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Mairi Maclean and Charles Harvey

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Mairi Maclean, Gareth Shaw, Alan Booth, Rachel Pistol and Morgen Witzel

The literature on interwar British industrial management has been severely critical. British firms have been generally presented as overly conservative, comprising a small core of progressive firms amongst conservatively-run, family-dominated businesses. According to this critique, British firms displayed little interest in new managerial approaches, unlike US firms of the period. The authors’ research into the Rowntree lectures and the British interwar management movement challenges this view. They argue that there was a nucleus of progressive British firms engaged in management learning through organized peer-to-peer communication, facilitated by lectures and management research groups initiated by Seebohm Rowntree; fostering communities of practice designed to share management knowledge and experience. British managers displayed greater openness to innovation and a willingness to confront shared problems than is commonly recognized. The authors offer a provisional reinterpretation of British management practice that repositions business education relative to extant historiography; thereby contributing to a better-informed understanding of the evolution of British management learning in the interwar years.