What Business History Has to Say about Huawei, Geopolitical Jockeying, and the Battle to Sell Americans 5G Equipment

16 05 2019

In this blog post, I’m going to show how the research of two business historians is relevant to understanding the ongoing controversy about Huawei. The Chinese company Huawei is in the news again, thanks to Donald Trump signing a presidential order that declared that Chinese exports of telecoms equipment to the United States constitute both a national security threat and a national “emergency.” Given that Trump previously labelled Canadian and European steel exports to the U.S. a threat to national security, it is not surprising that the justification for the U.S. government’s attack on Huawei is not being taken seriously. As the BBC reported this morning, Trump’s executive order is “widely seen” as an attack on Huawei, a firm whose 5G products are competing with those of two European manufacturers, Ericsson and Nokia, and Samsung, a South Korean firm. For this interpretation of Trump’s executive order, see here, here, and here.

The French president, Macron, has rightly called Trump’s attitude to the Chinese firm “overprotectionism”. Many experts who have compared the Huawei’s products with those of its non-Chinese rivals have concluded that  Huawei’s equipment is smaller, more cost effective, and more energy efficient than equivalent products from its competitors, which implies that the U.S. consumers will lose out from the ban on Huawei products.

The immediate winners of Trump’s move would appear to be the U.S. subsidiaries of Ericsson, Samsung, and Nokia. As of yet, there is no direct evidence that any of these companies were involved in making Americans concerned about  Huawei. There’s no proof that these companies paid U.S. journalists or Congressmen to adopt anti-China, anti- Huawei stances, but that’s not unthinkable. I would note that when Borje Ekholm, the CEO of Ericsson, was asked about Trump’s executive order, he was remarkably restrained and did not join in the Huawei-bashing.  However, there is rising Sinophobia in the U.S. and that’s good news, at least in the short term, for the shareholders of Ericsson, Samsung, and Nokia, Huawei’s rivals, as well as for domestic U.S. firms competing with Chinese imports.(The US doesn’t have any companies that make 5G equipment).


This episode is certainly not the first historical instance of third-country firms benefitting from rising tensions between two countries. In the early twentieth century, the emergence of the movement for independent in India prompted many Indian firms and consumers to shun British-made goods. As the business historians Christina Lubinski and  Dan Wadhwani  discuss this dynamic in their new SMJ paper “Geopolitical jockeying: Economic nationalism and multinational strategy in historical perspective”. Their paper introduces the concept of “geopolitical jockeying” which is when a multinational firm attempts to delegitimize rival multinationals and position themselves as complementary to the economic and political goals of the host nation. I know that many business historians will tend to view the Huawei with relation to the wider trade war between the United States and China and the literature on the history of trade wars However, in thinking about the Huawei saga, I find it more useful to use the concept of  geopolitical jockeying.

Reflections on the Uses of the Past in International Economic Relations Conference

10 05 2019

I immensely enjoyed the Uses of the Past in International Economic Relations conference here in Oxford. The conference began with a great keynote by Per Hansen followed by a series of excellent papers. The first day ended with me talking about how historical analysis can help senior managers to mitigate cognitive biases, promote long-term thinking, and ultimately increase earnings per share. My presentation generated a lively discussion and I got lots of feedback that will be useful in preparing the paper for submission. On the second day, I heard a variety of excellent papers. I found that the paper on the ECB by Anselm Kuesters was particularly methodologically innovative. I also heard a fantastic presentation by a young economic historian that was based on research in the archive of Stanford University, which now holds the records of the Foreign Bondholders Protective Council.

At the conference, I learned of a new book by Marc Flandreau that I need to order and read.

The conference included an excursion to Brasenose College, where I drank out of a silver tankard that had been manufactured in the seventeenth century. The date on the tankard reads 1659, which I was told is implausible given that the college lost all of its silver under Cromwell’s rule. Archival research has confirmed that the tankard existed by the 1680s but for some reason its creators wanted to backdate it to the year after Cromwell died and the college’s silver was returned. Anyway, drinking from a silver tankard is an interesting experience, because the container cools the drink down after you pour it in.

I express my gratitude to the conference organizers for including my paper and to the European Commission for funding the conference.

Policy Entrepreneurs and FDI Attraction: Canada’s Auto Industry

7 05 2019

I thought I would draw the attention of my readers to a new paper in the journal Enterprise and Society by Greig Mordue of McMaster University.

