Management Learning in Historical Perspective: Rediscovering Rowntree and the British Interwar Management Movement

6 08 2019
I would like to draw the attention of my readers to a superb new business-historical paper that has appeared in Academy of Management Learning & Education.  The paper Mairi Maclean, Gareth Shaw, Charles Harvey and Alan Booth develops our understanding of the history of management education at the same time as addressing a classic debate in the field of business that was initiated by the late Al Chandler’s remarks about the role of education in the relative decline of British industry.

Abstract: British interwar management (1918-1939) has been criticized as overly conservative, comprising a core of progressive firms amidst a mass of conservatively-run, family-dominated businesses. According to the dominant narrative, British firms exhibited little interest in new managerial approaches. Our study of the Rowntree business lectures and British interwar management movement challenges this view; suggesting British managers displayed greater openness to innovation than is commonly recognized. We uncover and analyse a network of British firms engaged in management education through organized peer-to-peer communication, facilitated by lectures and management research groups initiated by Seebohm Rowntree. Our primary contribution to the literature is to offer a more nuanced perspective on the evolution of British management learning in the interwar years. This reveals dynamic knowledge networks reflexively engaged in advancing and codifying practice-based learning to promote the diffusion of effective solutions to shared problems – building communities of practice, codifying management knowledge, and drawing on an ethos of ‘business as service’. By undertaking archival research to create a coherent body of documentary material, and making this available to others, we also make a methodological contribution, creating a new ‘space’ for future researchers to explore, from which they can write new management histories of their own.


One of the many great things about this paper is that the authors have adopted a variant of the Open Data principle and have shared the data (i.e., the historical documents on which the paper is based) in an online repository. I have long advocated the adoption of Open Data as a norm in the field of business history (see our paper on the subject in Business History) and I am thus very pleased to see this principle being applied here in such an excellent way. Check out all of the historical sources on the companion website for this paper, which can be found here.

The Library of Mistakes

25 07 2019


There is increasing interest in business schools in History-as-Sensemaking (i.e., the use of history by business people to understand the present and plan for the future). Indeed, this issue was discussed extensively at the recent EGOS conference in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the site of a fascinating institution, the Library of Mistakes, which serves to make information about financial, economic, and business history available to businesspeople, especially those who are active in Edinburgh’s important investment management cluster. The Library of Mistakes is a  Scottish charity (registered charity SC040205) founded to promote the study of financial history. According to the BBC, it maintains a small but excellent library in Edinburgh that hosts talks by experts.

The company associated with the Library of Mistakes, Didasko Education Ltd, supports the teaching of a course called the Practical History of Financial Markets, which forms a unit of the Edinburgh Business School MBA programme.  The course is also taught at a private venue in London and at a business school in India.  According to a filing with Companies House, most of the people who take the course are professional fund managers. I had quick look at the teaching schedule of the upcoming course in London (31 October to 2 November 2019) and it looks fantastic.

The Library’s mission statement declares that

In recent years financial education has focused on the power of the equation to explain economic and financial forces. This distillation of complex forces into faux objectivity has created dangerous errors in financial understanding… The Library of Mistakes exists to allow students, professionals and members of the general public to study financial history to understand how finance has worked, rather than how it should work if key unrealistic assumptions are made.



Problems with the New Google Scholar Metrics

22 07 2019

The new Google Scholar Journal metrics are out and have generated a great deal of discussing on Academic Twitter. I’m writing this blog post to suggest that there may be serious methodological problems in Google’s rankings of academic journals.

Here are the top-ranked journal in the field of Business, Economics, and Management (BEM). The numbers are the h5-index and the h5-median.


1. American Economic Review 147 229
2. Journal of Financial Economics 112 164
3. The Journal of Finance 108 181
4. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 104 189
5. Journal of Business Ethics 98 131
6. Journal of Business Research 96 131
7. The Review of Financial Studies 94 140
8. Tourism Management 94 139
9. Management Science 91 124
10. Strategic Management Journal 90 123
11. International Journal of Production Economics 89 126
12. Journal of Management 88 146
13. Academy of Management Journal 86 129
14. World Development 84 116
15. International Journal of Project Management 79 105
16. Journal of Economic Perspectives 77 140
17. Econometrica 75 125
18. Energy Economics 75 90
19. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 74 96
20. Journal of Political Economy 73 131

There are no major surprises in Google’s rankings of the top journals in the general field of BEM, which makes Google’s ranking system seem fairly credibly to me. Within the BEM field, Google ranks journals by subcategory. Here are the rankings for Economic History. As you can see, the Review of Keynesian Economics was absurdly categorized as an economic history journal, which strongly suggests to me that the ranking and categorization decision was made by either a non-academic who didn’t bother speaking to academics in the field, or some automatic system. Either way, the credibility of the entire ranking system is reduced, at least in my eyes. If Google’s journal categorization system is flawed for the subdiscipline I know best, it makes me suspect there are other dubious decisions lurking elsewhere in the system.


