One Business Historian’s Thoughts About Theresanomics

6 10 2016

The recent Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham may likely be regarded by future historians as a turning point in the British Conservative Party, the moment when the party repudiated the individualist/free-market Hayekian ideas of the Thatcher era and moved towards in a more illiberal era. Along with the Brexit vote, it may also be regarded as a turning point in the history of global economic integration and the beginning of another de-globalization era. There is some evidence in the trade data and investment flow data to suggest that de-globalization began with the 2008 financial crisis, but I’m more interested in the erosion of the cultural foundation of globalization represented by the recent turn of events in the UK (see here, here, and here).

I’m struck by the increasingly illiberal rhetoric of the Conservative Party. In this context, I am using liberal in the strict sense to refer to a world view that favours open markets and borders and the liberalization of international trade. At the Conservative Party conference, Theresa May presented what some observers regarded as an inconsistent mixture of left-wing economic and right-wing cultural ideas.  I’m inclined to agree with ITV’s Robert Peston that her cocktail of policies can be regarded as an intellectually consistent system, albeit one that it is profoundly at odds with the individualism espoused by the Conservative Party in the Thatcher Era. In his analysis of her speech, he kept referring to it as “illiberal”.

Theresa May presented an economic agenda that would have been regarded as unacceptably leftwing for even a Labour Party leader just a few years ago, when the last embers of 1980s-style neoliberalism were still burning faintly. Her conference speech, which was explicitly designed to appeal to working-class Englishmen and Englishwomen, spoke of heavier taxes on companies, tighter restrictions on immigration, and, of course, direct worker representation on corporate boards, an astonishing innovation in Anglo-American corporate governance. On top of this, she appears to favour a “Hard Brexit,” a policy opposed by almost all large firms in the UK.  As journalists have noted, her rhetoric on these economic issues was essentially left-wing.  Theresa May also spoke of a law and order agenda and of cracking down on criminals, particularly the foreign born.  Someone I know who hails from a large country in Continental Europe quipped that May’s agenda was “national socialist.” It’s a farfetched comparison and one I found faintly offensive, as the UK remains a deeply liberal country in every sense of the word. (UK Tories are immensely liberal compared to say, the Trump Party of the United States or the truly xenophobic parties of the Accession States in the eastern parts of the EU). However, there is a grain of truth about this joke about our direction of travel.

Here is a sample of the rhetoric from Theresa May’s speech.  I’ve put certain words in bold for emphasis.

tax is the price we pay for living in a civilised society. Nobody, no individual tycoon and no single business, however rich, has succeeded on their own. Their goods are transported by road, their workers are educated in schools, their customers are part of sophisticated networks taking in the private sector, the public sector and charities. We’ve all played a part in that success. If you’re a tax-dodger, we’re coming after you.

the central tenet of my belief is that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest.We form families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations. We have a responsibility to one another. And I firmly believe that government has a responsibility too… the Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the rich and powerful, but by the interests of ordinary, working class people.

Only time will tell whether Theresa May’s government is, in practice, radically different in its economic policies than its predecessors, the brief Cameron majority, the Coalition, and the New Labour and Conservative governments before that. The rhetoric, however, is strikingly different from that of any party of government in Britain since the 1970s.

I see two connections between the trends in political culture represented by Theresanomics and the strands in my research portfolio. The first of these connections relates to my research on the impact of deglobalization on business culture and strategy. One of my research themes is about the tension between liberal and cosmopolitan and illiberal/nationalist sentiment in British business culture in the early twentieth century. As Charles Jones persuasively argued long ago in an unfairly neglected work, the years immediately prior to the First World War witnessed the fragmentation of the transnational bourgeoisie associated with the Era of the Free Trade and classical liberalism: the rise of economic nationalism within and around business communities promoted the rise of more intense national consciousness on the part of business people. The mid-Victorian liberal dream of a world economy in which national borders and citizenship was eclipsed in this era. I have a couple of paper projects that relate to this period, which saw the end of the pre-1914 era of globalization and the inauguration of several decades of deglobalization.

