History and the Micro-foundations of Dynamic Capabilities

12 02 2019

The Roman god Janus faced both forward and backward in time. In addition to being the god of time, he was also associated with gateways and doors.


Presentation: 20 February, 15:30 and 16:30 at University of Liverpool Management School Seminar Room 4

“History and the Micro-foundations of Dynamic Capabilities” by Roy Suddaby, University of Victoria.
Abstract. The capacity to manage history is an important but undertheorized component of dynamic capabilities. Following Teece (2007), we observe that the micro-foundations of strategic action, particularly in rapidly changing environments, are premised on the ability of the firm to enact change by sensing opportunity in the future, seizing that opportunity in the present and reconfigure organizations by overcoming the historical constraints of their past. To accomplish this, firms must acquire a historical consciousness – an awareness of history as an objective, interpretive and imaginative cognitive skill. In order to fully exploit dynamic capabilities, firms must acquire the ability to manage history – to enact change by systematically articulating persuasive perceptions of the future that are anchored in convincing accounts of the past. We identify and elaborate three specific types of cognitive approaches to history – objective-empirical, interpretive-rhetorical and imaginative-future perfect thinking – that underpin managerial capabilities for sensing, seizing and reconfiguring. We explain how these historical-cognitive capabilities contribute to the  adaptability of firms under conditions of profound technological change.

International Congress of French Business History, Paris 2019

11 02 2019

International Congress of French Business History

Paris 2019




Paris, 11th – 13th septembre 2019

Université Dauphine, Sorbonne Université , ESCP Europe

Deadline for proposals for papers and sessions: 18h February 2019



Continuity and rupture

Clichés persist, which is why we are sometimes still faced with the question: Are French businesses adapted to the economic, ecological, technological or social challenges of global capitalism? Are they modern? It is true that a powerful state, imposing publicly owned companies, the specific methods of regulating the consumer market, a world of work concerned with its achievements, as well as what could be described as a special relationship with innovation, risk, funding or new technologies have left a lasting mark on France. This has yet to be analysed. Does that explain why France, its businesses, its organisations – in short, French capitalism – often seem to be ignored in recent research and publications on the history of businesses and global capitalism? In other words, in order to take stock of the history of businesses in France is it not logical to assess France’s place in the history of capitalism? Answering these questions is the objective that has been set for the Paris Congress of French Business History.

In a spirit of intellectual and disciplinary openness, the Congress aims to bring together as many researchers from different branches of social and human sciences as possible, provided that their work adopts a historical perspective or addresses issues related to the historical dynamics of businesses. Besides stimulating discussion with French as well as foreign teachers and researchers, the objective of this Congress is also to foster dialogue between the academic world and players in economic and public life who are interested in the history of the role and operation of businesses and organisations, as well as the history of those living and working in the business world. Finally, the Congress should logically also be an opportunity to reflect on how business history is written today in France, on France, but also within the French-speaking world. This will make it possible to establish where French and French-speaking historiography stands in relation to other approaches, particularly Anglo-Saxon approaches. Three main sets of questions will be addressed.

1- The role of businesses – both French and foreign – in the emergence of a form of French-style capitalism

  • Governance, types of ownership (family, joint-stock), legal status, methods of control
  • Weight and demography of different kinds of French businesses (groups, associations, SMEs, very small enterprises)
  • Existence of a French organisational and management model (strategic choices, organisational forms, management styles, specific values, training and recruitment of managerial elites, role of engineers, influence of consultants, role of professional associations, management techniques – accounting, financial or marketing practices, staff management)
  • Weight of national public institutions (state, economic policies, publicly owned enterprises, role of legislation and social laws, legal and regulatory framework, etc.)
  • French businesses and technology (production methods, ‘robotisation’ (automation), digitalisation, product technology, innovation and research)
  • The question of entrepreneurship
  • Methods of funding economic activity (banks, capital markets, monetary and financial regulation, etc.)
  • Specificities of the functioning of the labour market and social relations
  • Structure and dynamics of investment policies and policies providing support for research and innovation
  • Means of regulating the market and competition (prices, standards, norms, lobbies, cartels, business and competition law, etc.)
  • Weight of associative and cooperative organisations in economic dynamics
  • Borrowing and influence of foreign models (Great Britain, Germany, the United States, Japan, China, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, etc.)

