This research project deals with the role and influence of revered organizational founder figures (e.g., Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and closer to home, Alphonse Desjardins, the founder of the Desjardins Group in Quebec) on the discourse, identity and strategies of their organizations after their demise. The project is inspired by the observation that on the one hand, the invocation of such figures may potentially contribute to sustaining organizational values and identities over many decades (as seems to be the case for Desjardins whose founder died in 1920). Yet on the other hand, reverence for such figures could also become a constraint to organizational change as Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005 discovered when she attempted to drive the firm in directions not foreseen by the firm’s founders. In other words, the invocation of founder figures in internal and external organizational communications could have important consequences for strategic decision making, and for the destiny of organizations and of their current leaders. The power of such symbols is likely to be enhanced for figures with long tenure or for those whose entrepreneurial initiatives created or transformed industry or society. Yet few scholars have considered systematically the questions of how, why and with what effects such key figures maintain their presence in organizational discourses over time, despite their absence in the flesh. Specifically, we ask the following three questions:
1. How and for what purposes do organizations invoke founder figures in their internal and external communications following their demise, and how and why does this evolve over time?
2. How are founder figures mobilized during critical episodes of strategic or organizational change?
3. When, why and with what consequences might founders become contested symbols within organizational discourses and counter-discourses?
Ann Langley (HEC)
Joëlle Basque et Viviane Sergi (UQAM)
CRSH (Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines)
Subvention de développement Savoir
Secteur de recherche
Transformations sociales, organisationnelles et professionnelles en contexte d'internationalisation, d'informatisation et de multiculturalisme
2018 - 2021
57 687,00 $