The second connection between Theresanomics and my research relates to the Prime Minister’s adroit use of the past, or, in the parlance of many organization studies scholars, her “rhetorical history.” Part of my research is now about how companies use history and I am therefore fascinated by how Theresa May has used historical figures and heroes to stake out her own identity as a Tory collectivist. It is no coincidence that the Conservative Party conference was held in Birmingham, the home of Joseph Chamberlain, the Conservative politician who pioneered a series of left-wing policies, including municipal socialism and who later came to advocate an end to Britain’s policy of Free Trade. Chamberlain was a deeply polarizing figure in British politics in the first decade of the twentieth century, the era I have been researching in the business-historical papers discussed above. Theresa May regards Joseph Chamberlain  something of a role model (see here and here).

P.S. The excellent Evan Davis presents a radio programme called The Bottom Line. This week he was speaking to four business leaders about “Theresanomics.” I’ve borrowed that term, which was also used by The Economist, for my blog post,

Kobrak on Deutsche Bank and the United States

30 09 2016



Deutsche Bank  dominates the headlines today (see here, here, and here). For anyone seeking an understanding of the long-term roots of the problems now confronting Deutsche Bank, Christopher Kobrak‘s Banking on Global Markets: Deutsche Bank and the United States, 1870 to the Present (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) is truly essential reading. Deutsche Bank’s current woes stem, in large part, from its US operations and, one can argue, from the bank’s expansion in in recent decades, a process associated with its acquisition of  Morgan Grenfell in 1989 and then the Bankers Trust in 1997.

In this essentially unrelated video, Prof. Kobrak discusses the history of financial crises. It seems like a good time to share it, nothwithstanding the Wall Street Journal‘s confident declaration that Deutsche Bank will escape the fate of Lehman Brothers.






Call for BHC Panellists: Managing De-Globalization

29 09 2016

We are trying to put together a panel at the 2017 Business History Conference  on the theme of “Managing in Ages of Deglobalization.” There is a vast literature on how firms have managed the many challenges related to globalization, here defined as falling barriers to the movement of goods and capital across borders. Business historians, along with scholars in such disciplines as economics, economic history, international management, operations management, organization studies, and strategy have contributed to our understanding of how firms have responded to the challenges and opportunities associated with globalization in the last few decades. We also are learning more about how firms took advantage of earlier globalization phases in world history, such as the golden age of globalization that is conventionally regarded to have ended abruptly in  1914 with the outbreak of the First World War.

Unfortunately, we know far less about firms have managed deglobalization — i.e., periods in which globalization goes into reverse and the barriers to international trade reappear, disrupting international value chains. Some research, some of which is in a forthcoming volume on international business strategy and the First World War, has been done but much more knowledge is required. Kindleberger’s seminal research suggests that globalization appears to have been a cyclical process, with periods of global economic integration being punctuated by breakdown in the international economic order and the reversion back in the direction of autarky. If this theory is true, business historians have a great deal to offer to our understanding of how the private-sector can manage deglobalization. Knowing more about managerial responses to globalization is particularly crucial at this point, as the prospect of Brexit and the rise of anti-trade and anti-globalization movements in countries around the world raises the spectre of deglobalization. Indeed, there is some evidence in the international trade data that deglobalization is already taking place (see here, here, and here). The IMF reports that since the 2008, Global Financial Crisis, world trade is now growing at a slower rate than the global economy as a whole.

I am, therefore, trying to create a panel on the theme of Managing in Ages of Deglobalization. The 2017 Business History Conference meeting will take place in Denver, 30 March to 1 April, 2017. The deadline for paper and panel proposals is 3 October 2016, so please contact me ASAP if you wish to be part of this panel. Please use my Liverpool university address. The panel I envision would be interdisciplinary and would draw on methodologies from a wide range of disciplines.

Tyler Cowen has recently pointed out that globalization can take place within countries as the natural and man-made barriers to trade within nations are reduced. In the interests of defining the panel in inclusive terms, I would welcome paper proposals that deal with managerial responses to the breakdown of long-distance supply chains within large nation states.

This panel, which may take us forward towards a special issue in a prestigious journal, is our chance to showcase business-historical research that speaks to ongoing developments in the real world.


