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.

Engineering Rules

1 07 2019

JoAnne Yates, MIT Sloan professor and big name in the field of Business History has published an important new (and co-authored) book “Engineering Rules,” which is about the efforts of voluntary bodies over the last century and a half to set global engineering standards. Today we take the existence of such standards (e.g., USB keys) for granted and we tend not to realise how important they are to global business. The book, which she co-authored with the political scientist Craig Murphy, explores how this came about. Yates is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management at MIT. She is the author of Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management and Structuring the Information Age: Life Insurance and Technology in the Twentieth Century.

The MIT Sloan Review has published a nice description of her book, which I have now ordered. The book will interest business historians such as myself, not to mention scholars of international political economy and academics who use Elinor Ostrom’s ideas to think about the relationship between emergent order and planned orders.

Workshop on the history of investment diplomacy

28 06 2019

Stephanie Decker has posted a summary of an interesting workshop on the history of investment diplomacy that recently took place in London’s Goodenough College, a residential college in London.  The workshop sounds very interesting and the venue was perfect, since Goodenough College is named after a benefactor, Sir William Goodenough, whose career at Barclays Bank perfectly illustrates the relationship between imperialism and the protection of investment. Goodenough’s imperial career inspired him to support an Oxbridge-style residential college in London that would provide a home to postgraduate students from the Empire-Commonwealth. (Today, Goodenough College welcomes students from non-Commonwealth countries as well).

Anyway, you can read a description of the workshop here Workshop on the history of investment diplomacy

New Paper on How Firms Use History

26 06 2019

Paresha N. Sinha, Peter Jaskiewicz, Jenny Gibb, and James G. Combs. “Managing history: How New Zealand’s Gallagher Group used rhetorical narratives to reprioritize and modify imprinted strategic guideposts.” Strategic Management Journal.


Research Summary
Imprinting theory predicts that organizations are imprinted with multiple intersecting imprints that persist. Evidence suggests, however, that imprints are sometimes reprioritized or modified, implying that they can be strategically managed. We draw upon rhetorical history research and an in‐depth historical case study of New Zealand’s Gallagher Group to describe how one firm managed its imprints. Our inductive theorizing links historically imprinted strategic guideposts to decision‐making via two rearranging processes—that is, prioritizing and suspending—wherein managers use narratives to rearrange guideposts’ influence and two scope modifying processes—that is, constraining and expanding—wherein managers change where guideposts apply. As a first explanation of how imprints are managed, these processes add nuance to existing theory and open new research avenues regarding additional processes and boundary conditions.

Managerial Summary
Imprints are elements of culture, strategy, structure, or decision‐making that emerge when the firm is founded or during times of turmoil. Imprints resist change and make organizational adaptation difficult. This study explains one way that managers manipulate imprinted decision‐making rules so that organizations can adapt. Using an in‐depth historical case study of New Zealand’s Gallagher Group from 1938 to 2015, we follow four imprinted decision‐making rules that we call strategic guideposts and show how managers rhetorically revised these rules to adapt organizational decision‐making to changing environments. Managers prioritized some decision‐making rules while deemphasizing others or they changed their claims about the kinds of decisions where a decision‐rule applied. Knowing these rhetorical processes can help managers leverage their organization’s history to facilitate necessary organizational change.


You can access the paper here. You can download the supporting documentation here.

The New Enlightenment: Reshaping Capitalism and the Global Order in an Neo Mercantilist World

24 06 2019


As have the philosophers, we social scientists have long been interested trying to reconcile the ideas Adam Smith presented The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) with the principles established in The Wealth of Nations (WN). I have long felt that trying to balance or blend the principles in these two books is essential to our collective well-being  and one’s happiness as an individual living in a capitalist democracy. Smith’s ideas about economic nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and the moral aspects of the world-wide web of economic linkages that connect individuals and firms in different countries appear to be more relevant than ever, especially in light of the rise of anti-globalization populism.


In early July, Adam Smith’s Edinburgh house, Panmure, which now belongs to Edinburgh business school, will be 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 will be speaking at the conference include the management academics Jay Barney and Peter G. Klein, the economist Jon Kay, and such historians at Harold JamesBarry Eichengreen, and Niall Ferguson as well as some very distinguished practitioners and financial journalists. Practical details of the conference are here. The call to arms (theoretical document) describing the goals of the conference is available here.