2- French companies confronted with the challenges of globalisation and modernity

  • New or old challenges (sustainable development and pollution, ethics, information and communication technologies, new forms of work and organisation, the issue of minorities and diversity, corporate social responsibility [CSR], etc.)
  • The historical dynamics of certain French activities on world markets (pharmaceutical industry, automotive industry, aeronautics, rail transport, agri-food, tourism and the hotel business, retailers and trade, leisure industry, research, arms industry, IT, nuclear, etc.)
  • Weight and role of foreign businesses in France
  • Businesses in France’s geopolitical relations with other world economies or other cultural areas (Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, Latin America)
  • French companies in the face of crises and revolutions in history (economic, ecological or political, regional or global, military conflicts, political or geostrategic tensions, protectionism, migration, commercial traffic, political or religious movements, etc.)
  • Businesses confronted with economic or social doctrines and policies (liberalism, Keynesianism, Marxism, market regulation and deregulation, new forms of wage labour and of work, business theories, etc.)

Finally, the Congress should address important epistemological or methodological questions: the question of access to sources, of new ways in which firms themselves preserve and promote the use of records, but also the issue of publishing the work of historians in French.

3- Writing business history in France today

  • The actors in business history in France today (archivists, researchers in the human and social sciences [historians, managers, sociologists, economists, anthropologists, etc.], communication and history businesses, legal experts, journalists, magazines, newspapers, learned societies and academic associations, think tanks, etc.)
  • Business history practices (preservation of memory, promotion and communication tools, employee training, levers of change, strategy development, etc.)
  • The impact of new technologies (archiving, preservation, accessibility, communication, user and property rights)
  • Risks and challenges for business historians (accessibility of archives, control, property rights, destruction of archives, new sources, etc.)
  • Business history and interdisciplinarity
  • Historical research on companies participating in debates and societal issues (national or international visibility, usefulness, managerial or operational impact, etc.)



The organisation of the Congress brings together a wide array of public and private institutions. The Congress will be held at the Paris-Dauphine University, the Sorbonne University, and at the ESCP Europe business school in the framework of its 200th anniversary. In addition, a doctoral seminar will be organised at the Paris-Dauphine University as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. It will be open to around 12 doctoral students.

The steering committee within the Organisational Committee is made up of:

Eric Godelier (President of the Committee, École Polytechnique), Dominique Barjot (Sorbonne Université), Laurent Béduneau-Wang (École Polytechnique), Alain Beltran (CNRS), Jean-Philippe Bouilloud (ESCP Europe), Sébastien Damart (Université de Paris-Dauphine), Laurent Ducol (Saint-Gobain), Sabine Effosse (Université Paris Nanterrre), Gilles Garel (CNAM), Pascal Griset (Sorbonne Université), Ivan Kharaba (Académie François Bourdon),  Muriel Le Roux (IHMC-CNRS-ENS-Paris 1), Alain Michel (Université d’Evry), Roger Nougaret (BNP Paribas), Adrien Passant (EMLV).

1- Proposals

Although we mainly encourage proposals on the topics listed above, papers on any other subject relating to business history, in particular those with a comparative approach, will also be examined by the programme committee. In this regard, contributions in the field of history but equally in the areas of management, sociology, law, political sciences and, where appropriate, other subject areas will also be accepted. The Congress does not intend to limit itself to research focusing exclusively on the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries. Individual or collective proposals on French or foreign businesses operating in France are admissible. This also applies to contributions looking at French or foreign companies operating abroad in relation to France (for example, in French-speaking countries or former French colonies). Both individual papers and proposals for full Congress sessions are admissible.