CFP: EGOS Sub-Theme: Theorizing the Past, Present and Future in Organization Theory

28 09 2016

Sub-theme 43: Theorizing the Past, Present and Future in Organization Theory


David Chandler
University of Colorado Denver, USA

Mar Pérezts
EMLyon Business School, France

Roy Suddaby
University of Victoria, Canada, & Newcastle University Business School, United Kingdom

Call for Papers
Many organizational outcomes are the result of processes that occur over long periods of time. In spite of this, within much macro-level research the passage of time tends to be assumed or ignored, rather than theorized rigorously (Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988; Goodman et al., 2001; Lee & Liebenau, 1999). One way in which we exclude time from our theories is by studying climactic moments of change. Although these “moments of institutional choice” are inherently interesting, focusing on them risks privileging the instance of change at the expense of the essential groundwork that generated the conditions under which the opportunity for change emerged (Pierson, 2004, p. 136). That is, our preference for studying dramatic instances of revolutionarychange means that we know relatively little about processes of evolutionary change.

One way in which we make assumptions about time is to model “temporal homogeneity,” which adds to theoretical parsimony, but detracts from the ability to capture “decay in the influence of events over time” (Strang & Tuma, 1993, p. 614). We do this because much of our theory is driven by popular representations of clock time. This characterization presents time “as homogenous and divisible in structure, linear and uniform in its flow, objective and absolute, that is, existing independent of objects and events, measurable (or quantifiable), and as singular, with one and only one ‘correct’ time” (Lee & Liebenau, 1999, p. 1038). In reality, however, time is relative (Einstein, 1916). It is a social construct that is subject to complex social, cultural, and political influences (Picard et al., 2015). In other words, time is a radically subjective phenomenological experience that affects our being in the world as individuals and collectives.

Our goal for this sub-theme, therefore, is to encourage theory about how the passage of time unfolds in the past, present, and future in relation to organizations and organizing. While this encompasses a broader understanding of complex historical processes, it also includes work on theories of the passage of time (e.g., a richer theorization of social time and experienced time). The resulting discussion, we believe, presents the opportunity for an exciting avenue of research that can bridge many existing research streams:

· To explore the role of “ancestral organizations” (organizations that previously dissolved) and “organizational legacy” in embedding routines, knowledge, and technology in the community that subsequently fosters the founding, evolution, and dissolution of descendent organizations (e.g., Walsh & Bartunek, 2011; Walsh & Glynn, 2008).

· To understand the role of rhetoric, narrative, and related social processes used to construct organizations, institutions, and collectives as mnemonic communities (e.g., Suddaby et al., 2010; Zerubavel, 2003).
· To understand how organizations use history strategically to foster identification with key stakeholders (Foster et al., 2011; Suddaby et al., 2016).
· To understand how the past, present, and future may become elements of organizations’ imaginary dimension and foster various forms of political activity (Picard et al., 2015).
· To conceptualize organizations and institutions as cumulative, sedimented entities that become subject to change depending on the stability of their past – a dynamic resource that is curated in the present (e.g., Chandler & Foster, 2015).
· To differentiate between objective time (normatively developed scales) and subjective time (socially-constructed perceptions) to redefine our conceptions of agency and explore processes of organizing within complex temporalities (e.g., Lee & Liebenau, 1999).
· To understand the implications of artifacts that pace organizational life and activities (e.g. annual reviews, quarterly objectives, seasonality) and of phenomena happening outside or beyond the realm of experienced time (e.g. instantaneous global reach of social networks, or mechanisms of time-compression such as high-frequency trading).
· To understand how perceptions of the future, examined through the lens of the past, affect organizational dynamics today – what Gioia, Corley, and Fabbri (e.g., 2002) term “revising the past while thinking in future perfect tense”.

We aim to explore these questions and many more, together with their implications for research, in a wide-ranging discussion about a fundamental area of organizational sociology (Clark, 1985). In this spirit, researchers across the range of organization theories are encouraged to apply for this sub-theme with submissions that encompass both theory (e.g., path dependence, sedimentation, philosophical conceptions of time) and methodology (e.g., qualitative analysis, rhetorical analysis). Our goal is to foster discussions that locate the past, present, and future as integral to the organizational story.


