Winter break at OHN

Happy Holidays and all the best for the New Year! It’s been a busy year at OHN, and we are taking a well-deserved break until January. But just in case you might get bored in our absence, let us share a few interesting audio resources with you. I know, everyone got into podcasts like two years ago, but there is even more good stuff out now than ever before

This year, we started offering open access articles in organization history in audio formats – for our podcast, visit and see if there is anything there that interests you! So far we have had anything from AI, to methods, to whiskey and the (California) energy crisis. More to come next year, and if you have an OA article out in the field, get in touch if you would like see it as a podcast.

And in the world of podcasts, there is more that might be relevant to you – for starters, do you know about the New Books Network – Economic & Business History? Here, scholars in the field are interviewed about their new books. I did one on my new book Postcolonial Transitions and Global Business History with the wonderful Paula de la Cruz Fernandes and Prof Michael Rowlinson.

If you want to recap your organization studies classics, check out Talking about Organizations – they look at some of the classics and have a collection on historical approaches on their website.

While we are taking a break from teaching and writing, it might be a good time to consider why we are all publishing, editing, reviewing, or despairing in the academic journal market we have today. Yes, academic publishing has a business history – one that involves Rupert Murdoch (of all people) as a key innovator. It’s quite a story, and it is available as an Audio Long Read from The Guardian, or as a normal long-read article.

Enjoy the break!

New book: Postcolonial Transition and Global Business History (Routledge 2023)

Dear subscribers,

It is publication day for Prof Stephanie Decker — Postcolonial Transition and Global Business History: British Multinational Companies in Ghana and Nigeria (Routledge 2022) is out now!


British multinationals faced unprecedented challenges to their organizational legitimacy in the middle of the twentieth century as the European colonial empires were dismantled and institutional transformations changed colonial relationships in Africa and other parts of the world. This study investigates the political networking and internal organizational changes in five British multinationals (United Africa Company, John Holt & Co., Ashanti Goldfields Corporation, Bank of West Africa and Barclays Bank DCO). These firms were forced to adapt their strategies and operations to changing institutional environments in two English-speaking West African countries, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast) and Nigeria, from the late 1940s to the late 1970s. Decolonization meant that formerly imperial businesses needed to develop new political networks and change their internal organization and staffing to promote more Africans to managerial roles. This postcolonial transition culminated in indigenization programmes (and targeted nationalizations) which forced foreign companies to sell equity and assets to domestic investors in the 1970s. Managing Postcolonial Transitions is the first in-depth historical study on how British firms sought to adapt over several decades to rapid political and economic transformation in West Africa.

Author Biography

Stephanie Decker is professor of Strategy at the University of Birmingham Business School, UK, and visiting professor in African Business History at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She is joint editor-in-chief of Business History, on the editorial board of Organization Studies, Journal of International Business Studies and Accounting History, and Co-Vice Chair for Research & Publications at the British Academy of Management.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction.
  2. Organizational Legitimacy and the Development Discourse.

PART 1 – Managing Postcolonial Transitions Externally .

  1. Corporate Political Activities before and after Independence.
  2. Indigenization Programmes and Organizational Legitimacy.

PART 2 – Managing Postcolonial Transitions Internally.

  1. Africanization in Companies and in the Civil Service.
  2. African Managers in British Businesses.
  1. Conclusions.


1. Introduction

This chapter introduces the book and provides an overview of key terms and the historical context, the companies selected for the study, and the country context. The term postcolonial transition describes the changes in countries like Ghana and Nigeria during decolonization and the first two decades of independence. Multinationals became increasingly aware of the need to build goodwill with domestic stakeholders. The book details their legitimization strategies, especially in terms of corporate political activities (Part 1) and Africanization (e.g., promoting African staff to positions of responsibility, Part 2). The introduction reviews the relevant literature, covering several different topics, such as decolonization and development thinking, economic nationalism and expropriations, Africanization and business historical studies of corporate legitimacy.

2. Organisational Legitimacy and the Development Discourse

Development economics emerged as a discipline out of World War 2 and its aftermath. Development ideas came to shape the legitimization strategies of imperial business during decolonization and continued to do so after independence. This chapter traces the nature of this development discourse internationally, specifically in West Africa, and how it shaped corporate responses to political and economic change. The influence of development discourse went beyond corporate strategies to foster political goodwill. It influenced commercial strategies such as refocusing activities and expansion beyond urban areas. By the late 1960s, this development discourse was under strain, and with it, multinationals found it more challenging to maintain the legitimacy of their subsidiaries.

