Business History

Business History is a featured research topic and an initiative at Harvard Business School.
 
Harvard Business School has a long tradition of investing in business history, and of asserting its central role in management education. In 1927, the School created the first endowed professorship in the field. It also founded the field’s first journal, the Business History Review. Since the work of Joseph Schumpeter at Harvard's Center for Entrepreneurial History in the 1940s, the School has taken an interdisciplinary and global approach to understanding business history. Today business historians at the School investigate a broad range of themes, including entrepreneurship, innovation, globalization, and environmental sustainability.
  1. Overcoming Institutional Voids: A Reputation-Based View of Long Run Survival

    Cheng Gao, Tiona Zuzul, Geoffrey Jones and Tarun Khanna

    Emerging markets are characterized by underdeveloped institutions and frequent environmental shifts. Yet they also contain many firms that have survived over generations. How are firms in weak institutional environments able to persist over time? Motivated by 69 interviews with leaders of emerging market firms with histories spanning generations, we combine induction and deduction to propose reputation as a meta-resource that allows firms to activate their conventional resources. We conceptualize reputation as consisting of prominence, perceived quality, and resilience, and develop a process model that illustrates the mechanisms that allow reputation to facilitate survival in ways that persist over time. Building on research in strategy and business history, we thus shed light on an underappreciated strategic construct (reputation) in an under-theorized setting (emerging markets) over an unusual period (the historical long run).

    Keywords: emerging markets; Institutional voids; reputation; business history; Intangible Resources; Business Ventures; Business or Company Management; Business History; Reputation; Emerging Markets;

    Citation:

    Gao, Cheng, Tiona Zuzul, Geoffrey Jones, and Tarun Khanna. "Overcoming Institutional Voids: A Reputation-Based View of Long Run Survival." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 17-060, January 2017. View Details
  2. Ebony Magazine

    Steven Rogers and Derrick Jackson

    For nearly 75 years, the Johnson Publishing Company has been the most successful African American magazine publisher. Its flagship Ebony magazine was an iconic coffee table fixture for decades in black households of all classes, making founder John H. Johnson the first African American to make the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. But the privately-held company was now in the hands of his daughter and faced the bracing, debilitating winds besetting the entire magazine and newspaper industry. Linda Johnson Rice now had to decide what to do with the publications and brands of the company.

    Keywords: Business restructuring; Decisions; media; race characteristics; corporate entrepreneurship; business history; social history; contemporary history; Innovation and Management; fairness; brands and branding; crisis management; culture; adaptation; consolidation; Fairness; Race; Corporate Entrepreneurship; Adaptation; Consolidation; Culture; Brands and Branding; Journals and Magazines; Decisions; Business History; Restructuring; Innovation and Management; Crisis Management; Media and Broadcasting Industry; Journalism and News Industry; Publishing Industry; Chicago;

    Citation:

    Rogers, Steven, and Derrick Jackson. "Ebony Magazine." Harvard Business School Case 317-043, December 2016. View Details
  3. Historical Change and the Competitive Advantage of Firms: Explicating the 'Dynamics' in the Dynamic Capabilities Framework

    Geoffrey Jones and R. Daniel Wadhwani

    This working paper aims to deepen the scholarly dialogue between strategy and history. It does so by examining how historical models of change can contribute to theory and research on the competitive advantage of firms during periods of rapid innovation. Focusing on the dynamic capabilities framework, it shows how three models of historical change—evolutionary, dialectical, and constitutive—can be used to extend theory and deepen research about the origins, context, and micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities. We show how each model of historical change shaped the intellectual development of the dynamic capabilities framework, point to historical research that illustrates these processes, and discuss the methodological and conceptual implications for future research. We conclude by suggesting that recognizing and building on these historical models of change can provide a common conceptual language for a deeper dialogue between historians and strategy researchers.