· Bluedorn, A.C., & Denhardt, R.B. (1988): “Time and Organizations.” Journal of Management, 14 (2), 299-320.
· Chandler, D., & Foster, W.M. (2015): A Present Past: A Historical Perspective on Institutional Maintenance and Change. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting. Vancouver, Canada.
· Clark, P.A. (1985): “A Review of the Theories of Time and Structure for Organizational Sociology.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 4, 35-79.
· Einstein, A. (1916): Relativity: The Special and General Theory. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
· Foster, W.M., Suddaby, R., Minkus, A., & Wiebe, E. (2011): “History as Social Memory Assets: The Example of Tim Hortons.” Management & Organizational History, 6 (1), 101-120.
· Gioia, D.A., Corley, K.G., & Fabbri, T. (2002): “Revising the Past (While Thinking in the Future Perfect Tense).” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 15 (6), 622-634.
· Goodman, P.S., Lawrence, B.S., Ancona, D.G., & Tushman, M.L. (2001): “Introduction to the Special Issue: Time in Organizations.” Academy of Management Review, 26 (4), 507-511.
· Lee, H., & Liebenau, J. (1999): “Time in Organizational Studies: Towards a New Research Direction.” Organization Studies, 20 (6), 1035-1058.
· Picard, S., Steyer, V., Pérezts, M., & Philippe, X. (2015): “Exploring Corporation’s Activism: Predatory Modus Operandi and Its Effects on Institutional Field Dynamics.” In: C. Garsten & A. Sörbom (eds.): Politics and the Corporate World: Advocacy, Lobbying and Markets. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
· Pierson, P. (2004): Politics in Time: History, Institutions, and Social Analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
· Strang, D., & Tuma, N. B. (1993): “Spatial and Temporal Heterogeneity in Diffusion.” American Journal of Sociology, 99 (3), 614-639.
· Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Quinn Trank, C. (2010): “Rhetorical History as a Source of Competitive Advantage.” In: J.A.C. Baum & J. Lampel (eds.): The Globalization of Strategy Research. Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 27. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 147-173.
· Suddaby, R., Foster, W.M., & Quinn Trank, C. (2016): “Re-Membering: Rhetorical History as Identity Work.” In: M.G. Pratt, M. Schultz, B.E. Ashforth & D. Ravasi (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Identity. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 297-316.
· Walsh, I.J., & Bartunek, J.M. (2011): “Cheating the Fates: Organizational Foundings in the Wake of Demise.” Academy of Management Journal, 54 (5), 1017-1044.
· Walsh, I.J., & Glynn, M.A. (2008): “The Way We Were: Legacy Organizational Identity and the Role of Leadership.”Corporate Reputation Review, 11 (3), 262-276.
· Zerubavel, E. (2003): Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

David Chandler is Assistant Professor of Management and Co-Director of the Managing for Sustainability Program at the University of Colorado Denver, USA. His research focuses on understanding how organizations interact with their complex institutional environments.

Mar Pérezts is Associate Professor at EMLyon Business School, France, where she belongs to the OCE Research Center. Her research is transversal, linking managerial and organizational questions (e.g., business ethics) with philosophical and sociological approaches.

Roy Suddaby is Professor & Winspear Chair at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada. He is also Research Professor at Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle University, UK. His research focuses on organizational and social change.

Asset ownership and incentives in early shareholder capitalism: Liverpool shipping in the eighteenth century

27 09 2016

The Strategic Management Journal has published a fascinating article that uses business history to address some pressing issues in management theory and practice. The paper, “Asset ownership and incentives in early shareholder capitalism: Liverpool shipping in the eighteenth century” was written by Brian S. Silverman (Toronto-Rotman) and
Paul Ingram (Columbia Business School).


Research summary: We explore captain-ownership and vessel performance in eighteenth-century transatlantic shipping. Although contingent compensation often aligned incentives between captains and shipowners, one difficult-to-contract hazard was threat of capture during wartime. We exploit variation across time and routes to study the relationship between capture threat and captain-ownership. Vessels were more likely to have captain-owners when undertaking wartime voyages on routes susceptible to privateers. Captain-owned vessels were less readily captured than those with nonowner captains, but more likely to forgo voyage profits to preserve the vessel’s safety. These results are consistent with multitask agency, where residual claims to asset value rather than control rights influence captain behavior. This article is among the first to empirically isolate mechanisms distinguishing among major strands of organizational economics regarding asset ownership and performance.

