No Image Available

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Whatever happened to…?


Derek West from RightTrack reminisces about technology and business practices from a bygone era.

Lost pieces of working life

After 30 years in accounting, industry, IT consultancy and management training, it feels like it's time to take stock. It is ironic really, as stock takes are a big part of a junior accounting trainee's life, and that's where I started, shivering and counting among the piles of steel or vats of beer in the industrial midlands. But in those days I was checking what was there; my theme today is what has slipped away - features and fads of working life that had their time, and then disappeared from today's corporate world, just as surely as the cigarette smoke and Mackeson from your local pub, or your actual local pub.

If you are under 40, some of the following may not mean much to you: if so, ask the poor souls in their fifties who now work for you, and watch them grow misty-eyed at the thought of simpler times, when a scientific calculator or a Filofax were objects of wonder.

Lunchtime drinking

It may not have died out completely, but it seems to me and my fifty-something friends that liquid lunching does not happen on anything like the colossal scale of 30 years ago. It may just have been a feature of the accounting profession - heaven knows you need to get through the day somehow - but others in many walks of life have confirmed that it was the norm for them also. I may also have an atypical experience, as my first audit took place in a brewery with a free draught beer tap for the employees in the canteen, but I don't think so.

I worked on many assignments for one particular partner of our Big Four (or was it Big Six then?) accountancy firm. His routine was to work through until lunchtime, take the team to the pub and insist that everyone get their rounds in. If you even hinted at stopping before quaffing three or four pints he would loudly cast doubts on your virility. Suitably invigorated, we would troop back to the client, and do our best to get through the afternoon, whilst our partner would close his office door.

At five o'clock, when we were getting ready to pack up and go he would reappear, refreshed as a daisy, and insist upon another two or three hours' work. I exited the audit profession as soon as I could: and just before I left I heard that he had been promoted to Managing Partner.

Fax machine envy

In the mid-80s I would meet my solicitor friend each Wednesday for a keep-fit class and a few pints (what a fine, typically British combination that is). For what seemed like months he would update me on the agonising, endless debate he and his fellow partners were having, about whether or not to invest in a fax machine. It is hard to believe now, the glamour of the fax. The thrill of sending a fax; the rapid beeping and the strange squeaking as it tried to connect; the embarrassment of dialling a phone number and not a fax number, and hearing the exasperated person on the other end, baffled and annoyed at being squeaked at.

The thrill of receiving a fax, and watching the weird smelly curly paper endlessly spilling forth onto the floor, only to realise that it has not transmitted properly, and what you have are 500 sheets each containing one line of text, with the most important one missing. I think most of us assume that faxes went the way of tickertape, Ceefax and France's own beloved Minitel. But no, there is still a healthy market, and in the NHS trust where my wife works, they recently debated heatedly and at length over purchasing one, before deciding it was too expensive. Plus ça change...


As I recall, the term 'empowerment' became a management buzzword in the early 90s. Suddenly we were all expected to work in self-managing teams, layers of management and bureaucracy were stripped away, organisation structures were flattened, and we were all empowered to, err, well, to be empowered. What a Golden Age. In reality, most senior managers shared the outlook of the CEO of the brewery where I worked in the 90s. When asked in a management meeting if he believed in empowerment he replied, in that withering tone that only a Yorkshireman of a certain age can pull off: "Empowerment? Yes I believe in empowerment. And you're all empowered to do as I bloody well say."

I believe the vogue for empowerment started to wane, and we saw its dangers, as we learnt open-mouthed of the exploits of one Nick Leeson - possibly the most empowered individual in corporate history.

Life before PowerPoint

When I run training courses with younger participants - which these days is everyone - I sometimes have occasion to explain to them that once upon a time there was no such thing as PowerPoint. They grow round-eyed, and shuffle nervously in their seats. I describe a world which flourished well into the 90s, and then disappeared like an X-Factor contestant, in the face of Mr. Gates's presentation leviathan. I mean the world of the overhead projector, of clear acetate sheets and felt-tip pens.

You would write your messages in felt-tip on the acetate, place this on the projector, and your messages would appear, pale and blurry and too small to read, on the wall behind you. It was also possible to photocopy onto acetate - a scary undertaking, as there seemed to exist two types of acetate: one copier friendly, and one which would fry, melt and virtually destroy the copier if erroneously introduced. I now confess to doing, more than once. Ah, you young people - who now have PowerPoint-savvy lecturers and presenters who can read out word-for-word for hours, from densely-packed hundred-slide presentations - how lucky you are.

So that's it. If space had permitted, I would have liked to go on to remember Lotus Notes, SuperCalc, tea ladies with trollies, proper offices (i.e. not open plan), floppy disks awaiting urgent delivery by motorbike, Tom Peters (whatever happened to him?), comptometer operators and the Vauxhall Cavalier. Some live obscurely on, no doubt: others only exist on the crumpled punch-cards of memory.

Derek West (MBA) is a training specialist with His career has spanned all aspects of business, from chartered accountancy, through many years’ experience in industry worldwide. His calm, methodical approach to learning and development makes him a very popular choice for all management subjects and business skills.

No Image Available

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!