Monday 12 March 2012

On hold

As you may have guessed, I have been very busy with work and other commitments over the last couple of years. Its unlikely any new posts will appear here in a hurry (although I won't rule it out entirely), but I will leave this blog here so that people can continue to enjoy the old posts.

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.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Technology and its effects on historical research

On his blog Turnip Rail today railway historian David Turner shared his thoughts on how technology has changed historical research. The move from paper and pencil to notebook and camera will be a recognisable change in method to many historians, myself included. Its also arguable that thanks to our links with social scientists, that we business historians may well have been faster to adapt to technology than our political and social colleagues. Certainly the political history dominated National Archives of Scotland continue to refuse to allow digital photography, despite the UK National Archives virtually allowing researchers free reign with photography. On the issue of photography however, by taking photographs we are essentially just taking the archives away with us - are we really saving labour, or merely complicating the selection process when it comes to what gets into finished research, and what doesn't?

Thursday 5 August 2010

A reading list for BH101?

It is of course, at present the summer vacation for most academics, which means that thoughts turn to research rather than teaching. Time is fast approaching to look at next year's syllabus however. As a result of a discussion some time ago I produced a reading list for a hypothetical 'BH101' course, which could be presented, in a modified form, as the basis for a course on business history. There are bound to be plenty of things that I've missed that should be there - and I'd be interested to hear from you what else should be included.

BH101 Reading List

1. R. Coase, ‘The Nature of the Firm' (November 1937) 4(16) Economica 386-405.

You really need to know what a firm is before you can start analysing them. Coase tells us in a neat little article what a firm is and how its size is determined (in his opinion).

2. J. Kay, 'Foundations of Corporate Success' (1993).

A good book, though aimed at the management market, but with lots of good case studies and examples. It includes some good stories, like Glaxo’s Zantac failure, and also introduces Game Theory and why it is important in business strategy (an often neglected issue).

3. G. Boyce and S. Ville, 'The Development of Modern Business' (2002)

A very readable look from an economic angle that looks at the development of modern business in the context of principal-agent problems and transactions costs.

4. M. G. Blackford, 'The Rise of Modern Business in GB, US and Japan' (1998 - there is a more recent version that chucks Germany and China into the mix too)

A very good book to introduce the historical side, written for undergraduates but which attempts to cover absolutely everything and gives the reader a very good overview of the general trends in business history in more developed countries. Adding China in the most recent volume did not add as much of interest as might have been hoped, though it is an interesting diversion.

5. A. D. Chandler, 'Strategy and structure : chapters in the history of the industrial enterprise' (1962).

Now we get to Chandler. This might be the most important business history book ever written, because it probably founded the genre as we know it. In his first book Chandler starts off with a general chapter about US business then looks at four companies in detail - du Pont, General Motors, Sears Roebuck and Standard Oil of New Jersey, but draws lessons from his examination of the history of these four companies.

6. A. D. Chandler, 'The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business' (1977).

Important because in this Chandler looks at why the structure and form of US business was so important in establishing a visible hand to reply to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. This book looks at important ideas like the three prongs and the establishment of a managerial bureaucracy and is probably Chandler’s most important book.

7. Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Daniel M. G. Raff, and Peter Temin, Beyond Whig History, Enterprise and Society , 5 (Sept. 2004), pp. 376-87.

Probably the best, and a nice and short, summary of where Business History should be beyond Chandler. This article looks at how the corporate world has changed since Chandler’s environment of the 1950s-80s, even in the US, and looks at how smaller units can in reality gain more corporate advantage for themselves.

8. J. F. Wilson, 'British Business History 1720-1994' (1995).

In his Scale and Scope Chandler called British capitalists Personal Capitalists, and claims that they didn’t invest in his 3 prongs enough to guarantee their success. But Chandler forgets that they had a good 150 year run before any of his US companies really got going. Wilson tells us the alternative story of how British business developed and prospered through the industrial revolution - British firms were the first to operate in an industrial environment, and I think its valuable for students of Business History to have at least some idea of how UK business operated.

9. S. N. Broadberry, 'The Productivity Race' (1997).

This book takes a totally different approach to the strategy based volumes above. Broadberry analyses productivity levels in US, UK and German manufacturing business and comes up with some perhaps not surprising conclusions (UK is ahead at first but falls behind etc.). But an excellent reference guide for the whole subject to use, as it is incredibly comprehensive and definitely should be of interest to anyone taking a quantitative approach to comparative Business History.

