Grigor McClelland, CBE – Founder, Editor 1964 – 1966

Professor William Grigor McClelland, CBE, was the Founder and first Editor of the Journal of Management Studies. Academic, businessman, author, and philanthropist, Professor McClelland made significant contributions to many varied areas of public life. In academia, Professor McClelland played an important role in the growth of Management Research and Management Education in the UK. His establishment of the Journal of Management Studies not only gave a home to a then relatively new field in the UK, but a veneer of respectability to a fledgling discipline in the country’s rich research climate. Professor McClelland held the first Fellowship in Management Studies at Balliol College, Oxford. He was also the founding director of the Manchester Business School, one of the two major institutions established during the field’s renaissance in the 1960s. Additionally, Professor McClelland led the major North-East establishment Laws Stores through a number of upheavals in the fifties, and in the late seventies and early eighties. His charitable work had significant impact on the lives of those not only in his native North-East, but also in Russia, China, and post-war Germany – despite the controversy that surrounded such efforts. His CBE was awarded as much for his Quaker-inspired ethic of hard-work and his strong moral compass as his charitable achievements – values which shone through when he subsequently returned the award in the wake of the Iraq war. It was these values, along with his grace and humility, which made Professor McClelland such a pivotal figure in the development of the Management discipline in the UK.

From childhood, Grigor McClelland was steeped in the trades. His parents, Arthur and Jean McClelland (née Grigor), ran the popular North-East grocery company Laws Stores. In his early years, their son gained hands-on experience of many grocery skills – including, as he would later boast, the ability to cut precisely a pound of butter or cheese from a large block. However, it was his academic talents which brought him to the attention of his masters at school, and he was granted a Ruskin Scholarship to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford.

Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II interrupted McClelland’s plans. As a conscientious objector and a devout Quaker, he joined the Friends Ambulance Unit on the frontline in North Africa and during the invasion of Europe, serving in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy and France. After the war, he continued to serve as a Quaker relief worker, working with displaced people and the German population in Ruhr between May 1945 and June 1946. McClelland met many concentration camp survivors during this time, heard Martin Niemoeller speak, and visited the Nuremburg War trials. His wartime experiences affected him deeply, as he would later record in his memoir, Embers of War: Letters from a Quaker Relief Worker in War-torn Germany (1997; London, British Academic Press).

Returning to England in 1948, McClelland took up his scholarship at Balliol, achieving a first class degree in two, rather than the usual three years. He would spend the next decade working for the family business, eventually returning to academia in the 1960s in the role of Fellow in Management Studies at Balliol College – the first incumbent of the newly-created post.

The Founding of JMS

It was at Balliol that Professor McClelland first formulated his plans for the Journal of Management Studies. The position of Research Fellow in Management Studies had a rather loose remit, save the study of the subject in question. While well-established as an academic subject in the US; Management was (in Professor McClelland’s own words) “a new and doubtfully respectable subject” in the UK of the 1960s. Indeed, when interviewed by JMS staff in 2011, Professor McClelland related joking anecdotes of invitations to college dinners to prove he didn’t have “two heads and a tail”. “It struck me,” said Professor McClelland, during one interview, “that one of the things that makes a subject respectable is to have a good journal. And management didn’t have one, at least in this country.”

He duly set about founding one. Naming it in reference to his position at Balliol, Professor McClelland secured corporate sponsorship for the Journal of Management Studies, and began approaching academics both at home and abroad who might be interested in contributing. However, at this early stage he hit a snag: his sponsors expected more of a guide to pre-existing management schools – far from Professor McClelland’s vision for the journal. Instead he aimed to publish material that was “academically respectable and at the same time helpful for practicing managers,” which led to an early clash with his prospective sponsors. The early journal was somewhat different to the JMS of today, publishing two short issues a year, and featuring a reviews section. With the additional aim to help to develop the study of management and its teaching, many of the early papers were on Management Education, which was the hot topic of the time.

In his role as Editor, Professor McClelland also became the Founding Chair of SAMS – the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies, which oversaw the journal. He initially used the trustees as an Editorial Board for the journal, sourcing prominent academics such as Paul Hannika, Pierre Tabatoni and Tom Lupton. This was not only a matter of prestige for Professor McClelland; many of the initial submissions to the journal did not fit his aspirations for rigour and, considering himself new to the field, he sought to appoint a board that would not only guide the direction of the journal, but provide the necessary contacts and expertise to supplement his own. “I think that I used the editorial board for a second opinion, if you like,” he would later recall, “very often having given them my first opinion.”

