Cyril Hilsum: the first industrial consortium

Cyril Hilsum recalls how he set up the first industrial consortium to manage electronics research in the 1950s.

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I decided that the only way in which we could actually make progress here was getting everybody to work together, and I invented the concept of an industrial consortium. And I wrote the rules, which were that nobody had secrets, everybody tells everyone else what they are doing, the programme is decided, though in principal I am responsible for it because I am the monitor, but the programme will be decided collectively, everyone who wants to patent will tell everyone else first of all what they want to patent and get agreement that it is theirs, and in fact we will work as one large group. Now this might seem to you very sensible, but at that time they didn’t even know the people in the other companies. They didn’t know their names, they couldn’t ring them up to collaborate, they didn’t have any telephone numbers there. And CVD was very uncertain, they said, ‘But you’ll never get the bosses to agree to this,’ I said, ‘Well we can try,’ and they said, ‘Well we don’t want anything to do with this, because it involves commercial security too much, as far as we’re concerned we will place the contracts and you will monitor them, how you want to handle them is up to you and we don’t want to know, as far as we’re concerned if you get it established it will be called Hilsum's Consortium, and if anyone asks us about it we’ll say, ‘It’s Hilsum’s Consortium, we don’t know about it,’ right.’ So I started off with Plessey where I knew the people pretty well, I then went to Marconi, well I got Mullard but that was later, Phillips’ Lab, there’s one lab I’ve forgotten but never mind. Oh STL at Harlow, and we all agreed to work together. And we apportioned responsibilities and it began to work. Together we were able to compete with America, separately we wouldn’t have been able to. But we were operating as one body. We had organised it so that we were collaborating in a consortium and I will say that that possibly – that establishment, the way it’s done is probably the biggest contribution I made, I have made, because that was adopted later on by many people.

  • Interviewee Cyril Hilsum
  • Duration 00:02:58
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 2/15/2012
  • Shelfmark C1379/69

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