Westall, Oliver M.
Published by H-Business@eh.net (March 1999)
Andrew Godley and Oliver M.
Westall (eds.), Business History and Business Culture. Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1996. xiii + 258. $79.95
Reviewed for H-Business by Ernest Teagarden, Department of History, Dakota
State University, Madison, South Dakota.
This volume of essays originated from a business history conference developed
by faculty from the University of Reading (UK) and Lancaster University (UK).
Presentations were made at Reading on November 14, 1992.
It is not clear if the current essays — called chapters — are in their
conference formats. All writers have excellent credentials for their areas of
expertise in business, economics, history and/or sociology and their essays
often feature combinations of two or more academic areas.
their introduction to the book, Godley and Westall consider how business
culture — combinations of ideas, activities, behaviors, etc. — impacted upon
strategy, conduct, and the organization of individual and groups of firms. The
search for common themes
throughout the collection is a point of emphasis for the editors despite the
fact that the essays cover such a variety of situations. High technology,
Jewish immigrant entrepreneurship,
the development of the British and American cotton industries, problems
encountered through cultural differences by German exporters to Japan,
publishing, motor car manufacturing in Britain, and banking give some
indication of subject matter variations.
“British Culture and the Development of High Technology Sectors,” by
Maurice Kirby of Lancaster University is typical of the essays from this
diverse collection. Kirby reviews several hypotheses, which attempt to explain
the reasons for British industrial decline, especially since the end of the
Second World War. Inept British governmental policy combined with a “bloated”
public sector was one reason. Another was the concentration of financial
interests and the Treasury on maintaining Britain’s position in the
international economy. Industrial progress was placed on the ”
back burner.” The British educational system received its share of the blame.
The emphasis placed on the humanities and classics in the schools over science
and technology was cited as another contribution towards manufacturing decline.
The writer taught
for a year in the 1960’s at a large London public day school and was once
astounded when several members of the common room were surprised that he had
not taken Latin,
which they considered fundamental in the test of one’s intellectual ability. In
, the legacy of the past seemed to inhibit British industry from easily
accepting and implementing organizational and technological innovations.
Kirby puts big emphasis on the aircraft industry as a symbol of Britain’s
manufacturing decline. After 1945 Kirby believes subsidy-supported military
technology ceased to be easily transferred to commercial usage. Britain could
not compete with the civilian American aircraft industry in research and
development expenditures; optimal facility size; or in the recruitment,
training, and effective use of personnel. It also did not possess America’s
marketing strength. Unfortunately, the problems of the aircraft industry were
often manifested in other high technology endeavors. The legacy of the past
simply could not
be surrendered. On the other hand, while teaching in England, this writer was
told two or three times that the legacy of the past “was really more important
than most of the new ideas, anyway.”
The authors have done a very good job but probably will not
sell many books, at least in the United States. At $80 for a 258-page book,
not too many will be sold. Few scholars can afford to buy their own copy of a
volume of essays in which only one or two essays will pertain to their special
field of interest. The emphasis on library electronics and Internet
availability combined with declining budgets does not bode well for the future
of books such as this. Add to these problems a declining interest in history as
a subject matter by college students, and you get
There does not appear to be a turn-around scheduled in the near future.
|Geographic Area(s):||General, International, or Comparative|
|Time Period(s):||General or Comparative|