Individual paper proposals must include a summary of the proposal of no more than half a page (300 words) in French or English, and a half page curriculum vitae (CV, title, position, address and e-mail address).

Session proposals (in French or English) must include a covering letter indicating the theme of the session, the name of the person responsible for the session, a summary of no more than half a page (300 words) and a half page CV for each of the session participants (CV, title, position, address, e-mail address). In addition, proposals should suggest a chairperson and a commentator (to provide the closing comments) for the session as well as a maximum of three paper proposals. Each session will last a maximum of 90 minutes (10 minutes for comments and a maximum of 20 minutes for each presentation).

All proposals must be submitted on the website https://businesshistory.sciencesconf.org/

In addition, doctoral students (from second year) will be able to present their research in the form of a poster on the ESCP premises as of Thursday 12th September. Poster proposals must include a summary of the proposal of no more than half a page (300 words) in French or English, and a half page curriculum vitae (CV, title, position, address and e-mail address). Please specify in the proposal that it is a poster presentation.

Applicants will be informed by e-mail of whether their proposal has been accepted or rejected on 8th April 2019.

Full articles and/or presentations must be posted on the Congress website by 26th July at the latest (maximum 30,000 characters and/or PowerPoint presentation) and must IN ALL CASES be accompanied by a summary in French AND English.

Paper or session proposals must be submitted online at https://businesshistory.sciencesconf.org/. The Congress sessions will be held at the ESCP Europe business school from Thursday 12th to Friday 13th September 2019.

2- Doctoral day

A doctoral day will be organised on Wednesday 11th September on the Paris-Dauphine University premises. It will be open to 12 students. The candidates must be enrolled in the second year of a doctoral degree in business history in France. However, candidates from other fields are also admissible provided that they adopt a historical approach in their work.

The application should include a CV of no more than one page, a letter of motivation, a summary of the thesis project of no more than three pages as well as a letter of support from the candidate’s thesis supervisor. If necessary, it is possible to request financial support for Congress expenses. The application deadline is 18th February 2019.

3- Accommodation

Accommodation options will be made available on the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris campus for students (30 rooms) and researchers (10 studios). A number of partner hotels offer accommodation at varying prices (see list on the website).

4- Prizes

The organising committee plans to award three prizes:

  1. Best Congress paper prize. This award is open to all Congress participants. When submitting their paper proposal, candidates must inform the organisers that they wish to be considered for the prize. The amount of the prize is 1,000 euros.
  2. Best PhD prize. The prize is open to researchers who have completed a doctorate in the history of businesses and organisations in 2016, 2017 or 2018. It is not limited to doctoral graduates in history. The award includes 1,000 euros in prize money and support with publication (3,000 euros). Candidates can submit a proposal through the proposal submission form writing “Best PhD prize” as title and inclosing a one page resume of the thesis, the Jury report and the thesis itself in pdf.
  3. Prize for the best business history book in French. This prize may be awarded to Francophone researchers or, as the case may be, to researchers who have published a book in French within the last three years. The jury will select books published in the last three years (2017, 2018, 2019). The prize amount is 1,000 euros.

Some Thoughts about Constructing Trustworthy Historical Narratives: Criteria, Principles and Techniques by Gill et al. (2018)

9 02 2019


Gill, Michael J., David James Gill, and Thomas J. Roulet. “Constructing Trustworthy Historical Narratives: Criteria, Principles and Techniques.” British Journal of Management29, no. 1 (2018): 191-205.

I recently read an important new paper on historical organizational studies that appeared in the British Journal of Management. The overall argument advanced in it is partially congruent with that offered in the 2016 Academy of Management Review paper by Maclean et al. However, I see some important differences between these two papers and I’m more sympathetic to the approach taken Maclean et al than what Gill et al. (2018). The paper by Maclean et al identified the five hallmarks of high quality historical organizational studies: dual integrity, pluralistic understanding, representative truth, context sensitivity, and theoretical fluency. “Dual integrity” means that a paper on historical organization studies would be respected by both a good historian and a good organization studies scholar. The historian would look at it and would say “Yeah, the historical research that went into that paper was solid.”

