Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm

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Krupp's Millions (1952)

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Harold James - Project Syndicate

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A History of the Legendary German Firm

Citing articles via Google Scholar. Such aspects of practice were real but they were always mediated through and often significantly tempered by strong commitments to family independence, and to the maintenance of the social importance of the family within German society. This social ambition involved a very strict sense of social and political duty and obligation that was directed toward many social locations, even as the firm sought to compete in rapidly changing German and European steel, machinery, and armaments markets: toward Krupp workers; toward competitors, customers, and clients; and toward the German state.

For example, Krupp owners felt responsibility for the welfare and education of their employees investing in housing, pensions, hospitals, and schools in Essen and elsewhere at the same time that they relied on them for the manufacture of increasingly sophisticated products. In the same way, James shows how Krupp pushed the development of metallurgical and armament technologies in ways that benefited its suppliers and even other noncompeting machinery and steel manufacturers as much as it did Krupp itself--in some cases even without any direct benefit to the firm.

Indeed, for a company as long-lived as Krupp, it is remarkable to see how frequently the company had to endure debt-induced financial crises.

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The firm made profits, but that was far from the signal end toward which company managers oriented themselves. Essentially, the story of Krupp that James tells is one about the continual use and transformation of market and capitalist practices in the service of a social and political ideal of the family and of enterprise in Germany.

As indicated above, James is more concerned in this book to lay out this story in a freshly coherent form, than he is to extensively address challenges to his argument or ambiguities that his case engenders regarding dimensions of firm practices and strategy that exist in the scholarly literature. James retreats a bit from the strong historical sociological claim of that book, which suggests that family firms float to the top when there is political and economic uncertainty in the development process.

In his current book he places far more emphasis on the political, social, and cultural positioning strategies of the family firms, on the one hand, and the ever-changing motivations of governments on the other to account for the reproduction of the family firm ideal. Putting that to the side, even with that strong earlier book as background, there are certain aspects of the story that one wishes James had spent a bit more time on. To take simply two examples: how did the avoidance of debt and the joint stock enterprise property form figure into the social and political self-understanding of the Krupp family in mid-nineteenth-century Germany?

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It would be good to know the legal and political thinking behind that reflex within the family. Or how, in the current period, does the Stiftung property structure not only reproduce the old family cultural-political commitments, but also transform them?

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Many of the values, both economic and social, that had earlier been expressed by a family idiom are now being constructed with some distance from the real existence of a family. How do those notions of order fit into contemporary German legal and political thinking about economic governance? It would have been interesting to hear some extended discussion of this sort of thing in the book. These criticisms are not so much that James overlooks these things, as it is that he passes over them a tad too quickly and breezily without bringing their truly fascinating character strongly enough to light. At some point, it would be interesting to see James develop these centrally important aspects of the distinctive German business system in a more rigorous academic way.

On its own terms, however, the book is quite successful and really endlessly fascinating. It is a great introduction to the distinctiveness of German business and to the remarkable history of the Krupp enterprise. Citation: Gary Herrigel. H-War, H-Net Reviews.

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