How Business-Historical Research Can be Useful in Thinking About the Future of the AoM in the Age of Trump

7 02 2017
I’m a member of the Academy of Management,   a US-based organization that has been convulsed in the last week by an emotional debate about how the organization ought to respond to President Trump’s travel ban and the turn of events in the US (namely that an administration that is highly antagonistic to Muslim, Mexico, China, the European Union, etc). Since about half of the dues-paying members of the AoM work at non-US universities and some academics are talking about boycotting conferences in Trump’s United States, this issue is clearly important.
AoM members have been engaged in a lengthy debate about these matters on social media and on the AoM list-servs. Some members believe that the AoM’s upcoming conference, which is currently scheduled to take place in Atlanta, should be moved to Canada. Others think that the headquarters should be moved to Canada as well.
Here is my contribution to this list-serv debate. As you can see, I show how the research of my fellow business historians is useful in evaluating the view that the AoM’s interests would be best served by shifting its headquarters and events from the United States to a more neutral or at least welcoming country.  This email was written in response to a message from Prof. Andrew Maxwell, who works at a university in the Toronto area. (The AoM’s President is also based in Toronto).
Dear Professor Maxwell:

You make some interesting points about Toronto and Canada.

I see from social media that some people think that the AoM should relocate either its conference and/or its headquarters to Canada to hide the fact it is American.  Speaking as a historian of international business, I don’t know if that strategy would work. During and between the two world wars, some German firms incorporated in Switzerland and other neutral countries in an attempt to present themselves as non-German firms. This strategy worked for some but not all of these organizations.  In some cases, Western government officials saw through the ruse of incorporating in Zurich or Macau, as did some customers in those nations. (Consumers in that era were typically low information people).   I suspect that the many Middle Eastern and Chinese academics who currently pay to attend the AoM won’t be fooled if the mailing address is suddenly changed from Briarcliff Manor to Toronto.  They will realise that the AoM remains an essentially US organization, even if they membership fees are now billed in Canadian dollars and the website has a Canadian IP address. Whether that knowledge would change their willingness to pay to attend the AoM is something I don’t know. I suppose it depends on the extent to which they feel that the attitudes of the current US administration towards Muslims, Mexicans, China, etc reflect those of the US population.

The following pieces of business-historical scholarship may or may not provide useful lessons for the AoM leadership at this time.

Casson, M., & da Silva Lopes, T. (2013). Foreign direct investment in high-risk environments: an historical perspective. Business History, 55(3), 375-404.

Jones, G., & Lubinski, C. (2012). Managing Political Risk in Global Business: Beiersdorf 1914–1990. Enterprise and Society, 13(01), 85-119.

Smith, A. (2016). A LBV perspective on political risk management in a multinational bank during the First World War. Multinational Business Review, 24(1), 25-46.


Andrew Smith




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