“This business history group has become one of the five most important research groups in the world.” Geoffrey Jones, Harvard Business School

September 19, 2014


Published in General News


Here is how the 40-year anniversary of the History and Entrepreneurship Group (HEG) was celebrated

"The History and Entrepreneurship Group has become one of the five most important research groups in the world." Geoffrey Jones, Harvard Business School." Geoffrey Jones, Harvard Business School
In 1974, an industrial engineer discovered the social sciences in his study abroad period and created a course called: The History of Entrepreneurial Development in Colombia. The course became a foundation for the School of Management's teaching, research and dissemination activities for four decades.

The engineer was Enrique Ogliastri; a professor in the then recently founded School of Management. At first, he accompanied Carlos Caballero—the first to offer the course—and then proceeded to teach the course over the following six years.

In the second half of the 70s, another two industrial engineers also undertook their graduate studies in Management and disciplines belonging to the field of social sciences (Carlos Dávila and Manuel Rodríguez). Back then; the professors worked in Industrial Engineering and the School of Arts and Sciences respectively. Each, from the perspectives of their academic fields, worked on research and teaching of Colombian business history until, years later, when they did so at the School of Management.

Saturday 26th of July saw the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the History and Entrepreneurship Group (HEG). The School, the Harvard business School (HBS) and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (Harvard University, U.S.) organized a meeting of reputable business history researchers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Spain, U.S., Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. The event lasted the entire day and included ten presentations, each followed by a lively exchange with the audience.

Javier Yáñez, Dean of the School of Management, opened the event by thanking the academics present "for building a line of research that enriches the dimensions of administrators, executives, managers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs and historians." Teaching, research and dissemination of business history are one of the features that distinguish the School of Management from other similar schools in Latin America, and, despite the fact that it has helped to promote the subject, it is only taught to MBA students in Colombia and Argentina. In other countries, it has not yet been linked to Management studies but rather to postgraduate studies in economic science and humanities.

Achievements and challenges
Geoffrey Jones, unchallenged global leader in business history studies and successor of Alfred Chandler (HBS), a pioneer in this field who presides the Entrepreneurial History initiative at Los Andes, outlined the contributions made by History and Entrepreneurship Group:

"When business history studies began, the only information available was from developed countries. No one considered Latin American cases. This group has changed this; it has created knowledge about the region and transmitted its experience to the world. But the greatest achievement is that the group is an example to follow. Research is important, of course it is, but imaginative and successful teaching is indispensible. And the School achieves this through pure ambition and not the Harvard has."

As far as the challenges posed by teaching for the History and Entrepreneurship Group, Xavier Durán (a researcher in the Group) pointed out that one such challenge is bolstering the ability to communicate to the students the uses of basic historical concepts. For example, the idea of context that means the environment in which businesses operate can change gradual or quickly and according to this rhythm they can make better managerial decisions about the future. "What is important is to raise awareness on how businesspeople play a role in which they are responsible for the country's successes and failures," he indicated.

Teaching: the energy behind research and driving force of HEG for four years

Luis Fernando Molina's presentation on teaching business history in undergraduate, MBA and managerial level training courses (Senior Management), illustrated that what some of the professors in the HEG have been teaching semester in, semester out since 1974 has been key to the Group's sustainability. Faced with the need to bolster the teaching body, the HEG members began researching Colombian business. Mr. Molina highlighted the institutionalization of the HEG's teaching methodology as a central element beyond the classroom: "The key to there being research and publications is the strength in teaching."

Molina talked about research practices undertaken by the students on their courses, consulting archives and notary offices, or carrying out interviews to write biographies of businesspeople. He also mentioned the heterogeneity among students who range from young undergraduate students to managers and businesspeople taking the Senior Management Program in Bogota and other cities around the country. "It is clear that they are not going to be academic researchers but rather decision makers. But this experience, which is part of their education if they have opted to study at this university, leads them to respect and understand research as a task and as a way to train researchers for academic production dealing with business history."

If it is not in writing, it does not exist

Carlos Dávila referred to the importance of publications: "If studies are not published, they don't exist," he said before announcing two new publications. The first, a book in English about the Fundación Social and series of articles on Latin America including Colombia, published in the Australian Economic History Review. "But it is not about publishing for the sole purpose of being cited and increasing impact among the academic community. As mentioned by Luis Fernando Molina, what counts is how to make the little that is done be taken on by other social sectors. Other audiences are not going to read our article in Australian Economic History Review, that is why we need to publish in other media," advised Dávila.

The members of the HEG have been authors, co-authors or compilers of 27 books, including Historia de Colombia. País fragmentado, sociedad dividida (The history of Colombia. Fragmented country, divided society) by Marco Palacios and the U.S. Professor Frank Safford, and Empresas y empresarios en la historia de Colombia. Siglos XIX-XX (Companies and entrepreneurs in Colombian history, XIX and XX centuries) two volumes edited and compiled by Carlos Dávila. Safford affirmed that he considered the latter "a monument;" an "accessible book with essays that are easy enough for a non-expert reader to understand."

The HEG has also published chapters in books, articles and critical reviews in national and foreign publications and it has contributed to the editorial series: Monografías y Mejores Proyectos de Grado (Papers and better research projects) published by the School.

Today, the Group enjoys the contribution of works by historians Luis Fernando Molina and Marco Palacios, economists Beatriz Rodríguez and Xavier Durán, and anthropologist Ana Milena Fayad.

The good old days weren't always that good

"The best thing I have done as Dean is rehiring Carlos Dávila and Enrique Ogliastri," said Manuel Rodríguez, remembering that Ogliastri had left the School in 1980 having handed in a long letter of resignation. Dávila, on the other hand, had resigned in 1981 having delivered a public communication. He had followed the lead of five professors who had resigned from the engineering department making their reasons known in the same way. All of these resignations were brought about by differences in terms of academic orientation and policies imposed by the university at that time.
"To begin with, Carlos had his doubts about coming back because he was happy and doing well in Universidad Javeriana, but I think what convinced him and others such as Enrique Ogliastri and Ignacio Vélez, was that we planned a group project to build a great School of Management." Enrique had come back from Harvard in 1985 and Carlos came back in 1987 together with another two professors to make this group project a reality.

Since then, the History and Entrepreneurship Group has been one of the most distinguished groups belonging to the School of Management. A group with intellectual autonomy that does not come about by teaching static knowledge, but rather constantly seeking to change present and future businesspeople's understanding of their country's trajectory and the role of businesspeople and businesses in the country's economic development.

There is still a long way to go, which is why the HEG studies business successes as they happen; it does not separate large-scale economic history from small-scale businesses but rather it integrates them and looks to the future. "We don't think that the good old days were always so good. We believe in the future," says Carlos Dávila. "Our field is moving towards a strengthening of national and international networks, driven by a need to inspire in students a sense of being the actors of their time and place, and one of responsibility in their professional actions."

We would also like to highlight the presentations by Andrea Lluch (CONICET – Argentina, and co-organizer of the event with Xavier Durán), Manuel Rodríguez and Carlos Caballero of Uniandes and Enrique Ogliastri (currently at INCAE, Costa Rica, and the Instituto de Empresa, Spain) who sent a text, which was read by Gustavo González.

For the day's highlights, browse through our photo gallery at Facebook oficial


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