BHC-EBHA 2015 Miami

30 06 2015

For the last few days, I’ve been at the joint meeting of the Business History Conference and the European Association of Business Historians in Miami. This year’s conference had inequalities as its central organizing theme. The keynote address was by Thomas Piketty, who is interested in socio-economic inequality. However,  the working definition of inequalities that informed the conference was, of course, far broader and included such as issues as differences in the capabilities of firms in the same industry.

This year’s BHC featured a number of Paper Development Workshops. I presented at the excellent PDW on the New Entrepreneurial History organized by Dan Wandhawni and Christina Lubinski.  All of the papers I heard at this workshop were excellent and it is inspiring to have been selected as part of this group. I got very useful feedback on my paper from the participants, particularly Daniel Raff, Howard Aldrich, Andrew Godley (three very established management academics) and Ellen Korsager, who is an extremely impressive newbie PhD from Copenhagen Business School.

I also attended a meeting of scholars with research interests or institutional affiliations that connect to Canada. A new organization for Canadian Business History is in the process of being formed (more details to follow, but here is a link to the website).

The main conference was equally excellent. Program committee chair Lucy Newton’s hard work in selecting papers and formed coherent panels deserves to be recognized, as does the hard work of everyone else who made the conference possible, including the superb and under-appreciated staff of the Hyatt Regency Miami.

I was part of a panel on banking history. My fellow panellists were Lucy Newton (Henley Business School), Victoria Barnes (University of Reading), and  Laurence Mussio (McMaster University). We received valuable feedback from audience members including Les Hannah, Youssef Cassis, and the aforementioned Ellen Korsager.

My favourite panels this year were: Corporations and Inequality (Robert E. Wright, Augustana College; Leslie Hannah, London School of Economics; Richard Sylla, Stern School, New York University; Roni Hirsch, University of California, Los Angeles) and The Role of History at Business Schools (Stephanie Decker, Aston Business School; Dan Wadhwani, University of the Pacific; Mads Mordhorst, Copenhagen Business School; Anders Ravn Sørensen).

Takafumi Kurosawa of Kyoto University gave a great paper “Who Are We? History and Identity of Business History Societies” that looked at how business history differs around the world (e.g., in the United States, most business historians are in history departments, in the UK they are mostly in management schools, in Japan they work in economics departments). He also presented compared the histories of the main business history organizations around the world.

The winner of this year’s Krooss Prize for best PhD thesis in business history was David Singerman, whose thesis on the development of modern sugar refining was judged to be a superb piece of work that straddled business history and the history of technology.

P.S. The membership of the BHC and EBHA overlaps with that of EGOS, which will be holding its big conference in Athens later this week. At BHC, many of the EGOS members were discussing whether it would be wise to travel to Greece in light of the actual monetary chaos and expected civil disorder there.

International Business Research, Methodological Individualism, and the Judgement-Based View: Implications for Business Historians

14 06 2015

International Business Research, Methodological Individualism, and the Judgement-Based View: Implications for Business Historians

Mark Casson

Mark Casson

I’m attending the Reading-UNCTAD International Business Conference, which is being held this weekend at Henley Business School. I was part of a panel on International Business History that went well, I’d like to think.  One of the other panels, Where is the individual in IB research?, focused on units of analysis in International Business research. The  Panellists were Mark Casson, University of Reading; Timothy Devinney, Leeds University Business School; Marcus Moller Larsen, Copenhagen Business School, and Dunning Fellow; Elisa Giuliani, University of Pisa.

I really enjoyed Mark Casson’s paper, which was a very robust defence of methodological individualism in International Business research.  Casson stressed that when articles in IB journals refer to the decisions and actions of firms, the authors are really using a form of verbal shorthand for referring to groups of individuals.

“Firms don’t take decisions, individuals do. When you say that a firm pursued an international strategy, you really mean that that the CEO persuaded the individuals on the board to go along with his or her strategy.” Professor Casson also pointed out that individuals establish firms to exploit their ideas. Firms founders are highly heterogeneous and firms have a character that is influenced by the personality of the founder.

In the Q&A session, Professor Casson elaborated on some of the implications for future research in IB journals of his methodological individualism. He stressed that there needs to be increased attention to entrepreneurs and more careful reflection on how we define entrepreneurship. Here, Casson appeared to me to be drawing on the Foss-Klein judgment-based view of entrepreneurship (JBV) and some of the themes that are developed in some papers in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Institutional Economics.  Casson spoke at great length about the need for research that focuses on named individuals, is based on the extensive study of primary sources in archives, takes social and political context into account, and which looks at case studies of entrepreneurs in different time periods. In effect, he was calling for the re-integration of Business History into International Business research.  

