MacGregor’s Input in the British Museum


MacGregor’s vision for the museum was that of the imperial institution that was user-friendly and represented as many societies as possible. Born of Scottish doctors, he studied Law and later on History before becoming a professor in art history, and educational background that did not quite give him a stable background for the director of a huge museum (Barsoux and Narasimhan 4). However, he was offered the job without applying for it.

What had impressed the board of trustees was his knowledge and confidence. Although lacking in experience, he proved that he was not only able but also very successful in engaging others irrespective of whether they are the employees, the politicians, the media, or wealthy donors.

In his vision, he would enhance management at the museum, and his partnership with Lord Rothschild, who was the head of the trustee’s board, ensured a firm government. Another sector he had in his vision was that of donors. By the time he took over the directorship of the museum, the institution was in enormous debt. First, MacGregor had to eliminate the debt and find sources for more financing to grow the institution thereby ensuring it ran efficiently in the future. He had secured donations from some of the richest people and his connections guaranteed contributions from donors.

To create a better appeal of the institution to the public, he introduced ways to communicate relics to the masses. He authored a few books, had two shows: ‘making masterpieces’ in 1997 and ‘seeing Salvation’ in 2000. Later on, a BBC television series on the National Gallery collection accompanied the shows, which he personally presented. He also changed the admission process into the museum to create room for more visitors in the future. He began by abolishing the admission fees since he thought that the visitors in the museum were owners of the museum rather than customers (Barsoux and Narasimhan 5). He also insisted on short visits.

His vision would have seemed over-ambitious, but it had grounds to supply it. The results of realizing his aspirations in their entirety would be tremendous living on to the future of the institution. However, the vision was a bit sticky since the museum was in a deplorable state, and his overzealous ambition was in friction with the institution’s current situation.

Role of British Museum’s culture

There was an old belief that the British Museum was a typical imperial institution that looted the world to obtain trophies for its vast collection of artifacts (“Nail MacGregor’s vision for the British Museum par. 2). Neil MacGregor, the director of the museum during the time of this belief, had to confront this old tradition to ensure it did not interfere with his goals for the British Museum (“Nail MacGregor’s vision for the British Museum par. 2).

According to MacGregor, the museum’s place in history had to remain since it had already taken place. However, he was against the idea to oversimplify the museum’s role, namely its role as an enlightenment institution. People from all lifestyles would learn about the history of the world through the museum. Currently, the museum possesses over seven million objects, which are set to tell the human tale from different societies (“Nail MacGregor’s vision for the British Museum” par. 3).

When MacGregor joined the museum, it was in turmoil. Most of its problems came from internal sources such as management, the rules and regulations, and some of its cultures (Barsoux and Narasimhan 5). The belief that some of the notable trophies and artifacts were looted from countries all over the world was top on the list of issues to investigate (“Nail MacGregor’s vision for the British Museum” par. 1).

The belief that almost everything within the museum from the Benin Bronze to the Greece Elgin marbles was acquired illegally brought about negative popularity within the institution. Some nations like the Greeks also started demanding their artifacts, hence, threatening the museum. These demands portrayed a crisis-ridden organization.

Another problem the museum faced was poor management. Internal management had many problems because it came under scrutiny in 1996 after a report presented proved their inefficiency. The museum had not employed even a single in-house accountant; the accounts were a mess. The statements lacked balancing figures and the management either increased entrance charges or initiated staff cuts to correct this error. These remedies, however, did not solve the accounting problem, they even made it worse leading to the government’s loss of trust in the institution.

Since the government began losing confidence in the museum, they cut their funding. These funding cuts led to difficulties in the institution. The management began dismissing more personnel to curb the problem. However, things got even worse after the government had abolished entrance fees. In addition, funding to the British museum remained the same even though there was an increase for the other museums. The staff cuts led to bitter reactions from the employees of the organization. They started striking and holding demonstrations, which led to a temporary closure of the museum due to a lack of personnel to run it (Kennedy par. 1). This closure led to more losses to the institution.

The public, who were the customers of the organization, did not perceive the institution in a very positive light since the museum was still in the past. Although visitors prefer a place where more is offered, the British museum paid more attention to the value of its objects but not to introduce the artifacts to its audience. The museum officials’ insistence on how children should not visit the museum enhanced this negative-light perception. This preference for adult-only visitors led to adverse publicity for the institution. Some individuals even referred to the museum as one of the least user-friendly in the world.

Analysis of MacGregor’s approach using McKinsey’s 7S Framework

The 7s framework has seven interdependent parts that are categorized as either soft or hard (“The McKinsey’s 7S Framework ” par. 5). The latter includes skills, style, staff, and shared values while the hard ones are strategy, structure, and systems. Executing the new strategy, MacGregor had to change almost everything in the organization. In this discussion, the framework will be used to elaborate on how he executed the plan.

