Beyond the Managerial Utopia of American Schools of Business Administration

Early Emergence of European Management Education in the 18th and 19th centuries

Special track submitted to the JHMO 2016 – 16th, 17th, 18th March – UTBM Sevenans (Terr. de Belfort)

Co-organizers: Lise Arena (GREDEG UMR 7321, Université Nice Sophia-Antipolis) & Thomas Durand (CNAM)

– in collaboration with John-Christopher Spender (Kozminski University, Warsaw, Poland)

Some say management education is a US invention that began at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School in 1881, the initial move of a national professionalization project to transform US managers into trained professionals who would practice with high aims and values (Khurana, 2007). The agenda was to balance American political practice against the American commitment to profit-seeking.

This story pays no attention to the centuries of administrative education in Europe from which Joseph Wharton and others borrowed directly. The US agenda idealized a managerial business-dominated utopia the European schools did not share. Managerial capitalism based on multidivisional firms was the US business model archetype sketched by Chandler (1990). After WW2, as the Chandler model was adopted by European businesses, the US management education model was ported to Europe’s universities. Their earlier ‘backwardness’ was explained by institutional factors such as the nature of personal capitalism in the UK and of cooperative capitalism in Germany (Arena, 2011a).

In America, the persistence of the utopian dream of synthesizing social responsibility with capitalist aims led to a stream of articles criticizing the way business knowledge was being delivered (Pfeffer, Fong, 2004) – from both a practical (Mintzberg, 2004) and an ethical (Birnik, Billsberry, 2007) point of view. Higher aims, critics argued, had been subverted.

Other scholars began to look behind the utopian message at what business schools were actually doing, at their added-value to the economic and societal system (Locke, 1996), and at the yawning gap between theory and practice (Pearce, 2004; Spender, 2015). Today the American model of management education has been fully globalized, yet is increasingly challenged (Locke & Spender, 2001; Durand & Dameron, 2008). More histories of European and Asian management education are also providing empirical evidence for different emergence processes (Arena, 2011b; Engwall, 2009; Meuleau, 1995).

Critics of the US model are seldom aware of the earlier ‘European models’ and how they could have led to different orientations in management education. The first European schools of management and commercial education (in the UK, France, and Germany, in particular) included courses in political economy, macroeconomics, and industry issues, and in sociology aimed at providing a better understanding of the socio-economy. These courses were aimed towards better policy-making rather than instrumental efficiency (Arena, 2011b).

But how should American and European management education be compared and contrasted? One hypothesis is that while both US and European management education necessarily served a double agenda – one scientific, the other political – they did so in very different ways (Locke & Spender, 2001; Dameron & Durand, 2011). In the US, the political issues were submerged in the pursuit of a science of managing. In Europe, the scientific knowledge generated by early management education was not considered as ‘useful’ enough by industrialists and management education became an instrument of the second agenda, to prepare a political cadre.

This special track of the 21st AHMO Conference invites new thinking and empirical findings on 18th and 19th century European management education that both supplement present history and facilitate broader analysis of the interplay with the now dominant US model.

In line with the main scientific orientation of the 21st AHMO conference, contributions could, for instance, contribute to two main issues:

1) Could 18th-19th century European management education have offered a managerial utopia alternative to the American model?

2) How was early European management education institutionalized? Were there gaps between the ideals presented and the institutionalisation process in practice?

Contributors are expected to submit their papers by December 15th, 2015 and will be noticed of acceptance by January 15th, 2016.


Arena L., (2011a), “Les modèles nationaux d’enseignement de la gestion d’entreprise: Formes de capitalisme et modes d’organisation”, Introduction to the special issue: “Institutionnaliser et Internationaliser l’Enseignement de la Gestion”, Entreprises et Histoire, 65(4): 6-10.

Arena L., (2011b), “From Economics of the Firm to Business Studies at Oxford: An Intellectual History (1890s-1990s)”,

Birnik A., Billsberry B., (2007), “Reorientating the Business School Agenda: The Case for Relevance, Rigor and Righteousness”. Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 82, pp. 985-999.

Cassis Y., Crouzet F., Gourvish T., (1995), Management and Business in Britain and France – The Age of the Corporate Economy, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Chandler A., (1990), Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism, Harvard University Press.

Dameron S., Durand T., (2011), Redesigning Management Education and Research, Edward Edgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Durand T., Dameron S., (2008), The Future of Business Schools – Scenarios and Strategies for 2020, Palgrave MacMillan.

Engwall L., (2009), Mercury Meets Minerva – Business studies and higher education – The Swedish Case, Stockholm School of Economics.

Khurana R., (2007), From Higher Aims to Hired Hands – The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession, Princeton University Press.

Locke, R.R., (1996), The Collapse of the American Management Mystique, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Locke R.R., Spender J.C., (2011), Confronting Managerialism: How the Business Elite and their Schools Threw our Lives out of Balance, Zed Books, London.

Meuleau M., (1995), “From Inheritors to Managers: The Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales and Business Firms”, in Cassis Y., Crouzet F., Gourvish T., Management and Business in Britain and France – The Age of the Corporate Economy, pp. 128-146.

Mintzberg H., (2004), Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA.

Pfeffer J., Fong C.T., (2004), “The Business School ‘Business’: Some Lessons from the US Experience”. Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 41, No. 8, pp. 1501-20.