    Keywords: business history; strategy; dynamic capabilities; innovation; Change; temporality; context; microfoundations; Business History; Competitive Advantage; Change; Innovation and Invention;

    Citation:

    Jones, Geoffrey, and R. Daniel Wadhwani. "Historical Change and the Competitive Advantage of Firms: Explicating the 'Dynamics' in the Dynamic Capabilities Framework." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 17-052, December 2016. View Details
  4. Moshe Kahlon: Telecommunications Reform and Competition in Israel's Cellular Market (A)

    Joshua Margolis, Amram Migdal and Kerry Herman

    The case addresses reforms to regulations in Israel’s telecommunications industry initiated and implemented under the leadership of Minister of Communications Moshe Kahlon in 2009-2010. The case highlights the challenges faced by a politician attempting to institute regulatory and legislative reforms in the face of uncertainty and resistance from an incumbent oligopoly. When Kahlon entered office, three cellular companies, Pelephone, Cellcom, and Partner (the Big Three), dominated the market. Against Big Three opposition, Kahlon must decide whether to continue pushing changes to introduce new competitors in the industry, remove contract termination fees, and reduce the payment of inter-connection fees between cellular providers, which advantaged incumbent companies and drove up consumer prices. Kahlon applied a distinct political style that won him support from career civil servants within the ministry of communications and ministry of finance, from the press, and from the public.

    Keywords: market reform; political leadership; industry regulation; Regulatory Reforms; Economic Sectors; Private Sector; Public Sector; Ethics; Values and Beliefs; Geopolitical Units; Country; Geography; Government Administration; Government Legislation; Business History; Leadership Style; Leading Change; Market Design; Market Participation; Supply and Industry; Duopoly and Oligopoly; Industry Structures; Telecommunications Industry; Communications Industry; Public Administration Industry; Israel;

    Citation:

    Margolis, Joshua, Amram Migdal, and Kerry Herman. "Moshe Kahlon: Telecommunications Reform and Competition in Israel's Cellular Market (A)." Harvard Business School Case 417-017, October 2016. View Details
  5. The Quiet Ascension of LA Fitness

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    In 2016, LA Fitness was the largest chain of non-franchised fitness clubs in North America, operating 676 clubs, serving 4.9 million members, and generating revenues of over $1.9 billion. Founded by Chinyol Yi, Louis Welch, and Paul Norris in 1984, the privately held company revealed little about its future plans or its operations, leading one journalist to write of “the quiet ascension of LA Fitness.” However, it continued to expand aggressively, focusing on a full-service model, often including swimming pools and racquetball courts at moderate prices. Rumors of an IPO had circulated for over a decade, triggered by the fact that several private-equity houses had invested in the business and might be looking for an exit. In 2014, the company had arranged up to $1.6 billion in debt to fund expansion and buy out some investors. Whether this would be sufficient to appease its owners and support future growth was not clear. Nor was it clear how much more expansion LA Fitness could expect with its full-service model in the highly competitive fitness-club industry.

    Keywords: LA Fitness; health clubs; fitness; gyms; chain; exercise; personal training; retention; Bally Total Fitness; 24 Hour Fitness; Planet Fitness; Buildings and Facilities; Acquisition; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; For-Profit Firms; Customers; Customer Focus and Relationships; Customer Satisfaction; Demographics; Age; Gender; Income; Residency; Borrowing and Debt; Capital; Capital Structure; Cash; Cash Flow; Cost; Private Equity; Financial Condition; Financial Liquidity; Financing and Loans; Investment Return; Price; Profit; Revenue; Geographic Location; Geographic Scope; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Employees; Recruitment; Selection and Staffing; Human Capital; Contracts; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development Strategy; Market Entry and Exit; Operations; Service Operations; Leasing; Private Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Sales; Salesforce Management; Situation or Environment; Opportunities; Sports; Strategy; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Strategy; Competitive Advantage; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Segmentation; Information Technology; Mobile Technology; Technology Platform; Health Industry; United States; California; Los Angeles;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "The Quiet Ascension of LA Fitness." Harvard Business School Case 717-424, October 2016. View Details
  6. The Inexorable Rise of Walmart? 1988—2016

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    In October 2015, Walmart surprised investors by announcing that it expected flat sales growth for 2015 and growth of only 3% to 4% over the coming three years. Profits would also fall due to significant investments in people and technology. The company’s stock price dropped 10% on the news, the largest one-day decline since 1998. In February 2016, Walmart reported that revenues for 2015 had dropped 0.7% to $482.1 billion, the first decline in Walmart’s history. The company also downgraded its sales forecast for the coming year, suggesting sales would now be flat. Meanwhile, online retailer Amazon was growing rapidly and, despite being less than one-quarter of the size of Walmart, now boasted a higher market capitalization. Moreover, in April 2016, Alibaba of China announced that it had passed Walmart in global sales to become the biggest retail platform in the world. To add to Walmart’s woes, in the United States traditional dollar discount stores and convenience outlets were gaining ground, and wage rises were putting pressure on profits. Meanwhile, international markets continued to underperform. Indeed, some analysts had suggested that Walmart retreat to its U.S. home base to improve performance. Many feared that this was the end of the 50+ year inexorable rise of Walmart. However, CEO Doug McMillon remained determined to get the company back on track and vowed to eschew short-term profits and invest in the future. Investors were not impressed. They had waited a long time for improvements; in 2015, Walmart generated three times the sales and profits it had achieved in 1999, and yet the stock price had barely changed. Patience was running out.

