The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: History


The literature on inter-war British industrial management has been extremely critical, presenting firms as bring conservative in organisational terms, with only a small number of progressive ones (Hannah 1983). Similarly, other observers have emphasized the grip of tradition on British business culture (Wilson 1995: Wilson and Thomson 2006). Despite these views, we know there was a growing core of British Management thought (Urwick 1956, Child 1969, Bech et al 2010) and a large number of firms employing management consultants (Ferguson 2002). In this context. Quaker employers led by Cadbury and Rowntree led the way with three significant innovations. These were:
i. Conferences of Quaker employers (Cadbury conferences)
ii. A series of lectures (Rowntree lectures) to enable employers and employees to explore the management challenges facing industry
iii. The establishment of Management Research Group movement by Rowntree
The initiatives led by Rowntree have received rather limited attention with mainly a focus on their structure rather than content (Bech et al 2010; Wilson and Thomson 2006). Our project aims to examine these innovations in greater depth thereby contributing to a clearer understanding of the evolution of British management theory and practice in the inter-war period. It will do so within the context of ideas of knowledge transfer and the importance of communities of practice as represented by the creation of the Management Research Groups. In addition it will create a valuable resource for other researchers in the form of a digitised version of the material.

Planned Impact

The research will inform a range of academic disciplines, including economic and business history, management and organisational studies, and will also help build capacity for early career researchers. The notion of 'looking back to see ahead' will widen the beneficiaries beyond academia into the current business and management community. Impact across these different groups will be facilitated by the following activities:

(i.) Communication and engagement. This will be though the dedicated project website, making available the indexed copies of the Rowntree lectures material. This will have portals linking to progress on the project, including access to all the initial data and working papers. It will have Twitter feed and Facebook to allow comments and discussion with interested followers. Twitter followers can be used as a basic measure of impact depending on the comments made.
(ii.) Capacity building and involvement. The project team have a range of skill sets supported by considerable previous experience. In addition to the website there will be two capacity building workshops organised in Year 1 of the project and the second during the final stages of the research. These will be one day workshops aimed at postgraduate and early career researchers drawn from Management and Organisational studies, Economic and Business History. These will be focussed on an interactive workshop sharing the experiences and information of the project.
(iii.) Wider engagement with the business community will be mainly through articles written in the more popular media. This will stress the ideas of looking at past events in British management as illustrated by the Rowntree material and lessons that can be learned. The ideas will be placed in articles written for the Financial Times, The Smart Manager amongst others of which Witzel is a regular contirbutor. These will also direct readers to our project website, Twitter and Facebook sites.


10 25 50