Unfortunately, dual integrity is not an issue that is stressed in the paper by Gill et al. I regard that as a serious flaw. Another problem with the paper by Gill et al is that the authors appear to conflate “trustworthiness” and “trusted” which are actually two separate things, since the word “trusted” relates to the subjective opinion of the observer. For instance, the charming man at the front door of a house might be trusted by the people inside, but he might not be actually trustworthy if he is a really a con artist.

The paper by Gill et al. does not really grapple with the following important questions:

“Why is it important for historical narratives trusted?” “In whose eyes must historical narratives appear trustworthy?”

“Whose opinions about trustworthiness are most important here?”

“If I take steps to make my historical narrative appear trustworthy in the eyes of people in group X, will it become less trustworthy in the eyes of people in this other group?”

Each of these important questions has different possible answers.

While the authors do talk a bit about Open Data and Active Citation as mechanisms for bolstering the perceived credibility of historical research findings, the don’t cite my co-authored paper on this subject that appeared at roughly the same time as their paper. Gill et al. base their discussion of Active Citation on a pathbreaking, if now somewhat dated  2010 paper by the political scientist Andrew Moravcsik. Readers wanting a more up-to-date discussion of how the principles of Open Data and Active Citation are being applied in management research should read my paper “Prospects for a transparency revolution in the field of business history” instead.

P.S. The journal Business History is now encouraging authors to upload their data to repositories, which is another victory for the Open Data/Research Transparency movement supported in my 2018 paper.

Papers on Canadian Topics at the 2019 Business History Conference

6 02 2019

The program of the 2019 Business History Conference has been published online. I observed a fair number of papers on Canadian topics.

Matthew Bellamy, Carleton University “Into the Blue: Licensing Agreements and the Globalization of Canada’s Labatt Brewery”

José Galindo, Universidad Veracruzana “Crony Capitalism and International Investment: The Case of Canadian Companies in Mexico”

Stefano Tijerina, University of Maine “Globalizing the Americas: Canada’s Business Expansion in Colombia During the First Half of the Twentieth Century”

Victoria Barnes, Max Planck Institute for European Legal History
Lucy Newton, Henley Business School, University of Reading
“Shifts of Wealth, Capital and Responsibility: Litigating in London about Shareholder Rights in Canada and the Commonwealth”

Michael Stamm, Michigan State University “Canadian Trees, American Policy, and Latin American Journalism: A Hemispheric History of Newsprint in the Mid-Twentieth Century”


My employer, the University of Liverpool, will be represented by Rory Miller, who will be presenting on “Foreign Firms and Economic Nationalism in Mid-Twentieth-Century Latin America”

Perceiving the Present by Means of the Past: Theorizing the Strategic Importance of Corporate Archives

29 01 2019

AS: I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new book chapter.

Wim van Lent  and Andrew D. Smith , (2019), Perceiving the Present by Means of the Past: Theorizing the Strategic Importance of Corporate Archives, in Torben Juul Andersen , Simon Torp , Stefan Linder (ed.) Strategic Responsiveness and Adaptive Organizations: New Research Frontiers in International Strategic Management (Emerald Studies in Global Strategic Responsiveness, Volume ) , pp.97 – 110


It is commonly acknowledged that history matters in strategy. However, the strategy literature mainly discusses history in terms of path dependency, leaving little room for managerial agency, despite growing anecdotal evidence that managers can actively draw on corporate history to improve decision-making. An emerging literature on how managers use the past to give sense to internal and external stakeholders has given rise to a more agent-based approach to history, but while sense-giving is commonly connected to sense-making as a driver of strategic change, the role of history in sense-making remains unexplored. Drawing on the concept of analogical reasoning, this chapter theorizes the connection between corporate archives and managerial sense-making, arguing that analogies drawn from past experience can reduce uncertainty and foster learning. This theory leads to the suggestion that consulting the corporate archive can promote strategic renewal and thus boost performance.

