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The Struggle for Control of the Modern Corporation
Organizational Change at General Motors, 1924–1970


Part of Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences

  • Date Published: April 2006
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521677912

£ 34.99

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About the Authors
  • Winner of the 2005 Business History Review Newcomen Award for best book in business history, The Struggle for Control of the Modern Corporation provides a fascinating historical overview of decision-making and political struggle within one of America's largest and most important corporations. Drawing on primary historical material, Robert Freeland examines the changes in General Motors' organization between the years 1924 and 1970. He takes issue with the well-known argument of business historian Alfred Chandler and economist Oliver Wiliamson, who contend that GM's multidivisional corporate structure emerged and survived because it was more efficient than alternative forms of organization. This book illustrates that for most of its history, GM intentionally violated the fundamental axioms of efficient organization put forth by these analysts. It did so in order to create cooperation and managerial consent to corporate policies. Freeland uses the GM case to re-examine existing theories of corporate governance, arguing that the decentralized organizational structure advocated by efficiency theorists may actually undermine cooperation, and thus foster organizational decline.

    • Combines meticulous archival business history with sophisticated critique of organizational theory
    • No other book offers a comparable account over such a long period of time of the organizational history of a major national asset of the force and quality of GM
    • Presents a new thesis and major challenge to accepted theoretical arguments on the 'multi-divisional form' of organizations
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Undoubtedly, this is one of the most important books on organizations published over the last decade, one that will generate much-needed debate about a topic and a theory that should have been scrutinized a long time ago.' Mauro F. Guillén, American Journal of Sociology

    'Elegantly framed within the overlapping literatures of the rise of the diversified corporate form (Alfred Chandler), transaction-cost economics (Oliver Williamson), and organizational sociology. The Struggle for Control of the Modern Corporation deftly critiques efficiency-based theories of the firm and focuses historical attention on the enduring tension between order and efficiency at the center of any business enterprise.' David Kirsh, Enterprise and Society

    'A bold work of prodigious scholarship that deftly undermines orthodox accounts of the rise and the development of the largest U.S. corporation.' Walter W. Powell, Stanford University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2006
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521677912
    • length: 384 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
    • weight: 0.56kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The modern corporation and the problem of order
    2. Creating corporate order: conflicting versions of decentralization at GM, 1921–33
    3. Administrative centralization of the M-Form, 1934–41
    4. Participative decentralization redefined: mobilizing for war production, 1941–5
    5. The split between finance and operations: postwar problems and organization structure, 1945–8
    6. Consent as an organization weapon: coalition politics and the destruction of cooperation, 1948–58
    7. Consent destroyed: the decline and fall of General Motors, 1958–80
    8. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Robert F. Freeland, Stanford University, California
    Robert F. Freeland is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. He has published in the American Journal of Sociology and Business History Review, and is the recipient of the 1998 Social Science History Association's President's Book Prize for this book.

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