Casson’s call for more history in IB journals is consistent with a broader trend in management research, namely the so-called Historic Turn. Casson’s remarks support my view that the JBV of entrepreneurship and the approach to studying entrepreneurship developed by Business Historians are congruent and natural allies.

BLOG #5: Team Canada’s Bermuda Research Trip – May 2015

11 06 2015

My research collaborators on the Empire Timber project have posted a photo essay that chronicles the recent research trip to Bermuda. I wasn’t able to make it but I’m looking forward to working with to help write up this research and get it published in a variety of journals.



BLOG #5: Team Canada’s Bermuda Research Trip – May 2015.

CFP: SI of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal

11 06 2015

The Copenhagen Business School Initiative “Re-Thinking History” is working for some time now on the topic of Historical Approaches to Entrepreneurship Research. One of the members of the group, R. Dan Wadhwani (visting Professor at CBS) has organised together with David A. Kirsch, William B. Gartner, Friederike Welter, and Geoffrey Jones, a call for papers for a special issue of Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal on this topic.

Guest Editors
R. Daniel Wadhwani, University of the Pacific
David A. Kirsch, University of Maryland
William B. Gartner, California Lutheran University & Copenhagen Business School
Friederike Welter, IfM Bonn and University of Siegen, Germany
Geoffrey Jones, Harvard Business School

In recent years, scholars have grown increasingly interested in the promise of historical approaches to entrepreneurship research. History, it has been argued, can be valuable in addressing a number of limitations in traditional approaches to studying entrepreneurship, including by providing multi-level perspectives on the entrepreneurial process (Tripsas, 1997; Forbes and Kirsch, 2010; Agarwal and Braguinsky, 2014), in accounting for contexts and institutions (Baumol, 1990; Welter, 2011; Haveman et al, 2012, Zahra and Wright 2011), in understanding the relationship between entrepreneurship and economic change (Schumpeter, 1947; Casson and Godley, 2005; Baumol and Strom, 2007; Lippmann and Aldrich, 2014), and in situating entrepreneurial behavior and cognition within the flow of time (Popp and Holt, 2013). History, in this regard, points the direction to both valuable sources and data for addressing such topics (Forbes and Kirsch, 2010) and to a body of historical theory from which to conceptualize context, time, and change analytically (Wadhwani and Jones, 2014; Wadhwani, 2010). Indeed, it is for many of these same reasons that Schumpeter (1947) called on theorists and historians to collaborate in the study of entrepreneurship. For this special issue, we seek theoretical and empirical work that significantly advances our understanding of whether and how historical research and reasoning can contribute to our understanding of entrepreneurship. In this regard, we encourage submissions that not only make contributions to entrepreneurship research and theory, but also engage the methodological and theoretical issues involved in using historical approaches in the management disciplines (Ingram, et al, 2012; Bucheli and Wadhwani, 2014; Rowlinson, et al, 2014; Kipping and Üsdiken, 2014). We welcome a broad range of ways to conceptualize and integrate history in entrepreneurship research, including as a set of sources and methods, as context (e.g. industry evolution), as an independent variable (experience at firm or founder level), as a mechanism (process, path dependency, or way of interpreting the past), or an outcome (e.g. historical performance).

Matching Business Historians and Business Archives: Can We Look to eHarmony to Improve the Efficiency of the Process

11 06 2015

Matching Business Historians and Business Archives: Can We Look to eHarmony to Improve the Efficiency of the Process?

Business Historians and Corporate Archivists need to find more efficient ways of connecting researchers with primary sources. We should look to the online dating world for possible models.

Let’s think for a second about the evolution of matching technologies in the marriage market.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people had a very limited pool of marriage partners. Over the last few hundred years, our society has evolved a variety of increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for matching men and women in urban centres. Lonely hearts ads, which have been in newspapers for since Victorian times, evolved to supplement more spontaneous ways of meeting potential mates in the big anonymous world of the big city. In the 1970s and 1980s, we saw the emergence of singles bars, which were a different mechanism for accomplishing the same goal. The 1990s witnessed the birth of online dating, which was perhaps a step to greater efficiency. Speed dating in person developed about the same time. In the last few years, advances in computing power have resulted in the creation of new forms of online dating with sorting algorithms designed to pair compatible individuals. eHarmony has become a successful business because it uses clever algorithms to run a highly effective online romantic clearinghouse that matches likeminded souls: neat freaks with fellow neat freaks, triathletes with fellow triathletes, and so forth.

