Managing and resisting ‘degeneration’ in employee-owned businesses: a comparative study of two large retailers in Spain and the UK
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Storey, J; Basterretxea, I and Salaman, G. (2014): Managing and resisting ‘degeneration' in employee-owned businesses: A comparative study of two large retailers in Spain and the United Kingdom, Organization, 21(5) : 626-644,
Employee-owned businesses have recently enjoyed a resurgence of interest as possible ‘alternatives’ to the somewhat tarnished image of conventional investor-owned capitalist firms. Within the context of global economic crisis, such alternatives seem newly attractive. This is somewhat ironic because, for more than a century, academic literature on employee-owned businesses has been dominated by the ‘degeneration thesis’. This suggested that these businesses tend towards failure – they either fail commercially, or they relinquish their democratic characters. Bucking this trend and offering a beacon - especially in the UK - has been the commercially successful, co-owned enterprise of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) whose virtues have seemingly been rewarded with favourable and sustainable outcomes. This paper makes comparisons between JLP and its Spanish equivalent Eroski – the supermarket group which is part of the Mondragon cooperatives. The contribution of this paper is to examine in a comparative way how the managers in JLP and Eroski have constructed and accomplished their alternative scenarios. Using longitudinal data and detailed interviews with senior managers in both enterprises it explores the ways in which two large, employee-owned, enterprises reconcile apparently conflicting principles and objectives. The paper thus puts some new flesh on the ‘regeneration thesis’.