Abstract: New perspective is provided on a critical period in the development of the Canadian automotive industry. In the 1980s, five foreign manufacturers built new vehicle assembly operations in Canada, effectively transforming that country’s automotive industry. Drawing from a combination of interviews with key actors and a review of archives, this case study makes several contributions. First, gaps are closed in the economic history of one of Canada’s most important industries. Second, the case demonstrates the capacity of using historical perspective to extend an existing theory to a new area of inquiry. In this case, Multiple Streams Theory is employed to explain the process of inward FDI attraction. This includes a description of the role of policy entrepreneurs and their capacity to create and exploit opportunities. Third, the case demonstrates the continuing relevance of integrating historical perspective to contemporary issues in business, management, and public policy.

Even though I’m not a fan of the concept of “policy entrepreneur,” which is used by this author (and many others), this paper is an excellent piece of historical research. The author, Greig Mordue, did a PhD in business history at Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow.  He is now an associate professor and ArcelorMittal Dofasco Chair in Advanced Manufacturing Policy at McMaster University.

Belgium’s historic beer diversity: should we raise a pint to institutions?

2 05 2019

Belgian Beers

Eline Poelmans and Jason E. Taylor. “Belgium’s historic beer diversity: should we raise a pint to institutions?.” Journal of Institutional Economics (2019): 1-19.

Despite its relatively small size, Belgium has historically been considered to have the most diverse array of beer varieties in the world. We explore whether Belgium’s institutional history has contributed to its beer diversity. The Belgian area has experienced a heterogeneous and variable array of institutional regimes over the last millennia. In many cases institutional borders crossed through the Belgian area. We trace the historical development of many of Belgium’s well-known beer varieties to specific institutional causes. We also show that the geographic production of important varieties, such as Old Brown, Red Brown, Trappist, Lambic, Saison, and Gruitbeer, continues to be influenced by Belgium’s institutional past.

EGOS 2019 paper Smith Online Appendix

Capitalism and Violence: A Short History by Sven Beckert, Harvard University

30 04 2019

AS: The lens with which I observe historical phenomena differs considerably from that of Sven Beckert, but I am always interested in listening to what he has to say. Next month, he will be presented in Copenhagen about the relationship between violence and capitalism. My priors, which are much more like those of Pinker, strongly suggest to me that the rise of capitalism has produced a reduction in the overall rate of violence, but I am certain curious to learn more about Sven Beckert’s presentation on this subject, which will likely argue that there is a causative relationship between capitalism development and violence. Anyway, here are the details of his talk.    

Professor Beckert researches and teaches the history of the United States in the nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on the history of capitalism, including its economic, social, political and transnational dimensions. He just published Empire of Cotton: A Global History, the first global history of the nineteenth century’s most important commodity. The book won the Bancroft Award, The Philip Taft Award, the Cundill Recognition for Excellence and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The New York Times named it one of the ten most important books of 2015. His other publications have focused on the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie, on labor, on democracy, on global history and on the connections between slavery and capitalism. Currently he is at work on a history of capitalism. Beckert teaches courses on the political economy of modern capitalism, the history of American capitalism, Gilded Age America, labor history, global capitalism and the history of European capitalism. Together with a group of students he has also worked on the historical connections between Harvard and slavery and published Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History.

Beckert is co-chair of the Program on the Study of Capitalism at Harvard University , and co-chair of theWeatherhead Initiative on Global History (WIGH). Beyond Harvard, he co-chairs an international study group on global history, is co-editor of a series of books at Princeton University Press on “America in the World,” and has co-organized a series of conferences on the history of capitalism. He is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow. He also directs the Harvard College Europe Program.


Date: 14th May 201

Time: 11.00 – 12.15

Venue: Udvælgseværelse  3, Nørregdae


Registration is required. Send a mail to Sofie Rosa Mønster  qdp332@hum.ku.dk  

CfP on History and Business Storytelling

29 04 2019

Organizational History Network

Call for Papers on History and Business Storytelling

Volume Editor: Albert J. Mills (albert.mills@smu.ca)

  As part of the series “A World Scientific Encyclopedia of Business Storytelling” (edited by David Boje and Regents Professor), contributions are sought for a proposed volume on History and Business Storytelling (with a submissions delivery date of January 15, 2021).