    Keywords: Asda; Costco; David Glass; convenience stores; discount retailing; dollar stores; Doug McMillon; e-commerce; online retail; general merchandise; grocery; Lee Scott; Mike Duke; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; Neighborhood Market; Sam Walton; Sam's Club; store formats; Supercenter; supermarket; warehouse clubs; Merchandising; walmart; Wal-Mart; Globalized Firms and Management; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Growth and Development Strategy; Business Units; Business Divisions; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Organization; For-Profit Firms; Film Entertainment; Television Entertainment; Banks and Banking; Price; Profit; Revenue; Food; Global Range; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues; Global Strategy; Business History; Compensation and Benefits; Employees; Human Capital; Labor Unions; Wages; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Management Succession; Brands and Branding; Product Positioning; Distribution; Supply Chain; Supply Chain Management; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Labor and Management Relations; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Advantage; Diversification; Expansion; Segmentation; Information Technology; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Web; Web Sites; Retail Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Distribution Industry; Banking Industry; United States; Arkansas; Bentonville;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "The Inexorable Rise of Walmart? 1988—2016." Harvard Business School Case 716-426, May 2016. View Details
  7. Reinventing Best Buy

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    On February 25, 2016, Best Buy announced a second year of comparable-store sales increases and a 13.5% increase in online sales. These results were in marked contrast to four years of declining comparable-store sales from 2010 to 2013. CEO Hubert Joly, appointed in August 2012, was now in his fourth year of reinventing Best Buy with his "Renew Blue" strategy. When he took over, Best Buy was losing share to Amazon.com, which was encouraging consumers to view products at Best Buy and other physical stores and then buy them for a lower price online, a practice known as "showrooming." Undaunted, Joly had encouraged the practice, convinced that it presented an opportunity to sell to customers as long as Best Buy's prices were competitive. Joly had committed the company to a multi-channel strategy in North America and exited struggling international operations. Operating margins had increased as a result, but growth was still proving elusive. Had Joly done enough to reinvent Best Buy?

    Keywords: Best Buy; Hubert Joly; Renew Blue; showrooming; webrooming; e-commerce; E-Commerce strategy; online retail; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; marketplaces; turnaround; consumer electronics; consumer electronics accessories; appliances; stores-within-stores; store experience; store size; store pickup; store management; Business Subsidiaries; Business Units; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; For-Profit Firms; Customer Focus and Relationships; Customer Satisfaction; Entertainment; Film Entertainment; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Music Entertainment; Television Entertainment; Theater Entertainment; Price; Profit; Revenue; Geographic Scope; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Cost; Selection and Staffing; Reports; Technological Innovation; Job Cuts and Outsourcing; Human Capital; Leading Change; Business or Company Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development; Growth and Development Strategy; Management Teams; Brands and Branding; Product Marketing; Consumer Behavior; Demand and Consumers; Media; Distribution; Order Taking and Fulfillment; Distribution Channels; Infrastructure; Product; Service Delivery; Service Operations; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Programs; Groups and Teams; Sales; Salesforce Management; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Advantage; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Technology; Hardware; Information Technology; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Search Technology; Software; Web; Web Sites; Wireless Technology; Resource Allocation; Computer Industry; Electronics Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Information Technology Industry; Retail Industry; Service Industry; Technology Industry; Telecommunications Industry; Video Game Industry; United States; Minnesota; Minneapolis; Saint Paul; St. Paul;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "Reinventing Best Buy." Harvard Business School Case 716-455, March 2016. (Revised May 2016.) View Details
  8. ASOS PLC

