Russell Mackenzie Currie (1902 - 1967) was a Scots engineer who became a powerful catalyst for the introduction of scientific management and improvement of productivity in the UK and Europe. Currie was born in Glasgow, the son of a cotton yarn merchant. After a modest technical education in Glasgow and Edinburgh, aged seventeen, he started a five-year apprenticeship in a local firm of marine engineers. He attended evening classes during his apprenticeship, but for the young Currie, rugby football seemed at least as important as any academic attainment. At 22, he took the bold step of leaving his native country and taking on an engineering appointment with the Lukwah Tea Company in Assam, in North Eastern India. His career there was interrupted in 1926 when he was injured playing polo. After a short spell of recuperation in Scotland, he switched to another overseas appointment as Assistant Distribution Engineer at the Shanghai Waterworks in China. In a 15-year career there he proved a very effective manager and eventually rose to Engineer-in-Chief. In 1937, during his time there, the Japanese invaded Shanghai and other parts of China, but despite their brutal treatment of the native population, maintained neutrality towards European nationals. Thus it was that the Japanese allowed Currie to continue his work and even allowed the UK government to appoint him to a Commonwealth war production committee and to undertake a special mission to Washington to appeal for military supplies to the Far East. But only minutes after their invasion of Pearl Harbour (7 December 1941), the Japanese arrested Currie. However, a few weeks later, they exchanged him for one of their nationals who had recently been arrested in Portuguese East Africa. On his return to the UK in 1942, Currie joined Associated Industrial Consultants Ltd. and played a part in reorganising companies (mostly shipyards) for war production. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1945 at the request of the UK government he returned to Shanghai for six months and helped restore the local water supply.
By now in his mid-forties, well-travelled and very experienced, Currie embarked on a new phase of his career,
when in 1947 he joined UK chemicals giant ICI.
The job title of Senior Assistant to the Technical Director was unprepossessing, but the role was wide-ranging -
the introduction of Work Study to the organisation.
Currie's success in that role provided the foundation for his wider professional achievements.
For the remainder of his life, Currie worked hard and effectively to
sell the concept of Work Study throughout
industry, the public sector and to anyone who would listen.
In the early 1950's he suggested that the productivity of US industry was something that could and should be emulated.
But he felt that in the longer term it was the productivity of Japan, China and India that would be of more concern.
In 1957 Earl Mountbatten, First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy sought Currie's assistance in setting a Naval School of Work Study.
Currie also assisted the British Army and Royal Air Force in setting up similar establishments.
His achievements were recognised in 1958 when he was appointed CBE (Companion of the British Empire) and in 1961 he was
elected inaugural President of the European Work Study Federation.
Formally, Currie's technical legacy is quite modest.
An out-of-print BIM publication entitled
Work Study, the unmemorable acronym SREDIM
(Select, Record, Examine, Develop, Install, Maintain).
Although he did not claim any great originality for the techniques that he advocated, he was enormously successful in
persuading others to adopt them.
Currie's enthusiasm for scientific management made a profound impact on all who met him and most of the battles he
fought have now been won.