However, this quote belies Professor McClelland’s attitude towards the role. Having only edited a little previously, in what he referred to as “amateur” journals, he would reveal in the same interview that, he “did not have all the self-confidence inwardly that [I] pretend or traded outwardly” at the time. He spoke of his dismay upon receiving a paper that was not ready for publication, of writing and sending notes to a Professor in the US, and his sense of relief when the academic in question had taken his notes in the same constructive way that he had intended.

As a result of his professional and developmental approach, JMS secured papers from a number of key Management academics, including Derek Pugh and Chris Argyris. One of the journal’s early coups was the seminal paper by Herbert Simon, ‘The business school: a problem in organizational design’ (which appeared in JMS Vol. 4, pp. 1-16), still considered a key paper in the history of the development of management education.

Professor McClelland had never intended to be the sole Editor of JMS, but to recruit Associate Editors to support the role. Indeed, for a while he did consider Paul Hannika to be effectively his co-editor. However, his life was to take a different turn. Following in the footsteps of Bruce Williams, the man he had considered to be his mentor while at JMS, Professor McClelland moved north to take up the post of Founding Director at the newly created Manchester Business School. The Editorship of the Journal was passed to his colleague and SAMS council member, Tom Lupton. This would not mark the end of Professor McClelland’s involvement in JMS, however, and he would remain an active member of the SAMS council for many decades to follow.

At the Forefront of the Development of Management Studies in the UK

Professor McClelland’s contribution to the development of UK Business Management continued in 1965, with his appointment as Founding Director and Professor of Business Administration (from 1967) at Manchester Business School. The school and its partner, the London Business School, were established for many of the same reasons that JMS had been – in response to the poor state of Management in Britain at the time. However, Professor McClelland had a very different vision for Manchester Business School than the traditional outlook of London – an approach that came to be known as the Manchester Experiment.

Having visited a number of US Business schools in 1966 at the invitation of the Ford Foundation, Professor McClelland favoured an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach to the subject, with a loose organisational structure to avoid the formation of professional ‘silos’ in the department. Professor McClelland would appoint chairs and their titles on the basis of originality, seeing this as an important quality in academics. However, he saw the department’s responsibilities as not just to academia, or its national and international stages. He believed the Manchester Business School had a responsibility to a more immediate society: more effective managers would result in companies that generated more wealth – and so more jobs for the region in which they were located, particularly in the school’s native North-West England.

This radical approach of the time was not easily implemented, not least because of the difficulty of accommodating three different groups within the newly formed school; firstly, those from the school’s predecessor, MANSMA (Manchester School of Management and Administration), including Douglas Hague, John Morris and Alan Pearson; secondly, those influenced by the work of Stafford Beer; and the Luptonites, who took their standpoints from Enid Mumford and Tom Lupton.

However, it worked; and not only during Professor McClelland’s directorship, which would last until 1977. Many of the same principles from the Manchester Experiment would form the basis of the Manchester Method – the practical approach to management education, which remains at the core of the school’s MBA programme today. In 2011, when Manchester Business School held a special conference to celebrate Professor McClelland’s work, Tudor Rickard remarked, “Grigor does not, and never did, fit into a box labelled with a leadership style. One possibility which is very much part of his legacy, is that of creativity in leadership.”

A Pioneer in Business

Professor McClelland’s originality in leadership did not just appear in the world of academia. He helmed Laws Stores for a total of 24 years, from 1948 to 1962, and then returning in 1978. There, he introduced modern self-service supermarkets, checkout scanning, and modern warehousing, stock control and distribution systems.

Even after the selling of Laws Stores in 1985, Professor McClelland remained involved in local business. He chaired the Washington New Town Development Corporation and played a key role in bringing Nissan to Sunderland in 1986.

Leading Charitable Works in the North-East of England

The sale of Laws Stores in 1985, in the face of competition from larger grocery chains, allowed Professor McClelland to support one of his other passions in life – charitable works. The Millfield House Foundation was set up by Professor McClelland, with his then wife Diana and four children, to tackle deprivation in the North-East. Grant recipients were often consulted on charity policy, as a way of fulfilling the charity’s aims of supporting organisations that worked towards beneficial social change. As with his war relief work, many of Professor McClelland’s charitable efforts originated in his Quaker roots. Amongst his many associations, he served as both trustee (1956 – 1994) and Chair (1965 – 1978) of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. He also chaired the North East National Lottery Charities Board in the later 1990’s – despite his disapproval of gambling. Professor McClelland was also a co-founder of the Tyne & Wear and Northumberland Community Foundation.