My point is that we should use extreme caution when thinking about these new rankings. We should also ask some tough questions about the procedure used to create them.


Publication h5-index h5-median
1. The Journal of Economic History 28 48
2. The Economic History Review 22 27
3. Business History 20 29
4. Explorations in Economic History 20 27
5. Review of Keynesian Economics 18 23
6. European Review of Economic History 16 20
7. History of Political Economy 16 18
8. The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 13 19
9. Accounting History 12 14
10. Journal of the History of Economic Thought 11 17

Entrepreneurship and History

16 07 2019

I’m going to be taking part in a PDW on entrepreneurship and history at this year’s Academy of Management conference. The workshop will be held on Friday, August 9 from 12-2 PM at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Here is a link to the program with the details of the PDW.

I may be arriving a little bit late because I’m also taking part in a workshop on family business history that goes until 12:45 in an adjoining room of the hotel (see details here).

12:00 PM Introduction, Trevor Israelsen  
12:05 PM Historical methods and entrepreneurship research

   Daniel Raff, Historical explanation, causality, and firm- and

history emergence

   David Kirsch, Identifying research questions in

entrepreneurship that history can answer

   R. Daniel Wadhwani, The design of historical research

Question 1

What constitutes rigorous historical research in the context of entrepreneurship?

12:20 PM Audience questions to expert panel on historical methods  
12:35 PM The role of history in entrepreneurial processes

Rob Mitchell, Entrepreneurial processes and the role of the past

   Andrew Smith, Historical-analogic reasoning: The

impress of the past on entrepreneurial cognition

Ricardo Zózimo, The constitutive role of history in entrepreneurial


   Christina Lubinski, History and the uses and value of technological


Question 2

What is the relationship between history and ongoing entrepreneurial processes?

1:05 PM Audience questions to expert panel on entrepreneurial processes  
1:20 PM Roundtable discussions with experts

Introductions in small groups around tables

Research questions activity

Sharing and refining research questions and ideas to address

these two core questions


What research questions and ideas can address these two core questions?

1:55-2 PM Conclusion, Trevor Israelsen  

AOM PDW “Rediscovering family business history”

16 07 2019

I’m really looking forward to being part of a PDW “Rediscovering family business history: Bridging the gaps in family business, business history, and organization theory” that will be taking place at this year’s Academy of Management Conference in Boston. The PDW will be taking place Friday, 9 Aug 9 2019, 10:45AM – 12:45PM (Boston Marriott Copley Place/ Simmons).

Round table 1

Mentees Title of the paper Mentors as discussants
Murphree, Michael

(Assistant Professor, Sonoco International Business Department

Darla Moore School of Business, USA)

Up or Out: The Crisis and Future of Taiwanese Family Businesses Roy Suddaby (University of Victoria, Canada)
Nicholas Wong (Senior Research Assistant, Newcastle Business School, UK),

Andrew Smith (Senior Lecturer in International Business, University of Liverpool),

Allan Discua Cruz (Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, Lancaster University) &

Nicholas Burton (Senior Lecturer, Newcastle Business School, UK)

Explaining the Enduring Success of Rathbones: Harnessing the Evolution of Religion Theory


(Full paper received)



Mattias Nordqvist  (Jönköping University, Sweden)


Round table 2

Mentees Title of the paper Mentors as discussants
Anup Banerjee

(PhD candidate, Jönköping International Business School (JIBS), Sweden)

The chairperson of the board in family firms: An exploratory study on the Swedish context


Isabelle Le Breton-Miller (HEC Montréal)
Bruno Noisette

(PhD candidate, Management and entrepreneurship

ESSEC Business School, Paris, France)

On the durable influence of pre-colonial family structures on business development in East-Africa


María Fernández-Moya

(Colegio U. de Estudios Financieros, Spain)

Christina Lubinski

(Associate Professor, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark) &

William B. Gartner

(Professor, Entrepreneurship Division, Babson College, USA)

History as a Source and Method for Family Business Research


(Full paper received)


Danny Miller (HEC Montréal)

Bright Lights in Edinburgh

9 07 2019

Edinburgh was one of the centres of the Enlightenment. Last week, it was a hive of intellectual activity as thinkers from the world descended to the city for two important scholarly events.



