Alfred Chandler: Honored with an obit in the Economist

Historians in the News

[HNN Editor: Each week the Economist runs just a single obituary. This week it was for Chandler.]

TODAY'S business leaders are voracious consumers of management advice. They are forever calling in the consultants and surfing the business press for the next big thing. So here is a free tip. Get off the whirligig of management fads. Forget about “long tails” and “wikinomics” for a while and do something old-fashioned. Sit down with a handful of books—admittedly rather fat books—and contemplate the life's work of Alfred Chandler.

Mr Chandler was the dean of American business historians, the man who more or less invented the history of the big corporation. But he was more than an ivory-tower academic. For much of his life he taught at Harvard Business School, where he made business history mainstream. (In 1970, when he arrived, few took the course; in time, hundreds enrolled.) This gave his work a sharp practical edge.

He influenced a generation of consultants with his insistence that structure must follow strategy—that changes of strategy can be successful only if managers are willing to wrench their organisations into new forms. His fingerprints are all over one of the 20th century's classic business books, “My Years with General Motors” by Alfred Sloan. (Mr Chandler ascribed his habit of drinking sherry every lunchtime to Sloan's influence. Sloan used to hit the martinis at lunch when they were working on the book together. The younger historian thought it more prudent to stick to sherry.)...

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