Still Focusing on Individuals: From “Pioneers” to “Innovators” and Back

Prominent management history writers also maintained the tradition of publishing compilations of early writings or biographical collections. Wren (1997), for instance, edited a book that contained articles or excerpts from books mostly from the last two decades of the nineteenth century. There were also a few earlier pieces from Adam Smith, Charles Babbage and, perhaps most interestingly, from a book that Charles Dickens (1842) wrote after his travels to the US. In the introduction, Wren (1997: xiv-xvi) highlighted that even the English observers tended to view American management and workers in a more positive light than their own. Dickens’s impressions of the factories that he visited in Lowell, Massachusetts, added to this message, as he appeared to be impressed with the way that the female workers were dressed, their cleanliness and healthiness, as well as the conditions in the factory and the houses where they were boarded. He did mention though that they were quite young and that there were also a few children around. These young women, Dickens observed, worked on average 12 hours a day, though only for nine months due to the laws of this particular state, since they were expected to be educated during the remaining three months. Dickens’s positive impressions notwithstanding, the editors of a more recent edition of his book, from which Wren took the piece, did make the point that “nowhere in America at this time were factory workers treated so paternally as here”, i.e. where Dickens had visited (Wren 1997: 331).

More than a decade later, Bedeian (2011) followed with a more comprehensive collection. This four-volume compendium exemplified the tendency in the post-2000 literature of expanding the focus on notable individuals from the pioneers to those of more recent times, thus making such compilations more convergent with evolution histories. Indeed, Bedeian’s (2011) collection was very much in line with his co-authored book with Wren (Wren and Bedeian 2018)—short of the management science part and the present-day popular topics that were mentioned earlier. The first volume of the compendium and a good part of the second are devoted to scientific management. The second volume also included a part that again put Fayol together with Weber. Volume III started with the Hawthorne studies, also covering Follett and Barnard, as well as some of the early so-called classical writers with a part on Urwick, for example. The last volume covered the early writings of post-World War II American academic authors such as Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg who have been influential in the development of what is now referred to as organizational behavior.

The tendency to extend the time horizon forward to prominent individuals of the more recent period was heralded by an earlier compilation by Wren and Ronald Greenwood. Its title was already indicative in that it referred to “management innovators” rather than “pioneers” (Wren and Greenwood 1998). This book also extended the scope of the “classic” literature on pioneering individuals by moving beyond manufacturers and consultants to include progenitors of other business activities categorized under headings such as “sellers” and “financiers”. The biographies in the first part of the book do go back to American business people of the nineteenth century, including the likes of Eli Whitney, Henry Ford, Richard W. Sears and J. P. Morgan. The second part includes household names such as Taylor, the Gilbreths, Follett, Barnard and Mayo. It then extends, like Bedeian’s (2011) anthology, to Maslow, Herzberg, McGregor and to the major promulgators of the quality movement, i.e. W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran, and eventually to Peter Drucker—a category by himself according to Wren and Greenwood (1998) who refer to him as the “guru”. In other ways, this collection too was a continuation of the patterns set by the classic view. The center of attention is again the US, with only two names from Japan included: Yoichi Ueno, the “father of Japanese administrative science”, and Taiichi Ohno, who played a key role in devising the Toyota Production System. Notably though, they are both credited, among their other achievements, with successfully importing and adapting methods developed in the US. The professed aims of this collection were similar to some of the books in the early 1960s claiming that management is a profession and that managers should be aware of its history. We are told at the beginning, for example, that the volume is intended for “an audience of contemporary managers, aspiring managers, and students of management who wish to gain a historical perspective on their profession” (Wren and Greenwood 1998: ix).

The Wren (1997) and the Wren and Greenwood (1998) anthologies appear to have caught the imagination of publishers in conjunction with a new set of editors who were only partially involved in academia. Wood and Wood (2001, 2002a, 2002b, 2003, 2004), for example, in keeping with the classic view, started by editing compendia on Fayol, Taylor, Ford, the Gilbreths and Mayo for a new Routledge series. Yet taking the new tendency to extend the time horizon of what was considered “history” of management thought even closer to the present, their later collections included many more recent well-known academics and consultants.

For Witzel too, the study of individuals served as a way to trace the development of management ideas and practices. As mentioned earlier, his first book brought together 600 biographies of those viewed as having contributed to management thought and practice (Witzel 2001). True to the spirit of the classic view, the collection stretches to philosophers, clergymen, monarchs and businesspeople from ancient times, the oldest entry dating back to 2000 BC. The subsequent coverage is likewise eclectic and extends all the way to present-day business people such as

Bill Gates and Michael Dell, founders of Microsoft and Dell Computers, respectively. Similar to Urwick (1956) with his Golden Book, apparently Witzel’s (2001) ambition was to make his collection international. Nevertheless, he did acknowledge overall American dominance, indicated, for instance, by the fact that contributors to his volume from the US by far outnumbered those from other countries. Moreover, a later abridged version included only the 260 or so US-based individuals (Witzel 2005). In between, Witzel (2003) published another abbreviated version containing the biographies of only 50 “key figures” that he authored himself. The intent of the book was otherwise the same, though the timeline of entries was cut on both ends, as the collection now went back only as far as the sixth century BC and stopped with Bill Gates.

Witzel’s most recent book to focus on individuals, co-edited with Malcolm Warner, has been somewhat different, though the tendency to take management thinking to the present day was still there (Witzel and Warner 2013). The chapters were comprehensive reviews that described and assessed each individual’s contributions and influence. In addition, the book was notably more focused in its conception of “management”, since it did not include influential names from other business disciplines such as marketing or finance, which had been part of Witzel’s earlier biographical compilations. This collection was also narrower in scope both with respect to the time frame and the range of individuals who were selected. The pro-management view was again there, as Witzel and Warner (2013: 3) added that one of the criteria they employed was to include those who “believed in the importance of management and emphasized its positive role in organizations, business and society”. The history now began with Taylor and included other historically significant figures treated as the “pioneers” such as the Gilbreths, Fayol and Barnard. Consultants and academics who came to be known in the immediate aftermath of World War II were then covered, followed by academics from more recent times. Thus, no businesspeople were selected other than Fayol and Barnard. This choice appears to have been driven by the programmatic title of the book: Management Theorists. Interestingly, of course, now Taylor, Fayol and others in the “pioneers” part of the book were labeled as “theorists”—though not all the chapters on these individuals necessarily refer to them in this manner.

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