At the start of the week (1-2 July), Adam Smith’s Edinburgh house, Panmure, which now belongs to the University of Edinburgh business school, was the venue for an important interdisciplinary conference on “The New Enlightenment: Reshaping Capitalism and the Global Order in an Neo Mercantilist World.” The organizers of this conference, who include the great business thinker David Teece hope that this conference will  bring together action-oriented scholars, policy makers, and practitioners. The distinguished scholars who spoke at the conference include the management academics Jay Barney and Peter G. Klein, the economist Jon Kay, and such historians at Harold James,  Barry Eichengreen, and Niall Ferguson as well as some very distinguished practitioners and financial journalists.  The call to arms (theoretical document) describing the goals of the conference is available here.

Steve Denning, a business journalist who attended the conference,  has written a lengthy piece in Forbes that effectively summarises what was said at Panmure House.  You can read it here. One of the major themes of the conference was the problems with shareholder value ideology. As Denning wrote in Forbes,


Perhaps the most striking news from the conference was the emerging consensus that maximizing shareholder value is a thoroughly bad idea. If no remedial action is taken, the economic, social and political consequences are likely to be dire. We know, Professor Jay Barney said in the closing session, how to fix this set of problems. The question is, do we have the political will?

While participants recognized that generating long-term shareholder value is obviously vital, they also noted the noxious consequences of the pervasive goal of public corporations in maximizing shareholder value as reflected in the current stock price, which include excessive attention to short-term outputs, value extraction over value creation, pervasive self-dealing by executives, mistreatment of employees, growing income and wealth inequality, and the self-defeating nature of the very objective itself. In effect, the goal of maximizing shareholder value has ended up destroying shareholder value, as Professor William Lazonick explained here.

It should be stressed that the people who attended this conference were, by no stretch of the imagination, capitalism-hating Marxists.  At the conference, “there was widespread agreement that market-based solutions are almost always preferable to centralized planning.” Many of the people at the conference have been profoundly influenced by Hayek’s critique of central planning, and Adam Smith’s criticisms of the “men of system” of his own era. The Panmure House Declaration that emerged out of the conference makes it clear that the delegates at the conference believe that some form of capitalism is really the only viable social order. However, it was also clear that people at the conference were searching for a position that synthesises belief in markets with an awareness of the baneful effects of shareholder value ideology and some of the people associated with the term “neoliberalism”, a word that was used correctly and carefully by some conference attendees. In words that echoed ideas that thinkers like Adolph Berle articulated during the Cold War, historian Niall Ferguson of Hoover Institution, argued that the distinction between socialism and capitalism has become a false dichotomy.

The Panmure House Declaration, which was signed by more than 80 academics, is an important statement because it shows that it is possible to be a strong supporter of the principle that markets should be used as a coordinating device while also opposing the doctrine of shareholder primacy. Until now, the prevailing view, which has never been explicitly articulated but which is nevertheless widespread, is that the opposition to shareholder primacy is logically consistent with hostility to markets and that belief in shareholder primacy is the natural partner of belief in the superiority of markets over states. The Panmure House Declaration shows that these ideas don’t need to go with each other.


Later that week, the annual conference of the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) took place in Edinburgh. I was part of sub-theme 30, which was devoted to historical organization studies. The track organizers were Roy Suddaby, Mairi Maclean, and Charles Harvey. I though the sub-theme was truly excellent and featured both high-quality papers and superb levels of rigorous feedback and commentary. EGOS, as always, provided excellent entertainment during the networking events (live music and drinks).

The papers presented to my track at EGOS dealt with issues of tremendous social importance. They included studies of entrepreneurship among Indigenous Canadians, religion and institutional change, and business as a force for peace. My favourite paper was actually “Rhetorical history and the competitive advantage of the Edinburgh fund management cluster” by John Millar, a PhD student.

I must close, however, on a critical note. EGOS has some rhetoric about gender, diversity, and inclusion. However, it must go beyond that and take active measures to help EGOSians who have childcare duties, a group that is overwhelmingly female. Other academics conferences support such parents by arranging for childcare on-site (at the expense of each parent) and by setting aside rooms where breastfeeding mothers can express breast milk for later use. Conference childcare is important to the increasing number of academic couples, especially those who attend the same conference. EGOS should reinforce its feminist credentials by, at the very least, setting aside places for expressing. I understand that partnering with local organizations to run a daycare centre might be complicated, but this option should be investigated.

Why Postcolonial Management Theory Can Help Us To Produce More Competitive Companies and Stronger Economies

1 07 2019

AS: By my count, there are about 30 management academics around the world who do work in the area of postcolonial management theory. A number of these scholars will be at EGOS, the European Group for Organization Studies conference, which takes place later this week in Edinburgh. I’m inviting any and all scholars interested in this area of research to contact me, as I am planning to organize a super-informal gathering on Friday from 17:45 to 18:30. So if you are reading this and want to join me for some conversation about shared research interests, please get in touch.

Here’s some background that explains why I am now quite interested in postcolonial management theory.