10 Y. Cassis 'Big business: the European Experience in the twentieth century' (1997).

For business in Europe, I this book is an excellent starting point. Continental Europe is often ignored in favour of Anglo-Saxon or Japanese practice yet offers some interesting examples.


11. Chandler’s 'Scale and Scope' (1990)

Relegated to optional because although this book is a good work in comparative business history it has recently come under attack from Les Hannah, who I have time for, as an example of how not to do business history! Hannah argues that this book is very inaccurate in many of its comparisons (and not just its critique of British business). However, it is Chandler’s best work on subjects outside of the US, although he relied on the help of research assistants for Germany and Japan, so is still perhaps worth a look.

12. L. Hannah, 'Marshall’s ’trees’ and the global ’forest’ : were ’giant redwoods’ different?' (1996).

LSE discussion paper in which Hannah looks at (I think) 500 of the world’s biggest enterprises in 1912 and again in the 1990s and sees what has changed; and draws attention to the importance of military production companies in Russia and that sort of thing among others. Well worth looking at for anyone who has a lot of firms in their sample, and an extremely good essay.

13. Michael Porter’s 'Competitive Advantage or Competitive Advantage of Nations'

The Chandler of the management world, Porter looks at how companies aquire competitive advantage and what exactly this magical property is. Also important for his ‘diamond’ theory of competitive advantage. But not pure history, so doesn’t make the top ten (worth a look for some light reading).

14. 'The Oxford handbook of business history' - edited by Geoffrey Jones and Jonathan Zeitlin (2008).

Gives a good overview of the subject while providing useful chapters linking Business History with Economics and Management Studies, among others.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Conference Review: The 7th Annual Forum on The Economic and Business History of Egypt and the Middle East

Last week I attended the last two days of the 7th Annual Forum on the Economic and Business History of Egypt and the Middle East, which was hosted by the American University of Cairo's Economic and Business History Research Center, and ran from May 22-25th. I was invited to Cairo as part of a panel of British Business Historians put together by AUC's Abdul Azziz Ezzel Arab and the LSE's Terry Gourvish. Peter Lyth of Nottingham University Business School and Dilwyn Porter of De Montford University's International Centre for Sports History and Culture also attended as part of this party, while Chris Wrigley of Nottingham University's History Department attended independently. In addition, there were three well-known participants from the USA - the eminent Egyptian historian Robert Tignor (Princeton), Don Babai of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and Ellis Goldberg from the University of Washington. The intention was to forge closer links between western and middle eastern scholars in the field.

The outcome was somewhat interesting. Most of the discussions following papers moved into the area of political economy, and the argument that Britain had invaded Egypt in 1882 purely to stop development from occurring in Egypt. Indeed some of the academic papers from Egyptian scholars also tended towards this argument, notably Ahmed Elsherbiny (Cairo) whose paper on Cotton and Anglo-Egyptian Business relations in the second half of the nineteenth century, who argued that the UK exploited Egypt's cotton producers. Meanwhile Mohamed Mabrouk (Cairo) argued in a paper on Egypt's national bank that the bank was not truly an Egyptian national bank, being merely a British puppet, even claiming that the UK ran Egypt via the national bank, although providing relatively little evidence for the claim. Generally speaking there was disappointingly little interest among established Egyptian scholars in the role of actual firms in colonisation, as I discovered with my own speculative paper on Egyptian free-standing companies, which laid evidence from Australia, New Zealand and the USA before the Egyptian audience, before examining British FSCs in Egypt, hoping to gain some pointers from the audience about possible research directions - these did not emerge, as discussion instead seemed to focus on the political dimensions rather than the organisational ones. Egyptian historians also did not seem hugely receptive to a global approach. Terry Gourvish's paper on research directions in Egyptian Business History got a similarly off track reaction, although Peter Lyth's work on Thomas Cook in Egypt and Dilwyn Porter's work on the UK media's reaction to the Suez Canal crisis gained a more positive reaction.

Despite the distance in methodological viewpoint existing between British and Egyptian business history scholars, there were some positive outcomes. Tina Staples, the HSBC's chief archivist, gave a well received paper on preserving corporate archives to Egyptian businessmen, some of whom responded very enthusiastically. Cliometric Historians may be interested in Naglaa Abd Alagawad's (Banha University) work on Egypt and the 1907 Financial Crisis, which showed that the crisis had few economic knock on effects on the Egyptian economy. Younger scholars in Egypt seemed more receptive to firm level approaches and appeared to be extremely keen. Additionally, new personal links were forged for the future, and the profile of Business History as a distinct discipline was raised in Egypt.


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.