3. Corporate Political Activities Before and After Independence

Corporate political activities became a major focus for British multinationals in West Africa as decolonization became a political reality. This chapter outlines how firms framed their key concerns over time and how this changed during decolonisation and after independence. Companies varied their legitimisation strategies from building personal networks to collective action. Whilst their focus was on colonial officials in the late 1940s and early 1950s, many companies began developing contacts with nationalist politicians and traditional rulers in Ghana and Nigeria in the 1950s. This strategy continued after independence, even though firms faced greater criticism in the 1960s and 1970s.

4. Indigenization Programmes and Organizational Legitimacy 

This chapter focuses on the expropriations and indigenization programmes of the late 1960s and 1970s in Nigeria and Ghana. It traces the complex sequence of different types of local content legislation and analyzes the corporate responses to these programmes. The Nigerian Enterprise Promotion Decrees were amongst the most comprehensive of these programmes in Africa. They were introduced when Nigeria realized windfall profits from its oil and petroleum industries, and thus multinationals were paying close attention. Expropriations of foreign companies in West Africa and beyond have been of interest to researchers in economic sociology, law, international business, and history. The final section engages with these debates based on the archival evidence from multinationals in Ghana and Nigeria.

5. Africanization in Companies and the Civil Service

In this chapter, the progress of Africanization in the civil service and in companies is compared to understand better what were the drivers and constraints of these changes. Progress in the private sector also varied between industries and companies, reflecting different legitimization strategies espoused by firms. Whilst Africanization progressed fastest in commercial companies, UAC was certainly more advanced than Holts. Banking generally lacked behind the commercial sector, and the archival records from BWA were not sufficiently detailed for a comparison. Mining was slowest; this may reflect AGC being particularly resistant under the leadership of Edward Spears to Africanize. Finally, this chapter investigates some of the factors that limited effective Africanization: high staff turnover due to significant skills shortages, ceilings to African advancement, and colonial salary structures that continued with limited reform into the independence period.

6. African Managers in British Businesses

Promoting African staff in formerly imperial British multinationals required significant changes to internal operations in organizations shaped by expatriate leadership. This chapter first discusses the changing relationship between expatriates and Africans and how companies constructed the notion of cultural and social distance between these two groups of employees. Many firms opted to develop staff training schemes to imbue corporate cultures and expectations to prepare Africans for management. British business leaders were concerned about whether they could trust their African staff, especially at times of rising anti-colonial and nationalist sentiment. As a group of employees, African staff also became more fractured in their interests – those who were promoted to managerial positions and better benefits and those who were not. In mining, the question of whom the African trade unions could represent and whether that included African managers led to conflicts. The rising economic nationalism of the 1970s created more opportunities for African managers in senior leadership positions in multinationals and to go alone in an entrepreneurial venture, sometimes competing with their former employers.

7. Conclusion

This chapter concludes the book and summarizes its main arguments: the type of legitimization strategies firms espoused to manage the postcolonial transition period in Ghana and Nigeria strategically. They relied on the then-dominant development discourse to frame their commercial activities, expanded their political networks, and began to advance their African staff to more responsible positions. As the post-war development framework lost its relevance in the face of economic difficulties, multinationals found their organizational legitimacy undermined. Expropriations and indigenization decrees often required multinationals to rely even more on their African managers, who benefitted from these opportunities for investment and advancement. Whilst the debate has usually focused on the question of control over foreign-dominated sectors of the economy, this book argues that legitimacy theory provides a better understanding of the strategies and constraints that multinationals were facing in West Africa and beyond.

Photograph of Richard Dyson (on the left) of Barclays Bank meeting Samuel Akintola, Premier of Nigeria’s Western Region, in 1964. Reproduced with kind permission of Barclays Group Archives.

Business Archives Council News

The BAC Wadsworth Prize was awarded to Greg Finch this year for his book The Blacketts: A Northern Dynasty’s Rise, Crisis and Redemption, published by Tyne Bridge Publishing in 2021. It has been reviewed in Business History by John Wilson. 

