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The decline of managerial capitalism and visionary leadership literature: Revisiting the writings of an automotive industry leader

Journal article
Authors Alexander Styhre
Published in International Journal of Organizational Analysis
Volume 24
Issue 2
Pages 225-245
ISSN 1934-8835
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Business Administration, Management & Organisation
Pages 225-245
Language en
Keywords Organization change, Leadership, Automotive industry, Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, Quality of working life
Subject categories Business Administration


Purpose In the recent literature on financialization and the rise of investor capitalism, the successor of managerial capitalism, which dominated until the 1970s, suggests that the firm is today enacted as a bundle of financial assets managed to create value for the shareholders. This paper aims to demonstrate how such views are established relatively recently by examining leadership literature published in the 1970s, representing an entirely different view of leadership work, the role of the firm and capital–labour relations. Design/methodology/approach Two books and one Harvard Business Review article published by the Volvo CEO Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, one of the most prominent Swedish industry leaders of the past century and one of the architects behind Volvo’s internationally renowned Kalmar and Uddevalla plants in Sweden, are examined. Based on a critical discourse analysis framework, these two volumes are treated as representatives of what Alfred Chandler speaks of as the regime managerial capitalism, today largely displaced by the regime of investor capitalism. Findings Gyllenhammar’s discourses stresses the role of the corporations as serving a wider social community than merely the shareholders, and regard the manufacturing industry as the legitimate site for the development of new production systems better suited to a more educated workforce demanding more qualified work assignments and greater autonomy. This argument, in favour of a view of the corporation as being socially embedded and responsive to wider social needs, can be contrasted against the contemporary view of leadership and corporate governance practice. Originality/value The paper addresses the shift from managerial capitalist regime of the post-Second World War period to the investor capitalism of the financialized economy and the financialized firm by contrasting leadership writing of the 1970s against today’s strong focus on shareholder enrichment and the enactment of CEOs and directors as the servants of the capital owners. A long-term perspective on the changes occurring over the past four decades may enable a better understanding how leadership, governance and industry are subject to ongoing re-interpretations and understanding in the face of novel economic, social and political conditions.

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