Academic research is never a solitary pursuit, even in disciplines that remain dominated by the single-author paper. As Susann Fellman and Andrew Popp have noted in a recent working paper, “the production of history is always a collective endeavor. Numerous participants are involved, from past generations of historical actors, through past generations of historians, others involved in the gathering and preservation of the traces left by the past, to the historical interpreters of the present… A key site of this collective endeavor – even if it is certainly not the only one – is the archive.” (Fellman and Popp, 2015, 1).

In recent years, academics throughout the world have been introduced to the concept of academic speed dating. Regular speed dating is about finding a partner in life. Academic speed dating is about finding research collaborators with intersecting research interests and complementary skillsets. An increasing number of disciplinary conferences feature academic speed-dating events and the speed-dating format is used within universities to create collaborations between departments and faculties. For instance, a university located in the Strand area of London recently used speed dating to encourage legal academics and social scientists to discuss possible co-authorship. The apparent reasoning  was that since many social-scientific topics have a legal dimension that could be discussed in  paper. On one side of a long table were all of the legal academics who signed up to participate. On the other were an equal number of researchers from outside the law department (political scientists, historians, economists, etc). At the start of the event, each social scientist sat in front of a randomly selected legal academic. They had three minutes to describe their research, after which the law lecturer discussed his or her research for three minutes. In the remaining four minutes, they chatted about possible collaboration on papers, grant applications, and the like. After ten minutes, a bell rang and the academics shuffled down the table, repeating the process with another potential collaborator. At the end of the event, there was a reception with drinks and the chance to resume earlier discussions. The costs of the event were underwritten by senior research administrators who were eager to promote research collaboration between different REF units of assessment. There is some preliminary evidence to suggest that academic speed dating is a fairly efficient way of bringing together research collaborators. The academic speed dating concept can also be adapted to promoting collaboration between academics and non-academic stakeholders (e.g., management academics and the member firms of a local chamber of commerce).

For business historians, perhaps the most important type of collaboration with firms involves access to company archives. Much like academic speed dating or indeed speed-dating of the original, romantic kind, archival research is an activity carried on for mutual benefit. For the business historian, the benefits of archival research are pretty straightforward: getting access to the primary sources required to write a publishable article. From the standpoint of the corporate archivist, and the perspective of the firm who is his or her principal, the benefits are a bit more complex.  Firms give outsiders access to their archives for a wide variety of reasons that include the desire to promote a positive company image, the need to know more about the organization’s own history, and perhaps the tax advantages that come with opening up their archive to academics. A sense of corporate social responsibility may also be part of the firm’s motivation for allowing outsiders access to once confidential documents. Most corporate archivists are eager to encourage academic researchers to use their archives, at least insofar as they have the time and other resources needed to host outsiders and escort them around buildings. Although corporate archivists have a fiduciary duty to exclude muckrakers and other researchers who might use documents to hurt their employers, corporate archivists also have incentives to maximize the number of “safe” researchers who pass through the door of their archives. After all, an archivist will want to be able to demonstrate to their superiors that the archive is indeed in frequent use. Corporate archivists are also frequently motivated by a desire to share their knowledge of their holdings with researchers and a sense of curiosity about their employers’ histories. In my experience, corporate archivists love telling researchers: “you know, there is this obscure piece of correspondence that’s really relevant to your research question. Let me dig it out of deep storage.”

In short, business historians need corporate archivists and corporate archives needs business historians. The challenge is to find an efficient way of putting archivists in contact with the right business historian.  How can we use technology to reduce transaction costs, improve markets, and put researchers and business archives together? Online services such as eBay have brought buyers and sellers of lawnmowers together for years. Various online dating apps are doing the same thing for the romantically inclined.

There is no doubt that the existence of the National Register of Archives and other online directories of business archives has simplified our lives and have thus increased the quality and the quality of the business history being produced.  Corporate archives are now putting more detailed descriptions of their holdings online (see the Barclays Group Archive’s stunning new website), which will further increase utilization. The fact that all academic researchers now have an online presence, which allows corporate archivists to verify the identities of people who email asking for archival access, has also helped. However, the business-history community needs to do more if we are to increase the efficiency of our research process in an increasingly competitive environment.

The UK business-history community could try to organize speed-dating events in central locations (e.g., London or Birmingham) to bring archivists and business historians together. If the speed-dating event were held in the summer, when researchers are normally free of teaching duties, many academics would attend. Unfortunately, few corporate archivists have the funds and indeed travel authorization to attend such events.