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    Launched in 2000, ASOS was one of the world's largest online fashion specialists in 2016. Focusing on young consumers aged 16–25 years, the company offered over 80,000 items on its websites, many times more than the largest fashion stores, and added several thousand new lines every week. Based in the United Kingdom, ASOS shipped products to 240 countries and territories, and international sales represented more than 50% of total revenues. But when new CEO Nick Beighton took over from founder Nick Robertson in September 2015, he faced some significant challenges. While ASOS was large by online standards, traditional fashion retailers were building their own online sales capabilities, and Amazon was expanding its apparel offering. Meanwhile, new online competitors were emerging at a rapid rate. After ASOS issued several profit warnings in 2014, its growth had slowed to 18% in 2015. Beighton was convinced that ASOS's strategy was right and that the company needed to improve its execution to recapture its historical success. Some analysts were not so sure, and the stock price still had not recovered from its 2014 fall. ASOS' goal was to be "the world's no. 1 fashion destination for 20-somethings." Did this lofty ambition make sense? And did ASOS have the right strategy to achieve it?

    Keywords: ASOS; AsSeenOnScreen; online fashion; online apparel; Nick Beighton; Nick Robertson; e-commerce; E-Commerce strategy; online retail; multichannel retailing; omnichannel; social media; marketplaces; shipping; Advertising; Online Advertising; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Startups; For-Profit Firms; Customer Focus and Relationships; Age; Gender; Currency Exchange Rate; Profit; Revenue; Geography; Geographic Scope; Global Range; Global Strategy; Globalized Firms and Management; Globalized Markets and Industries; Business History; Selection and Staffing; Journals and Magazines; Human Capital; Business or Company Management; Crisis Management; Goals and Objectives; Growth and Development; Growth and Development Strategy; Growth Management; Management Succession; Brands and Branding; Marketing Channels; Marketing Communications; Marketing Strategy; Product Positioning; Social Marketing; Media; Distribution; Distribution Channels; Order Taking and Fulfillment; Infrastructure; Logistics; Public Ownership; Problems and Challenges; Strategy; Adaptation; Business Strategy; Competition; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Expansion; Vertical Integration; Segmentation; Internet; Mobile Technology; Online Technology; Search Technology; Web; Web Sites; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Fashion Industry; Retail Industry; United Kingdom; England; London;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "ASOS PLC." Harvard Business School Case 716-449, March 2016. View Details
  9. IC Group A/S

    John R. Wells and Gabriel Ellsworth

    IC Group owned several of Scandinavia's leading premium fashion brands. How should it respond to the decline of its primary wholesale distribution channels (independent fashion boutiques and department stores)? Should it open more physical stores or focus on e-commerce? Where should the Group focus its international expansion? How could it best leverage its operating platform to drive the profitability of its brands? Should it acquire existing brands or build new ones itself? In short, what should its "omni-channel retailing" strategy be?

    Keywords: IC Group; IC Companys; Carli Gry; InWear; Mads Ryder; Niels Martinsen; premium fashion; fast fashion; Business Units; Business Divisions; Business Growth and Maturation; Business Model; Business Organization; For-Profit Firms; Profit; Revenue; Multinational Firms and Management; Business History; Business or Company Management; Acquisition; Growth and Development Strategy; Brands and Branding; Distribution Channels; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Problems and Challenges; Strategy; Product Positioning; Competition; Competitive Strategy; Corporate Strategy; Vertical Integration; Segmentation; Web Sites; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Fashion Industry; Retail Industry; Scandinavia; Denmark; Sweden; Norway;

    Citation:

    Wells, John R., and Gabriel Ellsworth. "IC Group A/S." Harvard Business School Case 716-446, March 2016. View Details
  10. George Washington and the Foundations of American Democracy

    Tom Nicholas and Matthew G. Preble

    George Washington is perhaps the most well-known of the U.S.'s founding fathers because of his political and military achievements. However, Washington also operated a number of successful business ventures out of his Mount Vernon estate, and he became a landowner on the American frontier. Washington's life and career serve as a lens for understanding the development of the early American economy. Washington was entrepreneurial both economically and politically. He played a central role in helping to structure the new country's national government and developed a number of precedents as the country's first executive.

    Keywords: government; history; leadership; entrepreneurship; George Washington; democracy; Decision Making; Entrepreneurship; Government and Politics; Business History; Leadership; United States;

    Citation:

    Nicholas, Tom, and Matthew G. Preble. "George Washington and the Foundations of American Democracy." Harvard Business School Case 816-019, August 2015. (Revised February 2016.) View Details
  11.  
See all faculty publications on Business History »