- European Enterprise: Strategies of Adaptation and Renewal in the Twentieth Century
This collection of essays derives from an international conference organized in Rethymno, Crete, by Margarita Dritsas, and the essays it contains cover a wide range of issues relating to the history of the adaptation and renewal of business enterprises in twentieth-century Europe.
In the introduction, Alfred Chandler, Takashi Hikino and Alice Teichova provide a thought-provoking discussion that explicates the wider framework into which the essays fit. In particular, they focus on the need for revisionist examinations of the rise of managerial capitalism and big industry in national, transnational and comparative perspective. Providing geographical coverage that is comparative and pan-European in scope, the remaining eighteen essays examine aspects of the diverse national experiences of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Austria and the UK. This volume, then, is not like most collections of essays devoted to European business history, where all too often the geographical scope remains heavily focused on the large early industrializers, Britain, France, and Germany, while the other countries receive comparatively short shrift.
The nationally-based comparative perspective of the book is intertwined with a thematic taxonomy. The editors, Margarita Dritsas and Terry Gourvish, have also given thematic structure to the collection by grouping the chapters under three broad themes; these are ownership structure and organization, companies and sectors and corporate policy and economic performance. The plurality of business organizations characterizing the European experience are examined in detail. Among these, four stand out and are analyzed in greater detail. They are family firms, corporations, multinationals and business groups. In addition, some of the essays examine the interrelationship between banks and state in big business. Among the many sectors of industry examined are sugar production, brewing, the paint industry and shipping.
Although economic development is not directly mentioned, it looms large in the background. The inclusion in the title of the book of the words "adaptation and renewal" alludes directly to the major theme of the book. Taken as a whole, then, these essays enter into the debate within business history regarding the nature of the dynamic interaction between business organizations and the wider institutional and political environments in which they are embedded. A perennial question historians ask is how did the interruption caused by the two world wars and other exogenous factors affect the evolution of European businesses and the long-term development of European economies? A major strength of this collection is that this question runs throughout the volume as a unifying theme, and this gives it a degree of coherence often absent from edited collections of essays. In other respects, however, the chapters are not uniform. Each one is unique in style, reflecting the variety of specializations, academic traditions and national backgrounds of the scholars who have contributed chapters. Taken together the essays amply demonstrate the great diversity of experience among nations and [End Page 212] sectors with respect to the historical evolution of business. The book also reveals how history can inform theory and the necessity for an open discourse between academics from these two analytical perspectives.
The Chandlerian scheme stands at the core of the volume, constituting a point of reference and departure for the examinations of the multifaceted European experiences. Some authors use it as the foundation for the analytical taxonomy on which they base their analyses. For example, this is evident in the detailed analysis of the little-known Greek paint and varnish industry by Margarita Dritsas. In a different context, the chapter by Terry Gourvish on the post-1945 adaptation and renewal in the European brewing industry highlights the analytical utility of employing the Chandlerian schema. However, it also highlights the wide corporate diversification within Europe with respect to the concentration and the fragmentation of the market on a national basis. The plurality of managerial capitalism models in Europe is underlined also in Peter Eigner's overview of the structure of Austrian industries during the twentieth century. He portrays the makeup of a specific pattern...