Elon Musk called it a "reorg" but otherwise the Tesla chief executive’s recent e-mail promising a leadership shake-up was straight from the 1980s. "We are flattening the management structure to improve communication, combining functions where sensible and trimming activities that are not vital to the success of our mission," the electric car entrepreneur told staff. A few days earlier, BT announced 13,000 job cuts, mainly in its middle management and back office, as part of a plan to "simplify its operating model including fewer, bigger, more accountable leadership roles and delayering its management structures". These organisations — together with other recent flatteners and delayerers as diverse as Deutsche Bank and Daily Mail and General Trust — are heirs to a trend pursued by the likes of Jack Welch in the 1980s. As chief executive, he cut the chain of command at divisions of General Electric from as many as 10 links to as few as four.Welch’s role in pioneering flat hierarchy so...

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