Businesses have always operated in a shifting and uncertain environment. Such uncertainty has stemmed from a variety of factors including the surprising behaviour of rivals, the advent of new and sometimes disruptive technologies (such as steam power or electricity), changes in consumer tastes, the tightening or relaxation of regulation, macroeconomic disturbances (such as depressions), natural and industrial disasters, nationalization, political crises and war. The conference seeks to explore how businesses (and business organizations) in the past charted their way through an uncertain world, whether reactively or creatively through reorganization and the development of new strategies to secure an advantage. Failure may be as interesting as success. The conference will also be open to papers and sessions on other aspects of business history.
Some examples of themes that might be addressed are given below, but this list is not meant to be exhaustive.
* The impact of disruptive technologies from the perspective of the innovator and/or the businesses threatened
* Disruptive business models such as mail order, supermarkets, online retailing, flat-pack furniture
* The ways in which firms and industries have tried to predict and anticipate the actions of rivals: for example by developing forecasting tools
* Moulding, identifying and responding to changes in consumer tastes and values: for example the targeting of women consumers by tobacco firms in the 1920s
* Influencing and reacting to changes in the national and international regulatory environment: for example the tightened regulation of banking and financial services around the world after the 1930s depression
* Reconfiguring the organizational structure of the firm or industry in order to create a new advantage, or respond to a new threat
* The behaviour of management under stress, for example at times of financial crisis, or during a natural disaster or industrial accident (such as an a mining explosion)
* The development of management thought on how to cope with uncertainty from the early twentieth century onwards
* Businesses and political uncertainty, including war, nationalization, and the threat of nationalization, and the collapse of existing political structures (e.g. decolonization of the British and French empires, or the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)