Business as "Civilization": Management Seeks Its Place in Postwar Britain

Friday, January 4, 2019: 9:10 AM
Price Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Mitchell Larson, University of Central Lancashire
This paper examines the introduction of an “American” brand of management education from the United States into the United Kingdom after the Second World War. The cost of the victory was immense for the UK and shortly afterwards the British Empire began to unravel as well; the old had to be replaced with something new. While much activity in 1950s Britain continued recovery efforts, the 1960s saw the introduction by politicians of a wide-ranging “sciencization” of society. Politicians argued that a reliance upon quantitative scientific approaches could be exploited to remedy social ills and provide wealth for the country through indicative economic planning. At a time of wider and deeper social change as the baby-boom generation matured, post-graduate management education rode this wave of reform and even the manner of its funding represented a departure from the past: a 50/50 funding model, split evenly between the government and industry, ensured that the business community had the opportunity – or felt it had the ‘right’ – to inject its own cultural ethos into the new institutions. This new form of business civilization encountered some resistance from remnants of the old order, such as organized labor and socio-economic elites, and British business struggled to accommodate the output of the new management schools. The students found themselves being socialized into a rapidly-changing business environment which did not consistently welcome them. Using archival materials from both business groups and government, a picture is painted of a struggle between competing civilizations for space in post-war Britain. An adapted form of the American management model emerged in Britain as a result of a complex compromise between business civilizations.