Because the BAC’s Annual Research Support Bursary had not been awarded since 2018, three grants were made, to: 

  • Chris Corker, to support the completion of a project on the history of stainless steel
  • Lewis Smith, to access the National Gas Archive and History of Advertising Trust to analyse how nationalised industries fed into issues such as gender, masculinity and public service
  • Emma West, for her project ‘Art in the Pub: Democracy, Community and Gender’, which will explore how brewers made arts and cultural activities available to pubgoers from the 1930s to the 1960s. 

The BAC Cataloguing Grant was awarded was given to the Arts University Bournemouth for work on the Thorp Modelmaking Archive, a unique collection of photographs and documents recording the history of the oldest architectural modelmakers in Britain. The company was founded in 1883. 

Some ABH members may also be unaware of the sad news that Lesley Richmond died on 28 September. Lesley was the former University Archivist, where she managed the Scottish Business Archive, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Business History in Scotland, both at the University of Glasgow. She wrote extensively about business archives and produced several guides to business archive collections, as well as undertaking surveys of business archives still in private hands. Many business history researchers will have benefitted from her knowledge and expertise.

Archives & Artificial Intelligence

We are very pleased to be part of the AURA special issue in AI & Society 37,3. The special issue explores how modern data analytics affect archival practice, through conceptual and applied articles as well as elaborated case studies. Contributions consider a variety of issues, from new and exciting opportunities for exploration to continuing exclusion of communities, and provide food for thought for anyone interested in the future of history in a world increasingly captivated by AI.

Launching the Dotcom-Archive website!

Our AHRC-funded project, Contextualizing Email Archives has recently finished and we are proud to share with you one of our major outputs: the Dotcom-Archive website!

Our new website tells the history of a Dotcom start-up company through its emails, opening a window into the first digital revolution. Our very own desktop assistant, Mr Gummy, guides you through four vignettes giving background information and directions. The vignettes deal with claims of the end of strategy in the Dotcom-era, burning through investor cash, trying to figure out how to make money from software and platform business models, and how to take a digital venture into international markets. These stories can be read on their own or used for teaching. 

The website is part of our wider AHRC-funded project. We believe emails are a valuable source of historical record, particularly for those wishing to understand the organizations of the digital era. Our project delivers two distinct outputs – the Dotcom-Archive website, and the EMCODIST search prototype that we used to create it.  

Stay tuned for updates, as we’re looking forward to announcing some more exciting plans on here soon. Until then, you can read more about our project in our open access publications: 

AI & Society

IEEE Big Data conference paper  

“Contextualising Email Archives” is a UK/US collaboration funded by UK Research and Innovation and led by the University of Bristol. Other partners are the National Archives (UK), Hagley Museum and Library (US), University of Maryland, and De Montfort University. The Dotcom-Archive website was developed by GreenHat Bristol and realised by ResearchIT Bristol.

New historical article in HR

I am pleased to see another really interesting historical article has been published open access in Human Relations:

Business as service? Human Relations and the British interwar management movement

Mairi Maclean, Gareth Shaw, Charles Harvey 

First Published January 19, 2022 Research Article


To what extent should business have an implication of service when its fundamental purpose is profit-seeking? We explore this issue through a contextually informed reappraisal of British interwar management thinking (1918–1939), drawing on rich archival material concerning the Rowntree business lectures and management research groups. Whereas existing literature is framed around scientific management versus human relations schools, we find a third pronounced, related theme: business as service. Our main contribution is to identify the origins in Britain of the discourse of corporate social responsibility in the guise of business as service. We show that this emerged earlier than commonly assumed and was imbued with an instrumental intent from its inception as a form of management control. This was a discourse emanating not from management theorists but from management practitioners, striving to put the corporate system on a sustainable footing while safeguarding the power, authority, and legitimacy of incumbent managerial elites.

ABH has a new website

The Association of Business Historians (UK) has a new website: – it’s a great new look so go check it out.

Roundtable on Enchantment in the History of Capitalism

Dear colleagues,

We are a network of scholars who seek to develop enchantment as an organizing theme in historical studies of capitalism. We hope to provide a platform for those interested in the historical role of enchantment as a tool, structure, or foundation for the organization and the development of modern markets, economic institutions, and economic relationships.

