Abstract: Unlikely Partners and the Management of Innovation in Communist Europe: A Case Study from the Czechoslovak Textile Machine Industry

Karen J. Freeze

Abstract

In this paper, I examine the role of management practice and Western partnerships in a revolutionary technology from a Soviet Bloc country: open-end spinning. Debuting in 1967, machines based on this technology tripled productivity in cotton spinning, making life easier for textile workers worldwide. Direct sales or licenses to the West brought Czechoslovakia some 80 percent of its hard currency for over a decade. How could this happen in a Communist country? Exemplary project management: the Czech project leaders understood management practices that became commonplace in the West twenty years later. Equally important were historical infrastructure (Czechoslovakia had been a leading industrial country) and the immediate political and economic context (the reform era that culminated in the Prague Spring of 1968). It benefited from the centrally planned economy: top-down financial support and extreme vertical integration, facilitated close collaboration among researchers, engineers, designers, and machine builders and users. User input from Great Britain and the United States and licensee input from Japan helped turn the machine from a revolutionary innovation into a runaway commercial success.

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