Friday, 16 September 2011

Conference Review: Business and Management History at BAM2011, Aston Unviersity

For almost the last year I have been planning, in association with John Wilson, Professor of Strategy at the University of Liverpool Management School, to revive the Business and Management History track at the annual British Academy of Management conference. I was unsure as to how successful this enterprise would be, but previous experience of trying to bridge the gap between history and other management studies disciplines had encouraged me to consider looking at ways to open dialogue. I had also attended the 2010 BAM conference at Sheffield University, and enjoyed the conference, finding that there was real interest in the longitudinal nature of my work.

Our track kicked on Wednesday 14th September with a workshop session on international retail history, organised by Professor Andrew Godley from Henley Business School at Reading. Nicholas Alexander of Lancaster University Management School made an enjoyable contribution contrasting 'globalisation era 1' (i.e. 1870-1929) international retailers to 'globalisation era 2' (1970-present) retailers. This noted the emphasis on trading company and 'free-standing' retailers in era 1, compared to horizontally integrated multinationals in era 2. This session was very well attended by a variety of scholars and got the track off to a flying start.

In the afternoon we ran a workshop focusing on the use of archives by management scholars, which was also part of the Research Methodology track. My motivation for organising this was to provide some outreach into a new area for the Business Archives Council, of which I'm a member. The session was introduced by Dr Terry Gourvish in his guise as Chairman of the Business Archives Council, who introduced the concept of archival research and some of its advantages first. I then introduced a little of my research and how I had made use of archives before we gave participants the opportunity to look at some archival sources kindly provided by the Boots and Lloyds Bank Archives and consider their implications. Alex Ritchie of The National Archives then rounded the session off by introducing how management scholars can gain access to archives. We had an interesting discussion around the use of archives, particularly with regard to the issues of context and the use of visual images and it would have been interesting to pursue these questions further. The session was a useful opportunity to test the water with regards to the appetite among management scholars more generally for archival access; having discovered that its there, I hope to work with Bill Lee, the chair of the Research Methodology track to improve the focus for next year's conference.

On Thursday 15th we ran our paper sessions, which included a variety of subjects, although there is only space here to mention a couple of them. Nelarine Cornelius from Bradford University Management School presented a fascinating paper drawing on the historical angle of a larger human resource management study into elitism in Pakistan. Human resource history is rare, and Nelarine's work represented the kind of cross discipline fertilization that can be very exciting.

Aston University Management School's Stephanie Decker provided some crossover towards organisation studies with an outstanding paper re-assessing the sources used in her Coleman Prize winning thesis in the light of the Gollant and Sillince (2007) work which proposed new narrative and storytelling approaches. Stephanie is in the process of teasing out new perspectives on the development discourse in Ghana and Nigeria, and the outcome promises to be very interesting, as well as being something that qualitative researchers might learn from.

The best paper in track prize was awarded to Charles Harvey, Mairi MacLean and John Sillince's paper ‘Living up to the Past? Sensemaking and Ideology in Organizational Transition’, although sadly none of the authors were available to present it. However, the papers that did appear, together with the workshop sessions, contributed to a healthy meeting of minds and a forging of many new networking opportunities for all involved. I'd also like to thank again everyone that contributed to the track, as well as the organisers of the conference for their co-operation.

Now the challenge is to learn, adopt, adapt and improve for BAM 2012 in Cardiff. Strategy is an iterative process, after all...

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

EMI - a long, slow painful death

This afternoon, it was announced that the US bank CitiGroup had finally taken control of the British music company EMI, after a protracted legal battle with the venture capitalist Guy Hands. CitiGroup had financed Hand's Terra Firma private equity firm to acquire EMI for £4.2bn; however as much as £2.6bn of this came from CitiGroup. When EMI, a company already struggling to generate cash flow due to the movement of the music industry online, was unable to service this debt, Terra Firma were eventually left with no alternative but to hand over control of EMI to CitiGroup. EMI now seems likely to be sold onto another record major, probably Warner, reducing the number of record majors to three, Universal and Sony Music being the other two remaining players.