However, Professor McClelland’s charity work was not always so well-received. He was accused of Communist sympathies when, in the 1950’s, he joined Quaker delegations to China and the Soviet Union. He was also a founding trustee of the Anglo-German Foundation, believing reconciliation was important in preventing future wars. His charitable work was part of an overarching philosophy Professor McClelland most eloquently detailed in his 1976 Swarthmore Lecture, published as ‘A New Earth’. In this lecture, he examined his own thoughts on how tomorrow’s society might be better than today’s.

Perhaps Professor McClelland’s most famous achievement is that of his CBE, although it was not the first honour he was offered by the government. It is a little known fact that he turned down an award offered during the Thatcher era. However, he felt that he could not turn down the second – and not because it was awarded during a Labour government. Professor McClelland felt that the CBE – awarded for his services to charity – was a reflection on the work of the entire charity sector within North-East England, and so he duly received it on the region’s behalf.

In 2003, however, Professor McClelland felt moved to return his CBE in protest at Britain’s involvement in the war in Iraq – a decision which attracted praise. He would subsequently ask for it to be returned again in 2009, when troops pulled out of the country. This was partly out of duty to the charity workers of Tyne and Wear, but also because, upon returning it, he had received a receipt stating that he could have it back any time he liked, and this had tickled him somewhat.

A Life of Contrasts

In such a rich and varied life, it would be easy to overlook Professor McClelland’s achievements as an academic. He was a widely published scholar, with papers in the Journal of Industrial Economics and Management Today, amongst others. He is also the author of both Costs and Competition in Retailing (Macmillan; 1966) and Studies in Retailing (Blackwell; 1963). Following his time at Manchester Business School, he served as an unpaid advisor to Durham University Business School, later becoming a Visiting Professor. He was also awarded a Doctorate in Civil Law.

Due to his academic and professional expertise, Professor McClelland was also reputed for his consultancy services. He acted as advisor to Harold Wilson’s administration in the late ‘60’s. He was also a member of the National Economic Development Council and the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation, and chaired the EDC for Retail Trades. Even after retirement, he never lost his thirst for exploring new perspectives and approaches to Management. Professor McClelland remained in regular communications with the JMS staff, even after leaving the SAMS council in 2009. Just a few years ago, Professor McClelland expressed surprise at the sheer number of new submissions the journal was receiving and suggested ways in which the quality of submissions could be improved.

A sharp and original thinker, Professor Grigor McClelland pioneered new approaches to Management scholarship and education during its revival in the UK during the 1960s. As remarked by the Dean of London Business School, Sir Andrew Likierman, “At a time when most managers believed in the University of Life and few thought management could be taught or researched, Grigor was well ahead of his time. He understood that academics and practitioners could usefully talk to each other and that the best management education would come from a combination of theory and practice.” His inventive, multifaceted approach continues to have far reaching impacts on business management practice and academia in the UK. Meanwhile, his dedication to the improvement of society left a lasting legacy to his works not just in the North of England, but across post-war Europe.

In the Journal of Management Studies, Professor McClelland founded what remains one of the most internationally renowned academic publications in the discipline of Business Management. For more than 50 years, JMS has stood testimony to Professor McClelland’s vision of a home for rigorous scholarship and innovative theoretical thought – and this is reflected in the Journal’s placement in the Financial Times top 45 research rankings. It is only fitting that the Journal continues to honour him with the annual Grigor McClelland Doctoral Dissertation Award, awarded to those students who have shown originality in critical thinking within their own research.

Yet these values are not Professor McClelland’s only legacy to JMS. His developmental approach to editing, his lack of ego, and his personal touch have come to form the core values of the Journal’s approach to rigorous scholarship, and continue to inspire the constructive approach of its editors.

On the eve of the Journal’s recent 50th anniversary, Professor McClelland was asked why he had worked so tirelessly to develop management education and to make such a difference to society. He only replied that he had been fortunate to be able make such a contribution.

Professor William Grigor McClelland, CBE passed away in November 2013, due to complications from pneumonia.