Abstract: British Business Community and Europe: Strategy, Structure and Investment Trends since the 1950s

John Wilson


With the end of Empire in the 1940s and 1950s, British business was obliged to think seriously about its international orientation. At almost exactly the same time, the nature and ownership of British business was moving from essentially the longstanding proprietorial system to one based on managerial lines. While the latter process was completed only in the 1970s, and Britain did not become a member of the European Economic Community until 1973, it is clear that by the 1960s European linkages were a much more important priority than they had been before. This paper will examine the implications of these dynamic influences on British business strategy, structure, and investment trends, looking especially at the extent to which firms engaged with both Europe and other European firms over a period characterised by extensive change (from the 1960s to the 1990s). At the core of the paper will be a database looking at the Top 50 firms over this period on an annual basis, which will be used to analyse three key issues: business strategy, organisational structure, and corporate governance trends. This will provide a much more detailed understanding of strategy, structure, ownership, and performance (SSOP) trends in British business, as they will be tracked on an annual basis (rather than once per decade). Linked with this SSOP data will be more detailed work on levels of internationalisation, mostly performed through the examination of firms from different sectors. The insights that this will provide into the nature and orientation of the British business community will be of seminal importance to our understanding of its dynamics and character at a time when it was being pressured by a wide range of factors.