Strategists – free or bound? : On individuality and typicality among CEOs

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to articulate and describe interpretations/ideas of companies, and to re-contextualize strategists, and to discuss strategists as free or bound, guided by the broader sociological framework framing strategists as individual subjects within an institutionalized (objectified) context of business. This thesis departs from a notion of “companification” in and among organizations as a process of diffusion of institutionalised practices and ideas of companies and raises the question of how practicing strategists interpret companies in an institutionalised environment (business society). In theory strategists are discussed in strategic management as from within a business society where ideas of companies and strategists interpretations of companies are part of the background of these theories and models. A cognitive/interpretive perspective in strategic management is discussed as elaborating on strategists’ interpretations/ideas from within a business society e.g. by focusing on strategists in competitive environments. In this thesis strategists are re-contextualised as part of a wider institutionalised (objectified) business society. Theoretically, institutionalised environments are discussed within the new institutional theory, redefining organisational environments as social/cultural, rather than technical or socioeconomic. At the same time in institutional theory the question of strategic choice is discussed but given less attention as the reproduction and stability of social/cultural structures are focused. A theoretical point of departure is thus, that strategists are either discussed as interpreters within a framework including a silent idea of companies or as less strategic within an institutional framework. Thus, are strategists free or bound? The thesis raises the question of how can these two separate theoretical perspectives can contribute to an understanding of strategists as interpreters in institutionalized business society, guided by the broader sociological framework of Berger & Luckmann. What do companies mean to strategists and what are strategists’ interpretations/ideas of companies?Empirically, these research questions are elaborated on in an interpretive study of five CEOs. In a radical reinterpretation of the interview situations inspired by Schutz’s writings on the subjective experiences of/in everyday life, the interview situations are explored by elaborating on typicality and individuality expressed by the CEOs. The CEOs are reinterpreted as biographically situated individual typical/social subjects, as typical actors doing typical things among fellow men. Individuality among the CEOs is interpreted as patterns in each CEOs agenda and typicality is interpreted as patterns among the CEOs’ respective agendas. In the thesis interpretations of individuality and typicality among the CEOs are described. In particular the CEOs descriptions of changes in ownership situation are elaborated on as contributing to a specific typicality among the CEOs. The context of the stock exchange, including a new set of fellow men characterised as typical actors, is discussed as a possible institutionalised environment contributing to similarities in the CEOs’ agendas. From an everyday life perspective on CEOs as strategists, they are discussed as free in creating their version of their respective companies and in defining their companies as a unique actor within the context of the industry, which in strategic management is elaborated on in terms of the competitive environment. From an everyday life perspective on CEOs, they are discussed as bound in dealing with representatives of the financial markets which includes communicating with typical actors as CEOs of listed companies. Strategists, defined as dealing with the company’s relationship with its environment in a broad sense, are in this study described as both free and bound. From an everyday perspective strategists in listed companies are described as dealing with more than the competitive environment as elaborated on in strategic management and further research on strategists in the context of institutionalised business society is advocated, e.g. in relation to the practice turn in strategy research. The centrality of reflection in interpretive research in management is also advocated throughout this thesis.

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