History, path dependency, uses of the past, corporate archives, sense-making, analogical reasoning

Why Do Politicians Care About the Opinions of Future Historians?

16 01 2019

Prior to her historic defeat last night, Theresa May has urged her MPs to support her Brexit or risk being condemned by the historians of the future. According to the headline in the Metro, “Theresa May has claimed that future historians will accuse MPs of failing the British people” by not implementing Brexit.

When I first read May’s words about future historians, I laughed. I thought her attempts to evoke fear of incurring the wrath of future (unnamed) historians were amusing when one considers that actual historians, like other academics, overwhelmingly supported Remain. Since the future historians May worries about will likely be the protegees of today’s historians, an anti-Brexit stance will probably inform how most future books cover Brexit unless it turns out that Brexit was a smart move after all. Most historians tend to have centre-left worldview, but since the British left is itself split over the issue of Brexit, there may be some future historians, especially those from the Marxist hard left, who write books that depict the Brexiteers in a positive light. (There are also some centre-right historians, typically in the US, but they are appalled by Brexit because they view it as victory for Russian interests).

After my initial reaction to May’s words had passed, it occurred to me that it is indeed useful for politicians to worry about what future historians will say about them just as I think it is useful for people who handle cash to imagine they are being monitored by the boss. There is some research that shows that when people believe they are being observed (either by other humans or some omniscient deity), they behave more ethically. However, I then realised that some of history’s worst criminals were also intently worried about what future historians would think about them. Hitler, for instance, expressed concerns about this very issue. Of course, Hitler was projecting his own warped value system onto the imagined historians who were to sit in judgement of him.  (Similarly, belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful god does not preclude people from committing genocide if they believe that such actions are what the god expects them to do). So maybe it isn’t a good thing for politicians to worry about the verdict of future historians.

I then got thinking about the empirical question of why a politician would care about what future historians would think of their actions. It is easy to understand why a politician would care about the voters think about their actions, since the politician wants to get re-elected. However, I don’t quite know why a mortal politician would care about the opinion that some future historian will render.  I’m therefore wondering if there is any published research on the issue of why political leaders appear to worry about how future historians will judge them. Is there any relevant psychological research that speaks to this question? Also, does anybody know when politicians first began using phrases like “history will judge us” or “future historians will condemn us if…”

If any of my readers have answers to these questions, I would appreciate a response in the comments section below.


Update: I just had the following email from a follower of this blog

That’s an intriguing question, Andrew. I put ‘future historians’ into Google ngrams, and it showed some interesting results, with a peak in the early 1940s (I wonder why… ?). The problem is then going through all the ngram references to find the use of the phrase by politicians, e.g. see the FDR reference, third down in the 1935-1947 group, explaining what Woodrow Wilson said to him in 1917…  
And of course British colonial officials abandoning African countries were very concerned about ‘future historians’ and destroyed many papers.





CFP: Histories of Business Knowledge

4 01 2019

Organizational History Network

PDW – Histories of Business Knowledge

Thursday, March 14, 2019, 1 to 4pm
Hilton Cartagena de Indias, Avenida Almirante Brion, El Laguito,
Cartagena de Indias, 130001, Colombia

Organizers: Christina Lubinski (cl.mpp@cbs.dk) & Bill Foster (wfoster@ualberta.ca); Organized under the auspice of the BHC workshop committee; supported by the Copenhagen Business School “Rethinking History at Business Schools”-Initiative

Deadline for submissions: Friday, February 8, 2019

Knowledge is a central asset in business. Companies and organizations accumulate a pool of knowledge, whether it is knowledge about their customers’ needs and wants, their business environment, or the skills and experience of their employees. They also engage with a variety of different kinds of knowledge, such as explicit, formalized, or tacit knowledge and knowledge embedded in skills and bodies. The different ways in which businesspeople gather, share and capitalize on knowledge is a crucial competitive advantage (or disadvantage) in all market endeavors…

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