Big Business: The European Experience in the Twentieth Century

Big Business: The European Experience in the Twentieth Century

Big Business: The European Experience in the Twentieth Century

Big Business: The European Experience in the Twentieth Century


This is a major comparative study of big business in the three dominant European nations across the 20th century. In particular the author looks at the character and performance of the major companies in each country at five snapshot moments through the century. In so doing he offers a broadand sweeping analysis of European business amply supported by a wealth of empirical data. Cassis view often challenges widely held assumptions about, for example, entrepreneurial failure in Britain; the relationship between big business and the Nazis in Germany; and the rebuilding of France in the post war period. To fill out his story Cassis looks closely at the role and charcter of the business elites in each country and and their relationship with wider social and political developments. The book will be essential reading for anyone interested in the development of European business and the links between business practice and the wider social and political environment in each country.


Were European business leaders properly qualified to carry out their duties? Did their competence increase in the course of the twentieth century? Were there significant differences in this respect between top British, French, and German businessmen? These are the basic questions addressed in this chapter. the acquisition of business competence should be seen as a lengthy process, as the entire path leading to the top of a large corporation. It is a process which starts at birth, often by being born in a business family; it then continues through secondary or even university education; and is finally shaped by the decisive steps in career development. These three major moments will be examined in turn.

Founders, Inheritors, and Managers

There is little doubt left about the narrow social recruitment of business élites. Recent studies—the earliest dating back to the 1950s—in both Europe and the United States have destroyed all myths surrounding the opportunities of spectacular upward social mobility offered by business life, not least the legendary rise from rags to riches in one generation. This popular perception rested on a few exceptional cases, the most famous being probably Andrew Carnegie, the son of a Scottish weaver who became America's steel king and one of the world's richest men. Cold statistical analyses of large cohorts are far more prosaic. in their over-whelming majority, business leaders have been recruited among the privileged classes—landowners, businessmen, senior civil servants, professionals—at all times, even during the industrial revolution which witnessed the rise of a new social class, the bourgeoisie; and everywhere, including in the United States of America, a new country and the land of individual enterprise. Furthermore, up to the generations active in the 1960s, more than half of the business leaders of the industrialized world were themselves sons of businessmen. the signs of the passage from family capitalism to managerial capitalism were slow to emerge. the massive increase of the number of salaried managers hardly widened the social background from which managers were recruited: a working-class background has remained exceptional within the business élite.

Such is the broad consensus which has emerged from the various inquiries undertaken in the last thirty to forty years into the social origins

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.