Based on the call to arms document, I strongly suspect that shareholder value ideology (otherwise known as the doctrine of shareholder primacy) will be discussed at the conference. That document reads:

To the extent that current corporate law is viewed as imposing a legal duty to maximize (short-term) shareholder value, then it is inconsistent with Smith’s view of sustainable forms of capitalism. The imperative is now stronger than ever to read TMS and WN together. While some scholars see these as separate and contradictory theories, it’s hard to imagine that Smith  himself saw it that way. Both treatises have in common deep and prescient observations of society and the behavior of individuals. TMS, in particular, anticipates modern work in behavioral economics.

I’m very glad that that pros and cons of shareholder primacy will be discussed at this conference, as I’ve been convinced that this doctrine is corrosive to the long-term interests of capitalism as a system. About four decades ago, the doctrine of shareholder primacy was re-installed in the source code of Anglo-American capitalism and the results have not, in my view, been pretty. I know that some of the people attending this conference have, as I have, been heavily influenced by Hayek, an author who wrote eloquent defences of capitalism even though he did not accept shareholder primacy.  One of the intellectual puzzles that interests me is figuring out whether one can be sympathetic to Austrian economics and hostile to shareholder primacy at the same time. After careful reflection, I’ve decided that one can reconcile the two and that it is actually very important for society that we do so.

I would like to thank the conference organizers for inviting me to this august event. I also want to thank the various sponsors who are covering the costs of the conference.


Interesting Session on Historical Research at the Academy of Management

19 06 2019

Session Type: Symposium
Program Session: 1675 | Submission: 11526 | Sponsor(s): (OMT)
Scheduled: Tuesday, Aug 13 2019 8:00AM – 9:30AM at Boston Hynes Convention Center in 103

Advancing New Understandings of History in the Management Field
Advancing New Understandings of History PracticeInternationalResearch

View Map
Kunyuan Qiao, Cornell U.
Christopher Marquis, Cornell U.
Joerg Sydow, Freie U. Berlin
Florian Stache, Freie U. Berlin
Christopher W. J. Steele, U. of Alberta
Milo Shaoqing Wang, U. of Alberta
Paul Ingram, Columbia U.
Brian Silverman, U. of Toronto
Rodolphe Durand, HEC Paris
Andrew Sarta, Ivey Business School
Jean-Philippe Vergne, Ivey Business School
Howard Aldrich, U. of North Carolina

Scholars in the management field have been increasingly interested in how historical factors and processes affect current organizational behaviors and have called for a fuller integration of a historical perspective into organization and management theory. This symposium brings together a diverse set of papers that explore different ways through which history affects the present and provide implications for future research and practice. Specifically, the first paper extends path dependence theory by proposing a model of path-breaking organizational change and elaborating how paths can change. The second paper illustrates how the institutional logics perspective can help better integrate history into organizational research via historical contextualization, recognition of the constitutive power of history and histories, and a focus on how history-making is itself historically situated. The third paper develops the concept of moral cover in network research and applies history-based research methods to issues of strategy and organization. The fourth article reviews and reconceptualizes adaptation as a typical way to leverage history. The last article builds a more systematic understanding of how history matters by developing a typology that includes two types of historical formation conditions and three types of subsequent evolutionary processes. As a set, the papers offer new insights into how organization and management theories are affected by historical processes and shed new light on management history research.

Breaking a Path by Creating a New One–Insights from a Healthcare Setting
Joerg Sydow, Freie U. Berlin
Florian Stache, Freie U. Berlin

The Logics of History, and the Historicity of Logics
Christopher W. J. Steele, U. of Alberta
Milo Shaoqing Wang, U. of Alberta

Friends in the Right Places: The Influence of Slave-Trading Quakers on Network Partners (1750-1807)
Paul Ingram, Columbia U.
Brian Silverman, U. of Toronto

Reset: Stock-Taking and Rethinking Organizational Adaptation as Congruence
Rodolphe Durand, HEC Paris
Andrew Sarta, Ivey Business School
Jean-philippe Vergne, Ivey Business School

How History Matters
View Sessions for this Participant Presenter: Christopher Marquis, Cornell U.
View Sessions for this Participant Presenter: Kunyuan Qiao, Cornell U.