EMI's long-term decline was typical of the protracted death of many British companies, and came about as a consequence of mismanagement. EMI, which stands for Electric and Musical Industries, was founded in 1931 as the result of a merger between the Columbia and Gramophone companies, following a collapse in the gramophone market during the great depression. The company started to move into growth industries in this period, such as radio and TV manufacture as well as transmission equipment, indeed effectively inventing the 425 line television system originally adopted by the BBC. EMI also diversified into radar and defence electronics during the WW2. In the post war period EMI continued to dominate the UK's recording industry, also purchasing the US company Capitol in 1954, and the company profited massively from the expanding popularity of pop music in the 1960s; indeed exploiting the teenage market to the extent that EMI's own Morphy Richards hair-dryers were advertised on the sleeves of pop singles. Although the music market became more competitive, EMI dominated it in the UK and were a crucial player in world markets. Among many others, artists signed by EMI in this period included Cliff Richard, Helen Shapiro, The Beatles, The Beach Boys (via Capitol), and The Animals. Residual income from these artists remains important to EMI today, although the potential returns diminish with each re-release.

However, the company continued to diversify away from music, despite the rise of far eastern competition in the electronics market. EMI abandoned consumer electronics by 1970 for this reason, but continued to diversify into other 'related areas', following the logic of the period. There is not space here to detail everything EMI did, but considerable space has been devoted by business school casebook's to the company's failed medical scanner project in the 1970s, while other diversifications saw the company get involved with entertainment more - hotels, restaurants, even producing shows in London's West End and buying the Blackpool Tower. Less attention was given to the music business and EMI was sold to the UK electronics firm Thorn in 1979.

EMI was subsequently demerged by Thorn in 1996, as a music publishing and recording company only. Some new impetus had been given by the purchase of Richard Branson's Virgin Records in 1992, but synergies emerging from the merger were not pursued, and Virgin remained a separate structure within the merged company. EMI remained an important player in the industry, but was ultimately late to respond to the rise of internet music distribution, and struggled to come to sustainable agreements with content distributors such as Apple's iTunes. Citigroup could choose to float EMI as an independent company, but this seems unlikely; probably will continue as an independently managed label within one of the other three majors. With a more proactive approach, and by sticking more closely to the knitting over the last 80 years, its (likely) demise as an independent might have been avoided.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The demise of Nipper?

The UK music, video and computer games retailer HMV announced today that it expects to close 60 stores over the next 12 months, as the business, which has already been hit by competition from supermarkets and online retailers struggled to attract custom during the UK's coldest December on record. Most retailers budget to have their best month of the year in December, so it is not difficult to appreciate the problems a slow December could cause for an already struggling business.

There are already rumours that HMV's long-term future could be in doubt. Competitors such as Zavvi, and Our Price have disappeared from the High Street already, while more general chains stores such as Boots and WHSmith have retreated from music somewhat, with Boots leaving the scene in the early 2000s after uncertainty about its strategic position in the industry. It will be unfortunate if HMV, as a long running brand-name, disappears in the UK market.

HMV stands for His Master's Voice. The name originates from a painting, above, by the English artist Francis Barraud, who offered his painting of a dog, called Nipper, apparently listening to his master's voice on a phonograph machine, to The Gramophone Company, a forerunner of EMI in 1899. The Gramophone Company asked that the painting be altered to show Nipper listening to a Gramophone instead. Barraud happily complied and the His Master's Voice name became one of the world's first record labels. EMI principally released classical music on the label, although some pop material was also issued. EMI also spread the use of the trademark to domestic electronics - marketing not only gramophones, but televisions, radios and even products such as irons under the HMV brand. The HMV brand was also used by EMI for their flagship record store in Oxford Street, London, which opened in 1926, while other dealers had to become 'HMV dealerships' to stock HMV records. This system was abandoned in 1965 as competition in the record distribution industry increased following the abolition of resale price maintenance, and EMI gradually invested in the creation of their own UK wide chain of HMV shops instead. EMI gradually reduced its shareholding in the chain, the chain becoming fully independent of EMI by the late 1990s. EMI also stopped using the HMV record label in the early 1970s, using the name EMI as their main label name instead. While RCA in the USA and JVC (the Japan Victor Company) continue to hold the American and Japanese rights respectively, Nipper's future in his country of orgin, the UK, looks somewhat uncertain if the HMV chain's performance does not improve soon. Or, with a more creative strategy, is there life in the old dog yet?

Research Note: See my article on the use of the British Library and Boots collections to research the business history of popular music in the November 2010 edition of Business Archives, pp. 45-58.


About Me

London, United Kingdom
I'm Lecturer in Management at The York Management School, at The University of York, UK. I teach strategic management to undergraduate and masters students, as well as running the masters dissertation module. My research focuses on business and management history.