The first meeting of the network will take place on February 24, at 14:30 GMT on Zoom. It will be led by two expert speakers on magic and religion, Professor Owen Davies and Professor Jason Ānanda Josephson Storm. 

This is the first of a series of reading-group style workshops, intended to reflect on the meaning of enchantment and its uses in existing scholarship across different disciplines, with a longer-term view to redirect the concept and shed new light on the history of capitalism. 

More information on the first and future meetings, assigned pre-readings, as well as registration to the meeting and to our mailing list, are available on the network website:

We hope that many of you will join us on this intellectual journey!

Anat Rosenberg and Astrid Van den Bossche

Dr Astrid Van den Bossche
Lecturer in Digital Marketing and Communications
Department of Digital Humanities 
King’s College London | Strand Campus | WC2R 2LS

New Hagley Hangout – with Paula de la Cruz-Fernandez

Hagley History Hangout

Paula A. de la Cruz-Fernández’s book Gendered Capitalism: Sewing Machines and Multinational Business in Spain and Mexico, 1850–1940 explores how the gender-specific cultures of sewing and embroidery shaped the US Singer Sewing Machine Company’s operations. Using the cases of Spain and Mexico, Fernandez details how the cultural, everyday realm of female use of sewing machines for family or business purposes influenced corporate organization and marketing strategy. In those places local agents, both men and women, developed and expanded Singer’s selling system such that this American-based multinational company assumed a domestic guise because of its focus on the private sphere of the home. In this way Fernandez genders the corporation, especially the intersection between feminine domesticity, commerce, and corporate strategy. 

Paula A. de la Cruz-Fernández is the Digital Editor of the Business History Conference and Digital Heritage Manager at the University of Florida. She received her Ph D in history from Florida International University in 2013. 

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.

Interview available at,

Recorded on Zoom and available anywhere once they are released, our History Hangouts include interviews with authors of books and other researchers who have use of our collections, and members of Hagley staff with their special knowledge of what we have in our stacks. We began the History Hangouts earlier this summer and now are releasing programs every two weeks on alternate Mondays. Our series is part of the Hagley from Home initiative by the Hagley Museum and Library. The schedule for upcoming episodes, as well as those already released, is available at

Roger Horowitz
Executive Director
Hagley Center

Carol Ressler Lockman
Hagley Center

NEH-Hagley Fellowship on Business, Culture, and Society

The NEH-Hagley Fellowship on Business, Culture, and Society supports residencies at the Hagley Library in Wilmington, Delaware for junior and senior scholars whose projects make use of Hagley’s substantial research collections. Scholars must have completed all requirements for their doctoral degrees by the February 15 application deadline. In accordance with NEH requirements, these fellowships are restricted to United States citizens or to foreign nationals who have been living in the United States for at least three years. These fellowships are made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Fellowships may be four to twelve months in length and will provide a monthly stipend of $5,000 and complimentary lodging in housing on Hagley’s property. Hagley also will provide supplemental funds for local off-site accommodations to NEH fellowship recipients who can make a compelling case that special circumstance (e.g. disability or family needs) would make it impossible to make use of our scholar’s housing. Scholars receive office space, Internet access, Inter-Library Loan privileges, and the full benefits of visiting scholars, including special access to Hagley’s research collections. They are expected to be in regular and continuous residence and to participate in the Center’s scholarly programs. They must devote full time to their study and may not accept teaching assignments or undertake any other major activities during their residency. Fellows may hold other major fellowships or grants during fellowship tenure, in addition to sabbaticals and supplemental grants from their own institutions, but only those that do not interfere with their residency at Hagley. Other NEH-funded grants may be held serially, but not concurrently.

Deadline: February 15
Requirements for application: (Apply online at ).
• Current curriculum vitae.
• A 3,000-word explanation of the project and its contributions to pertinent scholarship.
• A statement of no more than 500 words explaining how residency at Hagley would advance the project, particularly the relevance of our research collections.
• A statement indicating the preferred duration of the fellowship.
Applicants also should arrange for two letters of recommendation to arrive separately by the application deadline. These should be sent directly to Carol Lockman, Questions regarding this fellowship may be sent to Carol Lockman as well.

NEH-Hagley Fellow 2021-2022:
Dylan Gottlieb
Lecturer in History, Princeton University
Wall Street & the Remaking of New York

Carol Ressler Lockman
Business History Conference
Manager, Hagley Center