JOIN EHA

DONATE

Published by H-Business@w3needs.com (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.

teagarde@triton.d su.edu

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.

In

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

general

, 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

small sales.

There does not appear to be a turn-around scheduled in the near future.