First was his strategy. In every business venture, every investor or entrepreneur must have a plan in mind. A plan gives the institution a competitive advantage over the competitors. The British museum needed competitive advantage over the other museums that seemed to be doing much better than they were. MacGregor had to hire competent experts in management to eliminate the limitations detected in the way the institution was being run.

The management had to decide on the number of staff they could keep and their significance. MacGregor’s vision was to train and motivate the employees who would remain. MacGregor needed to eliminate all limiting factors like finances and demands by countries seeking restitution of their artifacts. MacGregor turned his interest to displaying the museum to the world in its new light after expelling the limiting factors.

The second is the structure, which refers to the hierarchy of control. It dictates who and for what is responsible in an organization. In the British Museum, a new management structure was implemented. There were two deputy directors Dawn Austick, who was in charge of operations, and Andrew Burnett who was responsible for curatorial issues. Both would report to MacGregor, who was the head manager. Some tasks of the board of trustees were handed over to a more active standing committee that consisted of only seven members. The rest of the employees reported to their supervisors who in turn reported to the deputy directors.

System change represents the third 7s approach. In the British Museum, MacGregor focused on acquisitions where he got owners to loan their paintings. The staff reshuffle was also one of the system changes he began with. He hired experts to ensure a working human resource system. The exhibitions and shows suggested also reintroduced the museum.

When talking about the soft parts of 7’s, there is a concept of shared values. These are the core values of any institution. According to MacGregor, he wanted the world to see the museum as a tool for enlightenment rather than that targeting financial gain. He canceled the entrance fees to demonstrate this view. In addition, in honor of the founders of the museum, he put bins outside the museum for donations. He also insisted on the policy of responsibility in the institution. He referred to the visitors as to the owners of the establishment rather than the customers. All citizens of the world would feel welcome in the museum to learn as much as they could learn.

In the skills section, MacGregor appointed Dawn Austwick, a former projects director at the Tate Modern, who was in charge of finance, information systems, staff development, and building management. He also hired Andrew Burnett, one of the leading managers of ancient coins in the world. These two helped him in operations and curatorial issues.

Another part of 7s is a style of management. His style was inclusive because he never let anybody in the organization. With the directors, he had them deputize each other with different expertise. He could personally join other employees and assist them in their daily work.

The staff factor, which discusses the general capabilities of the employees in an organization, is the last 7s item. MacGregor initiated staff cuts to ensure that the museum was the best in the industry.

Analysis of MacGregor’s Change Program

MacGregor needed to make some changes in the institution, and this is how he overcome this. Using Kotter’s 8-step change model, the steps MacGregor took would be evident.

The first step in the design is the creation of urgency. For change to happen, the organization and its environment must have it. The change in the museum was obligatory to ensure the institution had a future.

The next step was to form a powerful coalition. MacGregor had many connections on the board, the media, and even politicians. All these people were significant in making the sure change was enacted in the organization. They were stakeholders in the development of the institution and their participation ensured a future for the museum. He also had ties with wealthy people who later on became donors to the organization.

His next step was the creation of a vision for change. MacGregor’s vision as discussed earlier was full of change. Though the changes he suggested were radical, they were essential to secure the glory of the British Museum.

The next step in the design was communicating the vision. After his appointment, MacGregor laid out his vision and presented it to the board of trustees. Later on after the appointment of the deputy directors, he also notified them of the goals set for the museum. He did the same with the staff that remained, after layoffs, to ensure they were on the same path.

The British museum had numerous obstacles ranging from financial and management problems to public perception. These obstacles and their elimination were MacGregor’s next step. On finances, he got as many donors as he could and pleaded with the government to offset the museum’s enormous debt. As for the management, he substituted inefficient staff and replaced them with experts. On the public perception, first, he had to come to a mutual agreement with countries demanding their artifacts. He, then, opened the museum to all people.

The other step sought was to create short-term wins. In the case of the British Museum, the short-term wins would be to have effective human resources, financial stability and to attract as many visitors as possible from all over the world.

The next step was to keep on changing. MacGregor continued enhancing a better human resource structure with a more modern one. There were exhibitions to reintroduce the museum to everyone, and he added more objects into the collection of the museum.

The last step is that of anchoring the changes into the corporate structure. MacGregor insisted on all the changes and their enforcement to make the BM a world-renowned museum.

Works cited

Barsoux, Jean-Louis and Anand Narasimhan 2012. Restoring The British Museum. Web.

Kennedy, Maev. “British Museum in Turmoil as Strike Forces Closure“. The Guardian. 2002. Web.

Kotter’s 8 step Change Model 2010. Web.

Nail MacGregor’s vision for the British Museum. 2007. Web.

The McKinsey 7S Framework – Strategy SkillsTraining. n.d. Web.

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