Honorary Member 1998:

David Hickson



Laudatio by Bob Hinings

I first met David Hickson in March 1961. He was one of four people interviewing me for the post of research assistant at the then Birmingham College of Advanced Technology, later to become the University of Aston and the home of the Aston programme of organizational studies.

David had arrived at that position by an unusual route. After a time as Assistant Secretary of the Bristol Stock Exchange, he had gone to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology to pursue his ambition of becoming a personnel manager. However, Reg Revans spotted his potential as a researcher and he went on to do a Master's degree, studying restriction of output in a machine shop. It was from there that he was recruited by the new head of the Department of Industrial Administration at Birmingham CAT, Tom Lupton, and his career as an academic researcher took off. Fortunately for me, the group of interviewers decided to hire me and so began a lifelong association with David as a friend and colleague.


It is a great pleasure and honour to be able to chronicle some of the many events of David's life that have given him such an esteemed place in our occupation, generally, and to EGOS, specifically. He was an important contribution to the Aston studies. Two qualities began to be apparent during that programme. One was his keen sense of the relationship between theory and data. Yes, he wished to spend time sorting out concepts, but equally, it was important to him to collect and analyse data. Another, was his tremendous attention to detail; no one could get away with shoddy work in David's presence. Nothing was to be missed, no stone to be left unturned. These are qualities that have been with him all of his life and have been important to the mark he has made on our field.


But during this time, he was able to appreciate the role of theory more and more and when he was invited to spend time at the University of Alberta, the project he led there bore all the hallmarks of his approach to research. What became known as the strategic contingencies theory of power showed his commitment to theory, his concern with data, and the rigour and thoroughness of his approach to research. From this came his invitation to apply for a professorship at the University of Bradford, where he was to spend the central part of his academic life, from 1970 to now. It was also from the work that he had initiated at Alberta that his lifelong interest in decision making became crystallised.


For the past 28 years, David has worked extensively on issues related to decision making. The book that he and others produced, entitled Top Decisions is an important, far-reaching contribution. It was, and remains, a pathbreaking, benchmark study. During this time, David has dealt with issues of the production of strategic decisions, the shape of the decision making process, the implementation of those decisions, and the nature of organizational processes within which decision making is embedded. David Hickson's name is synonymous wit the study of strategic, macro, organizational decision making.


So, from an academic research perspective, David's contribution has been much more than most of us can hope to achieve. He has been centrally involved in three major studies, which have become part of the accepted canon of literature on organizations, namely, the Aston studies, the strategic contengencies theory of power, and strategic decision making. Surely this is more than enough for any one person. But no, David has also made a massive contribution to our professional community through the European Group for Organizational Studies, and our journal, Organization Studies.


David was one of the small group of people who made EGOS a reality. Soon after arriving back in Britain after his two-year sojourn in Canada, David began to explore the possibility of a European grouping of organizational researchers.

While in North America he had seen the influence of bodies such as the American Sociological Association and the Academy of Management, and, as a committed European (unlike so many British of the 1970s), he also saw the possibilities on a European scale. So, a small group of people, including David, launched EGOS, with its first Colloquium in Breaux-sans-Nappe in 1975.


David's major interest quickly became the possibility of a European-based journal of organizational studies. Again, his experience at Aston and in Alberta had demonstrated the influence and importance of ASQ, but he wanted to see a journal with a non-North American focus come into prominence (although he had doubts about whether it was really a possibility). The birth of Organization Studies has been chronicled by David in an 'Inside Story' in O.S., with its beginnings in a bedroom in Speyer in 1977. Suffice it to say that David was an important midwife in the birth of the jorunal in 1980 and then, of course, served for 11 years as its Editor-in-Chief. It was in this role that David ensured that not only did O.S. get off the ground, but that it became the leading European-based journal for organizational analysis. As an editor, he was tireless in searching out papers and authors, encouraging submissions, giving critical but positive feedback, and encouraging all things associated with the journal. Very few of us have any idea of what it takes, as an Editor, to launch a journal and build it into a leading journal, and when one thinks of this being done in a multi-cultural environment, across nation states and languages, then the challenge is enormous. We owe a great vote of thanks to David for what he has done for us as a community in establishing Organization Studies, and we have to remember that he did this while occupying a chair at Bradford and leading a groundbreaking series of research studies on strategic decision making.


The qualities that made David such a good researcher stood him in excellent stead as an editor. Organization Studies established itself under his editorship because of his concern with theoretical issues; his continued commitment to rigorous empirical analysis; and his commitment to first-class work in every aspect of research and publication. He set standards for all of us who aspired to publish in O.S. that have been continued under the subsequent editorships of Stewart Clegg, John Child and Arndt Sorge. I am sure that all of them recognise the indebtedness that they have to the standards that David set during his tenure as Editor-in-Chief from 1980 until the end of 1990.


It has been a great privilege for me to have been given the opportunity to reflect on the 37 years that I have known David Hickson as colleague and friend, to be given this opportunity to praise his contribution to the set of ideas that make up our field and to what he has done for our professional community of EGOS. But it would be remiss of me not to mention two other aspects of David's life that I know he regards as important. The first is his commitment to teamwork. Right from the days of Aston, David has worked in teams for research and professional purposes. In doing that, he has contributed immeasurably to the life of colleagues and they have contributed in the same way to his life.


The second is his commitment to his family and the reciprocal way that this has operated in his life. Many of you will know his wife, Marjorie, and the difficulties that she has surmounted with incredible strength and optimism. She is an extremely important part of David's life and his success as an academic. His children, Adrian and Lucie, and their spouses, Cheryl and Paul, together with his 5 grandchildren have been, and are, important in providing a space away from academia, in which other interests and activities can be indulged.


So, David, it is with a sense of great privilege that I introduce you as the first Honorary Member of the European Group for Organizational Studies.