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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 3 (July 24, 1926)

Conference of Divisional Superintendents and Traffic Managers — The Prime Minister on Business Methods

page 4

Conference of Divisional Superintendents and Traffic Managers
The Prime Minister on Business Methods

The above Conference held recently was the first of its kind since the appointment of Divisional Superintendents under the Divisional Control System.

In opening, Mr. J. Mason (operating member of the Board) expressed the gratification of those present in having with them the Prime Minister in his capacity of Minister for Railways, whose interest in Railway administration ever since taking over the portfolio had been an inspiration to every member of the Department. This lead made them feel that they must do their utmost to render the best possible service to the community as a whole.

Mr. Coates said that he had come principally to convey the Government's appreciation of the excellent manner in which the Management, the Superintendents, and particularly the South Island Traffic Managers, carried out their duties during the Dunedin Exhibition. Every emergency was met, and the Department earned the entire appreciation of both travelling public and business men. In moving about among people whom he had known for years, people who had been hard crities of the Railways, it was very gratifying to find that they were satisfied the railway men knew their jobs and were carrying out their duties well. A different feeling prevailed. These men said it was a treat to deal with the Railway Department from the Superintendents downwards. In fact, it became a little irksome to hear so many encomiums instead of complaints. His principal reason in meeting them had, therefore, been to convey to them direct the Government's appreciation.

He felt that he had to be in close contact, not only with the Management and Board, but with Railway matters generally. Mr. Coates also said how pleased he was with the manner in which the staff met him all over the country. Everything was at his disposal, and it seemed to him that one and all did their very best to please—not because he was the Minister of Railways, but because the practice of pleasing their customers had become the policy of their large concern.

His object as Minister was to co-operate wherever he possibly could, thus bringing strength to the Department through full co-operation with the Government. He delighted in listening to policy matters discussed by all classes of railwaymen, his object being to let all feel that none was isolated, and to obtain information that would enable him to answer questions off-hand regarding details of Departmental administration. By obtaining this knowledge he was better able to assist the Department in every way to handle the existing difficulty of competition with the Railways. In regard to this, the Commercial Agents had at their recent Conference put forward a number of suggestions, which it would be a good thing to run over. The Commercial Branch was a loose leg of the Department, and was in a position to view matters from a different angle to the ordinary traffic men. The Administration was anxious that the actual leaders of the Railway should keep in touch with the staff, particularly the fellows classed as the Second Division, with whom discussion would help to remove misunderstanding and inspire confidence, whether the men were shunters, yardmen, shopmen or running staff. One point that all should realise was that if competition cut into the Railway a little more, staff reduction would follow and this was the very thing they were trying to avoid.

Understanding would be helped along by the various officers giving short addresses to the men followed by open discussion. “I know what it is,” said Mr. Coates. “I have worked for a boss up to my neck in mud all day. At hight we had nothing else to do but to growl, and the first thing we did was to growl at the boss: that is only human nature. But when the boss came along and had a yarn we had little to say. Look how it would have improved matters if he had said, ‘Well boys, what about some suggestions? You know the business better than I.’”

Regarding courtesy, he said a little bit of unexpected attention had an extraordinary effect on men, and it was all good for the Service.

The staff review would continue meantime, but what they were driving at was a separate Department to handle staff.

The budget system had been applied in the shops, but it could be applied in other directions, and the principle being one which the Board had considered and believed in, and being now also a feature of modern railway practice, he thought the Traffic Managers' opinions on several points connected with it might be valuable.