In the words of David Boje, the overall series seeks “to extend new theories of prospective sensemaking, quantum storytelling (how humans are connected to the environment, not separate), and the relation of narrative-counter narrative dialectics to dialogic webs of multiplicity.” To that end, the series seeks “new business story paradigms that go beyond mere social constructivism, short-term shareholder wealth maximization, and disembodied textual narratives to the work in embodiment, critical accounts for the voiceless and marginalized, socioeconomic storytelling for socially responsible capitalism, and true storytelling principles as an alternative to fake news…

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Business History Special Issue on Gender and Feminism

26 04 2019
I’m very pleased to share this CfP for a special issue that seeks to integrate research on gender and diversity into business history. I genuinely believe that such research, which is inherently important, can also help to increase the competitive advantage of business history as a field. 
Business History welcomes proposals for a Special Issue Gender, Feminism, and Business History.
Deadline: January 15, 2020
Gender relations represent one of the most significant social issues of modernity, profoundly affecting both women and men’s educational, economic, and political lives. Feminist theory and activism during the last two centuries is the highest profile marker of this, shaping our understanding of gender relations by focusing on equality, social justice, discrimination, inclusion/exclusion, and latterly the intersection of gender with race and ethnicity. The established territory of business history is the global north, after the mid-19th century, focusing on industrial production companies. Despite the changes provoked by feminism and greater recognition of the material and symbolic importance of gender relations, business history as a field maintains a largely gender-free and feminism-free centre. This special issue is designed to change that, by bringing both gender and feminism from the periphery of business history to its centre.
Gendered analysis of business history is a considerable field, but perhaps the most prominent challenge it has mounted to date is to the straightforward narratives of great men founding and building large organizations. The simple ‘great man’ narrative may still be a significant staple of the research undertaken in the field, but it is only one possible approach among many. There is empirical and conceptual space for other, very different, narratives of business history and the history of business.
This special issue is the first in this field for almost a decade to be dedicated to gender and business and/or organizational history. With it, we want to create a space for research that brings gender and feminism to business history’s centre, to provoke further dialogue and debate about alternative frameworks for research within and beyond the issue itself. We expect contributions to accomplish either or both of the following  aims:
To explore the significance of feminist theories and gender in advancing the analysis and understanding of women in particular as business owners, entrepreneurs, or as funders, silent partners, and designers supporting more visible business activity by men; To advance understanding of women and men working or living on the margins of the established territory of business history – i.e. outside of the global north, before the mid-19th century, outside of established industries, and as critics of masculinised ways of doing business.
In order to develop these broad aims, and in keeping with the aims of Business History, contributions to the Special Issue might explore (but is not limited to) the following topics:
  • What source materials and archives might offer a more complete understanding of women and feminism in business history?
  • What are the implications of changes occurring in the archive profession, and other developments such as the increase in feminist archiving?
  • How can gender and feminist perspectives shed new light on the historical analysis of social structures including social, economic and political systems as well as power?
  • How can gender and feminist perspectives inform business history not only from a Western perspectives but also from other perspectives including outside of the Anglo-American bubble i,e, Latin America, Africa, and Asia?
  • How can gender and feminist perspectives inform business history before the 19th century?
  • How should the corporate archive and the firm, in particular, be interpreted when thinking about gender, feminism, and business history?
  • What changes to research questions, methods, or narratives, are necessary to enable women and feminism to be more effectively written into business histories as full participants?
  • How can we account for the role that women played in creating the opportunities e.g. as funders, silent partners, or as designers for ‘great men’ to dominate business histories?
  • How can business history contribute to the conceptual development of key feminist analytics such as sexism, patriarchy, or misogyny?
  • How would a gendered analysis of business history classics contribute to our understanding of them? For example, what would a feminist re-reading of Alfred Chandler’s work tell us?
Contributions are expected to build on the rich empirical, analytical, and methodological traditions in this journal and in the field more generally. We would very much welcome contributions from scholars located beyond business and management Schools, interdisciplinary work, and from scholars geographically located outside the global north.
Submission Instructions
This call is open and competitive. All submissions will be peer reviewed following the standard practice of the journal. To be considered for this special issue, submissions must fit with the Aims and Scope of Business History, as well as this call for papers.
The guest editors will select a limited number of papers to be included in the special issue. Other papers submitted to the special issue may be considered for publication in other issues of the journal at the discretion of the Editor-in-Chief.
This special issue welcomes all contributions that address the broad themes described above. All submissions should be based on original research and innovative analysis. For empirical papers based on sources or data sets from which multiple papers have been generated, authors must provide the Guest Editors with copies of all other papers based on the same data or sources.
The maximum submission length is 10,000 words (including graphs and tables).
Submissions must not be under consideration with another journal.
The submission deadline is 15 January 2020 via ScholarOne, using the drop-down menu to indicate that the submission is to the Special Issue on Gender, Feminism, and Business History.
Please ensure that your manuscript fully complies with the publishing style of formatting regulation of Business History per their ‘Instructions for authors’
Authors may be asked to use an English language copyeditor before final acceptance.
The guest editors of this special issue would be happy to be contacted directly with queries relating to potential submissions:
Scott Taylor s.taylor@bham.ac.uk
Mary Yeager yeager@ucla.edu