Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Success story : Henry Royce Drove Rolls-Royce Hard To Make Best Cars

(from IBD 3/12/14) Henry Royce was a driven man.

A perfectionist obsessed with improving mechanical things, he became an early innovator of cars and created a brand — Rolls-Royce — that's still shorthand for the absolute best in any field.

Then the British government asked him to invent a better engine for the Royal Air Force, just in time. His Merlin motor powered the RAF to victory over the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
In London's Westminster Abbey, a stained-glass window honors Royce's memory.

Frederick Henry Royce (1863-1933) was born in the village of Altwalton in the middle of England. His father owned a mill, but had to foreclose when Henry was 9. His father took him and a sister to London as he searched for work, while his mother and the other children went to the local poorhouse.

His father died soon thereafter, and Henry earned a living delivering newspapers and telegrams until age 14, when an aunt paid for an apprenticeship with a railroad.

That's where he began learning about machinery.

Moving on to toolmaking, he took night courses in electricity and joined a company that installed lights on streets and in theaters.

Moving Up

The next year, 1884, 21-year-old Royce and a friend, Ernest Claremont, pooled their savings to start a company in Manchester to make electrical components and devices.

Calling it F.H. Royce & Co., they lived above their workshop and hired four girls to make light bulbs, door bells and switches.

Big contracts started coming in when Royce invented a commutator, a device that reversed the flow of current in a generator or dynamo. Fires had been a problem where they were used, but his was sparkless. He also improved the standard tram motor controller.

In 1893, Royce married Minnie Punt, whose sister was Claremont's wife.

Already a workaholic, Royce stayed up nights tinkering, while eating almost nothing. This hurt his health and relationship, leading to a divorce in 1912.

Next, Royce turned his attention to electrical crane construction. As with his prior innovations, he didn't invent something from scratch, but saw ways to improve function and safety. "The Royce crane became legendary for its longevity and reliability and in due course it was exported throughout the world," wrote Peter Pugh in "The Magic of a Name."

By 1899, sales at F.H. Royce & Co. had reached $1.3 million in today's money. But a recession the next year and cheaper imports reduced demand.

Royce refused to compromise quality to allow a price reduction, and he proved right, with crane orders resurging at the company that would be sold in 1932.

Meantime, Royce needed another hot product. He had been driving French motor cars since 1901 and began thinking about ways to make them better. In three years he had several prototypes.
Then came the shift for the ages.

One investor saw a winner in Royce's work and introduced him to Charles Rolls, an auto racer with a dealership selling foreign cars. Rolls was also impressed with the prototypes — and in 1906 they formed a partnership.

Rolls-Royce Ltd. was born.

A vintage Rolls-Royce wheels near London's Palace of Westminster in 2011, celebrating the 100th anniversary of car's Spirit of Ecstasy ornament. 

Each car that rolled through the new company was handcrafted to Royce's exacting standards.
Most early autos from other companies were noisy. Not so with Rolls-Royce. Henry made sure his cars operated quietly.

The need for better engine cooling led to a distinctive radiator design at Rolls-Royce that endures today. Also, Henry's cars ran without repairs for long distances, picking up engineering awards.
On top of that, Rolls raised the firm's profile by winning races.

While the brand's reputation was rising, disaster hit the founders.

Rolls died at age 32 in 1910 when the airplane he was piloting crashed.

The next year, Royce fell ill from overwork and poor diet, and his doctor ordered him to take a vacation.
Rolls-Royce managers were glad to get him out of the factory because his attempts to upgrade everything interfered with production. Even while supposedly resting in the south of England, Royce sent a stream of designs back to the factory in Derby, near Manchester, to be tested.

Being away helped him communicate his ideas. His memos were "so admirable as examples of extreme care, foresight and analytical thought that they were printed and bound so that copies would be available for study by all engineers in the future," wrote David Coles and Peter Sherrard in "The Four Geniuses of the Battle of Britain."

"He had very high standards and was never satisfied with the status quo just because something was merely very good," George Cook, executive professor at the University of Rochester's business school, told IBD. "But perfectionism not only has its pluses; it can be a negative if carried to an extreme. The goal should be to strike a balance between the ideal and the practical, something he found hard to do."
With World War I raging by 1914, Britain's government ordered a halt to consumer car production and called on Rolls-Royce to supply armored staff cars.

Tough To A T.E.

The powerful result — with R-R cars cruising over terrible roads — received rave reviews.
T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) wrote in "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" about his experiences in leading the Arabs against the Turks: "A Rolls is nearly impossible to break. They were worth hundreds of men to us, more precious than rubies."
Then came Royce's plane engines. The British government had ignored aircraft until 1912. By WWI's outbreak, only 100 planes per year were being made.
Royce saw an opportunity to make top-quality aircraft engines, and late in the war they powered the Bristol fighter, the best the English had.
Royce's lesson is to change course as conditions change.
In the 1920s, Rolls-Royce kept busy with back orders for cars that were the most expensive in the world. But when it tried to sell the luxury model in America in 1930, the price tag of $14,000 — worth $190,000 today — was too far above the Cadillac at $6,000.
A new Rolls today can run from $250,000 to over $700,000.

Step On It

Royce and his engineers created the R engine and a plane that set a world speed record of 408 mph. In 1930 he was knighted for his contributions to aircraft development.

The next year, the company bought out the troubled carmaker Bentley Motors and produced its version of another iconic luxury brand two years later. This first Bentley had Royce's last innovation — an adjustable shock absorber.

Before Royce died at age 70, he also approved the latest version of the R, called the PV-12. His company renamed it the Merlin and installed it in the Hawker Hart light bomber for tests in 1935.

When World War II broke out four years later, 4,800 of the engines had been delivered, and they powered the Hurricane and Spitfire fighters in the Battle of Britain.

After losing 1,600 planes in fighting over Europe, the RAF was outmatched 3-to-1 against the Germans, whose attacks on coastal cities began in July 1940 and continued with the London blitz.

British countered with aircraft that had an edge in acceleration and maneuverability. By autumn, the Germans had lost 1,652 planes to the Brits' 1,087. It was Hitler's first major defeat.

The Merlin would also be placed into the Mustang — called the P-51D — manufactured in America.
In 1971, Rolls-Royce Ltd. hit a rut of high costs developing a jet engine; the firm was nationalized.
The car division was spun off as Rolls-Royce Motors Cars , which is now part of the German automaker BMW.

It sells over 3,000 Rolls-Royce cars per year.

The parent company eventually turned into Rolls-Royce Holdings. It is one of the world's largest makers of aircraft engines, with sales of over $19 billion a year.

No comments:

Post a Comment