J.C. Spender: Modern management: Origins and development

Accounts of the origins and development of management have two deficiencies: (1) they fail to distinguish managing a business from other types of managing and (2) they are more often histories of writing about management than of doing it. Explaining management requires attention to the nature of the thing being managed – the firm. The history must hinge on specific aspects that distinguish today’s management from that of former times; and various have been advanced – scale, technology, and globalization. Yet all were evident long ago and miss what is modern about modern management. This article treats the modernness of the mode of business administration as key to understanding the modern firm. Following Weber the bureaucratic mode is tempting but once we accept Knightian uncertainty, bureaucratic theory cannot be an adequate guide to today’s managerial practice. Modern firms align employees’ judgment rather than their blind obedience by providing them with a corporate citizenship that echoes but differs from that provided earlier by guilds. The historical origins and development of managing are of this transition.


By J.C. Spender