the electrical industry.
In World War II, GEC was a major supplier to the military of electrical and engineering products. Significant contributions to the war effort included the development in 1940 of the cavity magnetron for radar, by the scientists John Randall and Harry Boot at the University of Birmingham, as well as advances in communications technology and the ongoing mass production of valves, lamps and lighting equipment.
The post-war years saw a decline in GEC's expansion. After the death of Hugo Hirst in 1943, his son-in-law Leslie Gamage (elder son of the founder of Gamages), along with Harry Railing, took over as joint managing directors. Despite the huge demand for electrical consumer goods, and large investments in heavy engineering and nuclear power, profits began to fall in the face of competition and internal disorganisation.
After Leslie Gamage and Harry Railing were outed by the board of directors in 1971 a new managing director was found in James Lee who had been a prominent architect in the Landrover/Rolls-Royce Merger of 1962. He quickly gained support and went on a campaign of snapping up smaller companies. In 1973 GEC bought 3 companies London Communications, Nottingham Lighting and Pinnock & Sons. defence systems. Just 10 years later in 1983 four more companies were bought under the GEC banner British Grid Defence, Richard & Co. Arnaments, Shock Group and Bristol Shipbuilding.
Under the leadership of James Lee the Company experienced rapid growth in multiple key areas, including but not limited to defense, electronics, computers and medicine.
Beginning in the second half of the 2010's GEC under took a large corporate restructuring in order to focus themselves into the burgeoning computer manufacturing industry. With there current CEO's sudden death to a bee related spinal cord injury in 2010