Transferring and Transforming Management Knowledge: How American Management Theory Helped to Legitimize German Codetermination



This paper investigates German codetermination – labor representation on the boards of directors – from the perspective of the Americanisation of (West) Germany after 1945. The paper discusses the role of Erich Potthoff, who played a crucial behind-the-scenes role, as the intellectual father of codetermination as a management practice. Potthoff helped to legitimize codetermination in German management theory, partially based on American management theory.  It was Potthoff who integrated American management theory into longstanding demands by German labor for industrial democracy, helping to legitimize codetermination as a modern human resource and management practice that helps make firms work more effectively—in theory. The Potthoff-codetermination story integrates three larger narratives in one, but in reworked and unique ways.  Ultimately, it is a story of creative (mis)appropriation that often occurs when ideas, practices, or firms move abroad.  In its spirit, it is much like the story of Japan—borrowing Western models for its navy, army, central bank, postal system, police, education, and even western dress—but somehow managing to remain quite “Japanese”.
Jeff Fear has taught in the History Department and for the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business at the University of Pennsylvania.  He also taught Creating Modern Capitalism and Business, Government and International Economics at the Harvard Business School.
The paper can be downloaded here
The Business History Seminar has been made possible by financial support from the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) and the Vereniging Trustfonds Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.
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