Research leadership as entrepreneurial organizing
Finn Hansson ÆMette Mønsted
Published online: 10 July 2007
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007
Abstract The paper discusses research leadership in public universities under change and
the role of entrepreneurial strategies in research. Research leadership function today
in situations where the New Public Management movement one the one hand have
introduced management by accountability and control in the university while on the other
hand open boundaries to other knowledge organizations, arenas and networks, and creation
of resources are becoming more important than ever. Hence, an entrepreneurial strategy is
more important than traditional managerial skills in order to produce new knowledge
centres. By analysing two cases on the construction of new research groups, we will
introduce new perspectives on research leadership, where dilemmas, uncertainty and
complex relations to other managerial systems in the universities are in the forefront. The
paper presents an important contribution to the understanding of a special form of creating
new knowledge production in the university by means of organizational entrepreneurship.
Keywords Organizational entrepreneurship Research leadership Universities
Research conditions at universities have changed drastically in recent years. Calls for
greater utility of research and more cost-beneﬁt oriented evaluation from the political
system may not yet have changed the content of research, but it has changed the way
research is initiated, organised and funded. Applied research areas such as medicine,
engineering and business economics are all under pressure to get funding from external
F. Hansson (&)M. Mønsted
Department of Management, Politics & Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School,
Porcelænshaven 18 A, 2000 Frederiksberg, Denmark
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
resources, but also to be able to document the applicability of their research. Not only are
they increasingly obligated to apply research, they are also expected collaborate with a
variety of partners in order to gain access to research data and funding. Whether in the
natural sciences and medicine, where research has primarily been tied to large project and
laboratories, and in the social sciences and cultural studies, which have a tradition for
individualised research, these new pressures can be felt.
In Denmark, as in most Western countries, the frameworks for research in these scientiﬁc
disciplines has been challenged in these ways, both by limited public resources for uni-
versities, and by a structure that distributes resources in competition in research councils,
different strategic research foundations and EU-funding agencies. Research contracts and
collective agreements stress the importance of individual research time and the right of
researchers to choose their research methodology. But limited research resources for uni-
versities and the pressures of mass education underscore the need for external funding.
On this background, this article analyses cases and narratives of research entrepreneur-
ship, the creation of new research centres, and the emergence of new research ﬁelds. A
number of cases from the Copenhagen Business School tell the story of how new research is
created on the boundary of disciplines. These stories are about entrepreneurs, networking and
frameworks for new research. The curiosity, engagement, and passion of the entrepreneurs in
the organization create new networks and emerging structures for new opportunities of
research. The paper is based on interviews and narratives with both academic entrepreneurs
and some young researchers involved in these initiatives at the Business School. We have
interviewed a number of research-entrepreneurs, as part of an ongoing project both in
Denmark and in Spain. The analysis covers the opening of new research perspectives, the
emergence of new forms of networking and organizing, and the initiation of new types of
collaboration with industry and public sector institutions. The classical management per-
spective covers only a very limited part of the process, and creativity and entrepreneurship
are fundamental variables for understanding the development of new research ﬁelds.
The research on entrepreneurial organizing is part of a larger study of research lead-
ership. It is based on detailed studies of the practices and strategies in a ﬁeld following the
trail of critical incidents. The project contributes new knowledge about the role of research
leadership by focussing on leadership in action and the role of strategy in research, and it
offers a different perspective than normally found in sociology of science and science-
and-technology-studies, where focus often has been on different organizational patterns
(Whitley 2000) or epistemic cultures in large research organizations (Knorr-Cetina 1999).
We want to show some of the entrepreneurial actions speciﬁc to these types of institutions
at the outer limit of range in which the success criteria from the classic university, namely,
scientiﬁc publication, can be applied. The emphasis on the relevance and application of
research in industry not only creates a new market for research dissemination, but also a
new source of research cases and funding. Academic entrepreneurs in these organizations
create networks and mobilize resources outside the organization. By manoeuvring in the
existing bureaucracies for internal resources, they appear to be deploying a strategy of
combining different principles for organizing. We analyse how researchers develop re-
sources and become research leaders.
