Creating the new executive: Post-war executive education in a civilization perspective

Rolv Petter Amdam

In the US, executive education defined as short non-degree business school programs, emerged out of the managerial revolution as an offer to assist the new professional top executives to define their role and act accordingly in the context of civilization.  While previous business leaders were embedded in social structures and norms through ownership, the new CEO was detached from such strong ties. These executives needed assistance to develop into actors who could take the process of changing civilization further, or as Professor Fritz Roetliesberger who was one of the creators of the first Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School in 1945, said:  “At that time I decided that my goal was not to make persons into better executives but to make executives into better persons.”

This paper explores the content of executive education from 1945 to the 1970s. Ideas of profitability and efficiency were strongly represented in the new programs. However, the paper offers an alternative cultural-based interpretation of the phenomenon. Post-war executive education was an expression of how the academic community acted according to its societal obligations by offering the new leaders norms and values that could replace what was lost during the managerial revolution. This perspective gives meaning to the observations that these programs discussed issues like how to deal with loneliness, how to cooperate, how to work in team, how to act in the civil society, and even how to be a good dancer. This function legitimized executive education within the business schools, which at time primarily was characterized by a very different logic of scientization.