Abstract: Alfred Chandler: Change in Business—Crisis or Evolution?

Eric Godelier


Should a company's history be viewed as a series of relatively stable periods punctuated by crises in its environment? Or should it be viewed as a political and continuous process managed as a series of decisions and negotiations? This paper aims to analyze the concepts of strategic change, and the collective entrepreneurial and managerial role in the implementation of changes in corporate structure and strategy. It will raise several questions. If changes in the environment impose a reshaping of corporate strategy, who takes action: the managers, especially the leaders, or potentially each employee who knows the enterprise's environment and its evolution? If there is a specific category of actors in charge of shaping the new strategy, how will they persuade the rest of the employees to implement the decisions? Trying to understand the strategy process presupposes questioning the hypothesis of unpreparedness or the influence of urgency on people's rationality and knowledge. To progress on these important issues, what conclusions can be drawn out from business history and especially from Chandler's work? Chandler's approch is based on a short-term and brutal break symobolized by a crisis, whereas there are other analyses—for instance that of Pettigrew, who supports the idea of progressive and long-term change. These discussions will enable us to understand how history selects the best-fitted corporation through a kind of Darwinian competitive evolution. Business history, especially Chandler's work, can help to clarify the notion of individual and corporate resistance to change and top-down management procedures.