New context for entrepreneurship
New entrepreneurial strategies have emerged to combine external and internal resources in
the effort to expand new research ﬁelds. An understanding of entrepreneurial leadership
652 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
among leadership researchers is therefore increasingly relevant to our understanding of this
ﬁeld, where organizational entrepreneurship and creation of networks thrive on asymmetric
knowledge (West 2003; Johannisson and Mønsted 1997; Johannisson 1998). The general
context has changed, and the ability to organise in this new context has become the ability
to engage a highly entrepreneurial activity.
A new framework for entrepreneurial action among researchers has emerged and can be
summarized as follows.
(1) The entrepreneurial researchers apply for large projects in order to win resources to
cover the costs of PhD students, postdocs, administration, travel and conferences
participation. In this way a research group or centre is established as a basis for
further research, and for a change in the research proﬁle of the involved parties. The
action of organizing is a condition for understanding the dynamics of research, and
for understanding the allocation of resources.
(2) Most European funding is tied to collaborative networks of researchers that cross both
national borders and the boundaries between universities and ﬁrms. Funding institu-
tions encourage forms of networking and organizing that run parallel to existing
university structures of disciplines and departments and sometimes even compete
with them. The demand for co-funding in international and national research schemes
challenges the traditional university structure.
(3) There is a much stronger emphasis on applied research, i.e., research that is relevant
for industry and often co-funded by industry. The types of collaborations in this area
are developing, and open up for a discussion of the role of dissemination of research,
both as a criterion of relevance, but also as access to doing relevant research.
(4) The classic performance criteria of publishing, which have been different in different
disciplines, are getting increasingly standardized for international reviewed journals,
even if the social science tradition has had a broader set of criteria for quality in
These combined conditions create a context where new initiatives can be formed in networks
that mobilize funding agencies, as well as private and public organizations. It is considered a
positive feature of a research program to have strong ties to industry and to get external
funding. Academic entrepreneurs are those who have the ability to manoeuvre both externally
in collaboration with ﬁrms and public organizations, as well as internally to integrate
initiatives with permanent positions. In this way they create opportunities for research and
research centres. The ability to create these opportunities becomes one of the most important
leadership competences of research managers. The focus is shifting from individual social
scientists to team-based research groups and this call for collaboration in networks across
boundaries. The changing conditions open up possibilities to create other forms of organizing,
and viewing new opportunities in new combinations of disciplines and practice.
Organizing research in universities is often associated with the fact that research is only
one among other activities performed by universities (Blau 1973). In the ﬁeld of science
and research, the same process of modernization is often described as a shift from a
classical, disciplinary approach to knowledge production toward a more transdisciplinary,
open form of organizing. Once we add the recent demands for research communication and
dissemination in society, the complexity of long-term planning and execution of research
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 653
programmes come clearly into view in the university. Nowotny et al. (2001) has labelled
this process the passage from Mode 1 to Mode 2 knowledge production, while others have
focused on the changed relations between industry and university as captured by the concept
of Triple Helix (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 2000) or a shift toward an entrepreneurial
university (Clark 1998; Rinne and Koivula 2005). While this description has been criticized
in its details,
we have without doubt witnessed a disappearance of the knowledge
monopoly traditionally held by individual scientiﬁc disciplines speciﬁcally and universities
in general, and at the same time as we are adding more success features, the classic
performance criteria from mode 1 are strengthened. Dealing with this new situation in the
university requires creative and innovative leadership. Competing for research funding and
recruiting human resources is now integrated with obligations related to teaching and
research communication in the daily activities of the research institution. The ongoing
competition between research, management tasks and teaching must serve as the starting
point for an analysis of research leadership and the construction of the space of opportunity
for scientiﬁc projects in organizations with distributed knowledge (Tsoukas 1996).