A somewhat better option would be arrange an online speed-dating event. However, this arrangement would still be somewhat time-consuming.  The best option would be to create an online resource that would combine detailed descriptions of archival holdings with academics’ personal statements of research interests and then an algorithm for matching.  Our colleagues in the field of genetics, a discipline that is pre-occupied with, er, various forms of matching, have already established a model we can use. In 2014,  Cambridge University geneticist Rafael Carazo Salas and two Italian colleagues wrote an algorithm that matched attendees at an international conference with a view to introducing people to potential research collaborators and co-authors. [It appears that their programme may have been inspired by the fictional character Sheldon Cooper from the TV show The Big Bang Theory]. Dr Carazo-Salas had earlier observed that while chance conversations at conferences sometimes lead to international scholarly collaborations, the attendee of a large conference will only have the opportunity to speak to a small percentage of the other attendees. As a result, many opportunities for collaboration go undiscovered.  The Times Higher Education supplement (2014) quoted Dr Carazo-Salas as saying that he wished to treat conference delegates in the same way “we treat genes, and used mathematical algorithms to build a connectivity picture that could enable new links to be made.”

Business historians and archivists should initiate a conversation about how we adapt the procedure of Dr Carazo-Salas to our needs. In constructing an algorithm, business historians and business archivists will likely need to form collaborations with the following groups: research funding councils, computer scientists, and business historians in other countries. Considerable effort will be required at first but the benefits could be substantial and would likely include a number of happy relationships between business historians and business archivists. Such relationships would produce conference papers that would hopefully grow up into articles in top-ranked ABS-ranked journals. Such publications would doubtless make both of their parents extremely proud.

Works Cited

Barclays Group Archive. (2015).

Fellman, S. and A. Popp. (2015). “Owners, Archivists and Historians: Towards a Stakeholder Perspective on Corporate Archives.” Unpublished working paper.

Reisz, M. (2014). “’Speed dating’ helps conference academics mix” Times Higher Education Supplement, 23 February.

My Panel at the Reading-UNCTAD International Business Conference

4 06 2015

The Fifth Reading-UNCTAD International Business Conference  will take place on 13-14 June 2015 at Henley Business School at the University of Reading. My panel is called  History in International Business.

Chair Geoffrey Jones

Andrew Smith The persistence of liberal norms in a Hong Kong-based MNE: HSBC in the First World War Discussant: Lucy Newton

Peter Miskell The movie multinationals: why was it only American firms that managed to compete
successfully in international film markets, and how did they do it?
Discussant: Peter Scott

Peter Scott & James Walker, Why Was There so Little Multinationalisation in Retailing Before The 1990s: And Did It
Matter? Discussant: Marcelo Bucheli

Marcelo Bucheli Navigating the regulatory environment through political strategies: the
telecommunications multinationals in twentieth-century Chile Discussant: Peter Miskel

Lucy Newton Multinationals, image and identity: HSBC and the construction of corporate identity through the portrait Discussant: Andrew Smith

Little Multinationalisation in Retailing Before The 1990s: And Did It Matter? Discussant: Marcelo Bucheli Marcelo Bucheli Navigating the regulatory environment through political strategies: the telecommunications multinationals in twentieth-century Chile Discussant: Peter Miskell

The Thought of a Classical-Liberal London Merchant Banker during the First World War

2 06 2015

AS: I’m posting the abstract of the paper I will be presenting at the Business History Conference in Miami later this month. I would like to thank the archivists at the HSBC Group Archive and the School of Oriental and African Studies who helped make the research for this paper possible.

This paper examines the words and deeds of the British merchant banker Charles Addis. Addis was a leading figure in the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), which was and is an important multinational. In the early twentieth century, he promoted the ethos of commercial cosmopolitanism, a mental framework in which national loyalties are subordinated to other abstract principles, such as a code of commercial honour, loyalty to business partners irrespective of nationality, and the teachings of classical liberalism.  Commercial cosmopolitanism was the hegemonic ideology in Britain during Addis’s youth, but it became increasingly unpopular before and especially during the First World War.  A committed classical liberal, Addis articulated the ideology of commercial cosmopolitanism in his diary, private correspondence, and many public statements. The paper links Addis’s ideology to the strategy of the HSBC and shows how the firm sought to continue trading with German firms in China as far as British law and public opinion would permit. A robust methodological individualist, Addis firmly distinguished the actions of the German state from the German individuals and firms with which he interacted. The paper shows that Addis sought to reduce the impact of the war on the business operations of HSBC and the overall international economy. Addis’s ideas about wartime developments in British and German financial services, particularly the bank merger wave experienced by both countries, are also explored, as are his prophetic comments about the Too Big To Fail problem in banking. The paper also examines Addis’s role in the British deliberations that proceeded the Versailles conference of 1919.  The paper observes that Addis was allied with John Maynard Keynes, another

prominent opponent of the Versailles peace settlement.


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