Making managers: a fresh look
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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- Scientific articles 
Original versionManagement & Organizational History. 2020, 15 (2), 91-105. https://doi.org/10.1080/17449359.2020.1842288
The idea that institutions at university level should engage in offering courses and programs to prepare people for administrative and managerial positions in commerce and business originally emerged in parallel in several countries during the mid- to late 19th century (Engwall and Zamagni 1998; Engwall, Kipping, and Üsdiken 2010, 2016). However, at that time, ‘business’ – or, more commonly, ‘commerce’ – was little respected within academia, with sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1918, 209–210) for instance, putting it at the same level as ‘athletics’ and suggesting that neither should have a place within ‘the corporation of learning’. Nor was a specific education widely seen as a prerequisite for successful businessmen – or the rare businesswoman –, though short, practical training for clerical positions was being offered since the mid-19th century at proprietary commercial schools (Conn 2019, Ch. 1). Well into the 20th century most of those running companies believed that leaders were ‘born, not made’ and that, if there was any training, it should be on the job (see, for examples from Germany, Kipping 1998a, 97). Often times, especially on the Old Continent of Europe, what sufficed was to be born into the family that owned the business. While managers hired from the outside had grown in importance earlier (e.g. Chandler 1977), they only started drawing more sustained attention by observers since the 1930s (Berle and Means 1932; see also, with a broader definition of manager, Burnham 1941). Since then, the notion that managers need to be made, i.e. educated, has become widely accepted. And even in multigenerational family firms, the heirs apparent are nowadays usually sent to some of the top business schools either in the country of origin or, more likely, in the US – followed, at times, by a stint at McKinsey or other elite consultants, portrayed by some as a kind of MBA squared (Mintzberg 1996; see also Gavett 2013; and, for examples Engwall, Kipping, and Üsdiken 2016, 251). Similarly, and relatedly, after struggling at the outset to find their place within academia (Engwall, Kipping, and Üsdiken 2010) business and management education have developed into the most popular area of study in many countries. In the US, for instance, 386,000 out of close to 2 million bachelor’s degrees in 2017–18 were in business, followed by 245,000 in health professions.1 In the European Union countries, 24.3% of the tertiary education graduates were in business and law, followed by 14.6% in engineering and construction, and 13.8% in health and welfare.2 However, in China engineering is the most popular field among master’s students with 890,000 students in 2018, followed by business with 369,0003 (see also Conn 2019, 2–3). This transformation has inspired a large body of historical research (for an overview, see, among others, Amdam 1996a; Augier and March 2011; Daniel 1998; Engwall, Kipping, and Üsdiken 2016; Engwall and Zamagni 1998; Khurana 2007; Locke 1984, 1989; more critically Conn 2019; Locke 1996; Locke and Spender 2011). The extant studies have gone far to elucidate the rise of university-based degree programs with a particular focus on the graduate level, in particular the Master of Business Administration (MBA), which together with the US-based business schools has usually been portrayed as equivalent to the rise of formal ways to make managers. An additional, related focus has been the ‘scientization’ of research and teaching in most of these institutions since the 1950s and the gradual expansion of this American model around the world – though with studies focusing in particular on its influence in Europe, broadly defined, and, to a lesser extent, Japan. In contrast, making managers through other, non-degree types of education and training has yet to receive a similar interest and so does the content and process of these programs. There is also a need to examine more closely the actual people who receive management education in both degree- and non-degree programs as well as the wide range of stakeholders, beyond governments and educational institutions, associated with their development. Last not least, there continues to be a dearth of studies covering all of these issues outside the ‘global North’. This special issue aims to advance this research agenda with contributions that (i) go beyond the degree programs offered by business schools; (ii) discuss the roles of all actors involved in the creation of programs for making managers; (iii) examine the processes of socialization taking place within these programs; (iv) look at the gendering of management education (and management); and (v) extend research on making managers beyond the obvious institutional and geographic contexts. After summarizing the current state of research on the history of management education and its blind spots, the remainder of this introductory article will address each of these contributions in some detail.