Editors' introduction: Business history and the middle east: Local contexts, multinational responses - A special section of enterprise & society Academic Article uri icon


  • Business history is now global history. This is in stark contrast to twenty years ago, when the discipline was based only on U.S., British and, to a lesser extent, German and French empirical foundations.1 The 2003 publication Business History around the World contains area chapters summarizing business history research that essentially cover the world, reflecting the enormous growth in the discipline in Europe, Asia, and Latin America in recent years.2 Moreover, this global spread of coverage has coincided with a thematic maturing, as scholars have diverted their attention from the technologically innovative and managerially intensive, large-scale firm. Big businesses remain a key topic today, but the particular focus is more likely to be their multinationality rather than managerial capabilities. Beyond the traditional topic of large firms, recently published research would appear to have focused far more on small, entrepreneurial and often family-managed firms, or on the role of women and ethnic minority entrepreneurs, and also on business–government relations, and on services rather than manufacturing.3 Indeed, much of this increasing thematic heterogeneity is linked to the growing geographical diffusion. For as the emergence of the modern business institution is studied in settings far removed from the U.S. and British core, features emerge as important in the periphery that have previously been given only subsidiary roles. Moreover, the geographical spread of the discipline must be related to the extraordinary global economic integration seen in recent years. Globalization has driven demand around the world for a better understanding of how businesses and societies responded during the earlier globalization era. This transformation is enormously healthy for the discipline, not only increasing the pool of researchers, but also prompting some substantial and welcome revision to the canonical version of business development in the United States and the United Kingdom.4 Some parts of the globe have, nevertheless, remained aloof. Given its economic and political importance, the most glaring omission is the Middle East. An important justification for this special section is to showcase some recent research on business history in the region, align it with current research in the larger field, and, hopefully, to galvanize further work; for unlike many parts of Europe and Asia, the business history of the Middle East remains a relatively immature discipline.5 The articles in this special section deal with both traditional and emerging themes in business history, examining large and small, family firms, multinational and local firms, managerial strategies and business–government relations. But the focus common to all is on the adaptation of different multinational enterprises (MNEs) to the regional context of the Middle East, on how (and how successfully) Western entrants adapted to the local political structures, varying articulations of nationalism, and the rise of political Islam.6 Andersen and Blaszczyk describe two very different cases of failing to integrate into Iranian business culture. Andersen’s focus on the Danish contractors Kampsax’s construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway suggests that while the firm successfully completed that one project, their insistence on remaining aloof from Iranian political realities and simply relying on the relative neutrality of their Danish origins proved insufficient to maintain their value as intermediaries with Reza Shah.7 Regina Lee Blaszczyk’s analysis of DuPont’s investment in a fiber factory during the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah (Reza’s son) shows that DuPont executives began to engage with the complexities of Iranian business culture and its political realities, but were simply unable to recognize just how large the adjustment needed to be.8 Unable and, certainly in Kampsax’s case, unwilling to adapt, both entrants failed, despite the obvious economic benefits of sustained investment. This may simply have owed much to bad timing, but equally the Western entrants do appear to have been guilty of misreading the internal politics. Moreover, together the two articles suggest that there may have been a more deep-rooted and continuous structural failure in the Iranian political economy to secure FDI. The articles of Koese and Shechter further discuss MNE adaptation in the Middle East. Koese studies the intricacies of Nestlé’s entry into the Ottoman Empire during the first wave of globalization.9 As the firm soon discovered...

publication date

  • January 1, 2008