At one stage in my evolution as an academic, I was hostile to and utterly dismissive of postcolonial theory. Way back then, I used a pretty strong version of the rational-actor theory as a lens for understanding the world. As I’ve matured as an academic, and have been increasingly influenced by the rational thinking movement, I’ve come to recognize that postcolonial theory can be a useful corrective to the ethnocentric biases that distort our cognition. I suppose my way of using postcolonial theory is a bit different from that of other academics who associate themselves with postcolonial theory as a political movement. For me as a social scientist, postcolonial theory is mainly useful because it can help to remove the biases that might otherwise keep me from seeing important causal relationships. That’s because colonialist ideas weren’t created to allow people to see they world more clearly or to identify causal relationships with greater accuracy. They were created to justify colonial rule, land grabs, and the other phenomena associated with imperialism.

Engaging a bit with postcolonial theory can be useful to any academic to deals with international business and/or cross-cultural management. I also think that postcolonial theory is useful for practitioners (e.g., political leaders or say investors) in the former colonial powers (e.g., France of the UK) because it can help to check any lingering assumptions of racial and ethnic superiority that might otherwise lead decision-makers to make costly errors. Having an ethnocentric bias can cost you money. My view is that the sense of British superiority that is one of the legacies of British imperialism has contributed to the hubristic decision of the British government to pursue a form of Brexit that will reverse Britain’s involvement in European economic integration. Simply put, colonialist thinking, which can manifest itself in a longing for a return to the glories of the British Empire or the belief that a competitor firm isn’t a threat because it is run by people with darker skins, can be very costly indeed.  For these reasons, I’ve become super interested in postcolonial management theory. I’ve listed some papers in postcolonial management theory below.

Postcolonial management theory draws on postcolonial theory, which observes that Western colonialism (i.e., the five-hundred-year process by which Western powers gained control of almost 90 percent of the globe), was legitimated by the construction of intellectual systems that depicted Western culture and institutions as inherently and permanently superior to those of non-Western cultures. As the management academic Banu Özkazanç-Pan has pointed out “colonial discourse[s]’ that ‘represents the East as backward, unable to change, inferior, and feminized, while it represents the West as progressive, advanced, and masculine” (Özkazanç-Pan, 2008, 966). Colonialist ideologies did far more than point out some specific ways in Western countries might have measurably better performance metrics in some dimensions than non-Western countries. Colonialist ideologies said that the West was inherently and always better than the East.  Colonialist ideologies contributed to the Otherization of non-Western peoples by depicting them as alien, inferior and monolithic. Otherization is huge problem because it reinforces various inherent cognitive biases and acts a barrier to the recognition of common humanity as well as individual and regional variation.). Scholars interested in Orientalism noted that Western writers legitimated imperialism by representing non-Western societies as static, undeveloped, cruel, and irrational. In Orientalist discourses, the non-West is typically defined in opposition to the West, which is depicted as wealthy, rational, and generally superior (Said, 1978). Orientalist thinking attaches tremendous significance to macro-geographical terms such as “the East” and “the West” that exaggerates differences between macro-geographical regions whilst minimising differences within such regions.

Postcolonial theory posits that colonialist habits of thought still shape the thinking of many people, Westerners and non-Westerners alike, long after the demise of the European colonial empires. Essentially, postcolonial scholars have called on us to free ourselves from the vestiges of colonial thinking. So in my view, an important function of postcolonial research in management is to improve the cognition of practitioners and fellow academics.

Boussebaa, M. (2015). Professional service firms, globalisation and the new imperialism. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal28(8), 1217-1233.

Hopkinson, G. C., & Aman, A. (2018). Micro-political processes in a multinational corporation subsidiary: A postcolonial reading of restructuring in a sales department. Human Relations, 0018726718817818.

Jack, G., Westwood, R., Srinivas, N., & Sardar, Z. (2011). Deepening, broadening and re-asserting a postcolonial interrogative space in organization studies.

Nkomo, S. M. (2011). A postcolonial and anti-colonial reading of ‘African’leadership and management in organization studies: Tensions, contradictions and possibilities. Organization18(3), 365-386.

Ozkazanc-Pan, B. (2018). CSR as gendered neocoloniality in the Global South. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-14.

Siltaoja, M., Juusola, K., & Kivijärvi, M. (2019). ‘World-class’ fantasies: A neocolonial analysis of international branch campuses. Organization26(1), 75-97.

Srinivas, N. (2013). Could a subaltern manage? Identity work and habitus in a colonial workplace. Organization Studies34(11), 1655-1674.

Yousfi, H. (2014). Rethinking hybridity in postcolonial contexts: What changes and what persists? The Tunisian case of Poulina’s managers. Organization Studies35(3), 393-421.