Accounting for Alcohol – part 1, accounting machines at Guinness.
Along with my good colleague João Oliveira, I recently edited a book titled “Accounting for Alcohol -An Accounting History of Brewing, Distilling and Viniculture”. It stemmed from my own research on accounting history at Guinness, the world famous brewer of stout in Dublin. The book has 15 chapters covering many topics around accounting and beer, wine and spirits. In this first post, I will summarise Chapter 1, which is titled “The introduction of accounting machines at Guinness” and is written by Carmen Martínez Franco and Martin Hiebl. Over the coming weeks, I will provide a similar summary of each chapter. I hope you like it.
This chapter tells the story of the introduction of accounting machines at Guinness in the late 1920s. These machines, a Smith Premier machine costing around £200 at the time, could be simply described as typewriters with a built-in calculation function. These machines were at the time a new technology. In the modern day, it may be hard for us to imagine that all invoices and statements to customers were typed. I can only imagine the difficulty of having to add and check the sums on each typed item. These machines offered a solution to this problem, and by association made the accounting department at Guinness more efficient. The numbers of staff reduced by about 11 in one year according to the authors, customers were able to receive statements on a monthly basis – something not possible before then – and checking of discount calculations were no longer required. It also allowed Guinness to develop standardised procedures around customer transactions. The authors cleverly compare this technology change of nearly ninety years ago to more contemporary technology changes in the accounting world. They conclude there were several similarities – good management, gradual implementation and delivered efficiencies.