Managerial summary: Organizations face an enduring challenge: Owners hire an executive to act on their behalf, but it is difficult to ensure that the executive indeed acts in their interests. In this study, we exploit a useful historical context—eighteenth-century transatlantic shipping from Liverpool—to explore the cause and effect of a captain’s becoming part-owner of his vessel. Captains became part-owners for voyages likely to encounter enemy privateers. Captain-owners were less likely to be captured, but were more willing to forgo cargo profits to preserve the vessel’s safety. Our results provide a useful analogy to modern firm owners who must determine whether to award equity to executives, and to managers who must determine whether to provide assets to employees or rely on employee self-provision of assets (e.g., tools for tradespeople).


I see that Prof. Silverman is working on another paper that uses historical data from Liverpool. This paper is on “the role of social ties, particularly to high-status ship owners, in leading Liverpool merchants to enter the slave trade in the face of an increasing stigma against that trade.”

Corporate Archives in Global Perspective: Preliminary timetable

26 09 2016


This is the programme of the workshop on Corporate Archives that will be held at the University of Gothenburg in November.

Thursday 24th November 2016:

10.00 Opening of workshop, words of welcome, practical information

10.15. Key note 1:

11.00 -12.15 Session I: National vs. International Perspectives on Preservation of Corporate Archives

Karl-Magnus Johansson (Landsarkivet i Göteborg), “Short Introduction to Swedish Corporate Archives and their Preservation.”

Anders Houltz (Centre for Business History, Sweden), “Private Interests and National heritage: A Swedish Model for Preserving Corporate Archives.”

Diego Coraiola (University of Victoria, Canada) & Stephanie Decker (Aston Business School, UK), “International Archives and National Institutions.”


Lunch: 12.15-13.15

13.15-14.45 Session II: Public needs vs Private Interests? Competing Models for Preserving Corporate Archives

Neill Forbes (University of Coventry, UK), “New connections for the BT Archives?

Inte Fintland & Torkel Thime (Arkivverket, Norway), “The Potential and Possible Problems in Combining Private and Public Archival Material.”

Jarmo Luoma-Aho (Central Archive for Finnish Business Records): “The state subsidy system for private archives and the Central Archives for Finnish Business Records.”

Coffee: 14.45-15.00

15.00-16.30:  Business Archives and the Control of the Past

Diego Coraiola (University of Victoria) & Wim van Lent: “Creating the Ultimate History: Archives, Memory and Control at the Dutch East India Company.”

Hans Hulling (Karlstads Universitet, Sweden), “Histories in the Principality of Uddeholm: Corporation, Trade Union and local Community narrating History at times of Transformation and Crisis, ca 1870-1990.”

Andrew Popp (University of Gothenburg/University of Liverpool) and Susanna Fellman (University of Gothenburg), “A Stakeholder Perspective on Corporate Archives.”


16.30-17.30: Panel Discussion and Closing of Day 1

Friday 25th November:

9.00-9.45 Key Note 2:

9.45-10.00 Coffee:

10.00-11.30 Session III: Voice vs Silence in the Corporate Archive:

Mats Jönsson (University of Gothenburg): “History, Archives and the Pursuit of Competitive Advantage: Upside and Downside: Causes and Effects of the Digital Compilation by a Commercial Film Archive.”

Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool, UK) & Maki Umemura (Cardiff Business School, UK), “Why We Need a Transparency Revolution in Business History.”

Roy Suddaby (University of Victoria), TBA

11.30 closing of seminar, lunch.



Michael Aldous on Using Business History in Teaching

23 09 2016

From the BHC Exchange Blog:

In 2015, the Business History Conference appointed Michael Aldous (Queen’s University, Belfast) to serve as the inaugural Teaching and Research Resources Web Editor. He has now written an introductory essay to launch a new section of the Teaching and Resources portion of the BHC website, one that will “promote the excellent teaching resources, whilst providing context, particularly for those not immersed in Business History, and offering insights and inspiration regarding their use.” In his essay, “Rethinking Business History in the Classroom,” Aldous writes, “I would like to invite members of the BHC community to contribute short pieces that discuss the many and varied ways in which business history [is] being used across disciplines in classrooms, and through these entries foster a wider discussion on these opportunities.”


Read more here.