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The London civil servants of the 1960s and ’70s who all but ignored profitability as they issued directives across British Petroleum’s bloated corporate network were replaced by highly motivated managers who were rewarded for cutting costs, reducing risk and making money.

I need to translate this sentence into Portuguese but I'm struggling a bit to grasp its meaning. I'd appreciate if someone could help with it. From what I understood, the London civil servant hardly knew anything about the concept of "profitability" but they were still issuing directives...Is that "directive" just a normal procedure for any "civil servant" or is there any other meaning attached? I put the whole sentence so that you could understand the whole context, but what I'm really struggling to understand is the part in bold.

So, even though they did not know much about profitability, they were still issuing directives, is that right?

Thank you in advance.

  • It's missing some commas. Did you leave those out, or were they not there in the first place? – Hot Licks Apr 16 '16 at 1:56
  • There were no commas in the first place, Hot Licks. – Ricardo Apr 16 '16 at 22:03
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To say they "all but ignored profitability" does not mean they knew nothing about it--it means they largely ignored it, or gave it minimal attention. In other words, they did not give profitability the attention that the higher ups thought it deserved, and so they were replaced by others who cut costs, etc., those who, in other words, emphasized profitability, who made it their priority.

A directive is an instruction, or an explanation of how a certain thing should be done. Civil servants issue them, human resource officers issue them, and almost anyone in any position of authority who wants others to do something according to his specifications--they all issue directives.

Basically, it sounds like the civil servants were fired because the person who fired them thought they were too busy ordering everyone around (perhaps to feed their own egos?) and not paying attention to profits.

  • Thank you Surlawda. It wa a very enlightening explanation:) – Ricardo Apr 16 '16 at 22:04
  • Just another doubt: may I assume that those managers who replaced the civil servants have more decison-making power than the former civil servants? I mean, were the civil servants replaced by people with the same position within the company or the word "managers" clearly implies that they were replaced by people with more decision-making power? – Ricardo Apr 16 '16 at 22:29
  • Just another doubt: may I assume that those managers who replaced the civil servants have more decison-making power than the former civil servants? I mean, were the civil servants replaced by people with the same position within the company or the word "managers" clearly implies that they were replaced by people with more decision-making power? – Ricardo Apr 16 '16 at 22:29
  • Not necessarily. "Civil servants" and "managers" are both very generic terms, and it is impossible to tell from this one sentence alone. @TrevorD has added some interesting background below that suggests that it's not a matter of relative power, but simply that the civil servants and the managers who replaced them were beholden to different masters--the civil servants to the government (and theoretically to the public interest) and the managers to private enterprise. – user66965 Apr 17 '16 at 2:49
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In order to make sense of the quoted sentence, you need to understand a little of the background of British Petroleum (now BP) (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BP#1954_to_1979).

Before 1979, the British government had a controlling stake in the ownership of the company, and therefore the government's 'civil servants' were able to issue instructions to the company. In doing that, the civil servants - who would probably have had little experience in running a large company - were probably more concerned about administrative issues & government matters than about making the company profitable. Also, because the civil servants were paid by the British government their salary was unrelated to the financial performance of the company: they had no incentive to ensure the company was profitable. The company was probably actually making a loss, at least during the latter part of that period.

Once the government no longer owned a controlling stake in the company, the company itself could employ "highly motivated managers". Clearly those new managers were rewarded (salary, bonuses, etc.) when they cut company costs and increased company profits.

I can't comment on how much "decison-making power" the civil servants would have had, but I'm sure that their priorities would have been to satisfy the politicians who employed them, rather than to make the company profitable. Once the government no longer owned a controlling stake, the company managers would have been able to concentrate on the profitability of the company.

  • Have no words to describe how helpful your answer was, Trevor D!Thanks a lot! – Ricardo Apr 17 '16 at 18:38

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