The literature on new organizational theory has focused directly on the new questions
and new demands for institutional or organizational changes in how to create and organize
knowledge production (Jacob et al. 2003; Shane 2003; van de Ven et al. 1999; Tsoukas
2005). It has introduced a number of novel concepts in order to analyse the ongoing
turbulent changes in (private) knowledge organizations. Granovetter’s (1973,1983) classic
studies of the important role of social relations in exchange processes are elaborated further
in Adler and Kwon (2002) in order to understand how teams are built on tight networks,
and how the access to social capital and contacts outside the internal team are important for
getting relevant new ideas. These theories have demonstrated the central importance for
the analysis and understanding of the dynamics of knowledge creation in the new econ-
omy. They have shifted the focus in organizational knowledge production from bureau-
cratic forms toward open network relations. The new agenda for the knowledge producing
organization has not only made its way into organizational theory (DiMaggio 1992; van de
Ven et al. 1999; Tsoukas 2005; Scott 1995) but has been implemented in knowledge-based
These quite different approaches have one thing in common; they all question the
relevance of established ideas of the linear implementation of knowledge, running from the
original research and innovation to the application and commercial product. Managing
the knowledge production in universities has traditionally been understood as a role any
researcher was able to fulﬁl if properly supported by administrators. Up till today this has
been reinforced by the very deep-rooted tradition for electing people to ofﬁces in the
university without special leadership or management skills. This approach has supported
the focus on formal management systems in the administrative staff of universities to be
distinguished from the kind of leadership task that is related to ‘real’ scientists or to those
initiating new research. Traditions in universities has to an overwhelming degree focused
on the tension between scientiﬁc excellence and leadership and managerial skills, until
recently (Connell 2004; Taylor 2006) excluded the problems raised by the new knowledge
management theories related to the production and use of knowledge in the organization,
The analysis by Gibbons et al. (1994) and Notwotny et al. (2001) has been criticized for lack of sys-
tematically empirical support and for exaggerating the importance of various observations (Aude
Fuller 2001; Weingart 2000; Godin 1998). Despite these criticisms, however, there seems to be broad
agreement that recent changes in modern science and knowledge production is owed mainly to the growing
inﬂuence of market forces on science.
654 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
where these depend on the less predictable ‘soft’ processes, whether individual or orga-
nizational. In recent years, the demand for strong management and leadership increases
seriously as this is an important criteria for external funding especially from the EU, but
also from other large strategic funds.
One major difﬁculty in the literature on research management is the often undifferen-
tiated use of the concepts of management and leadership. In this paper, we will differ-
entiate between these two concepts (Yukl 1989) by restricting the use of the concept of
management to activities guided by formal rules, regulations and administrative practices,
i.e., activities that are directed at meeting the bureaucratic demands of university. Research
management, on this view, is the management of resources, including the persons involved
and the different obligations they have to fulﬁl. But our key ﬁeld of interest is in the
constitution of entrepreneurial leadership to lead and build up research groups, i.e.,
the concept of research leadership as entrepreneurial leadership. It is close to the
perspective of ‘‘performing entrepreneurship’’ as a constant process of becoming,
inventing, and staging new social realms in order to attain relevant knowledge and per-
formative resources (Steyaert 2004, p. 19; Hjorth 2003).
New research ﬁelds in institutions are developed by organizational entrepreneurs, who
see a potential and generate resources for a new ﬁeld. Taking seriously the arguments for
changes in research toward more collective organizations and transdisciplinary work
(Nowotny et al. 2001), we argue that these problems cannot be analysed from the per-
spective of traditional management theory but need to be approached from two of the
central discourses on the knowledge creating organization and organizational entrepre-
neurship. Our goal is to present a convincing case of the new conditions for constructing
research organizations and acting as research leaders, and thus challenge theoretical
frameworks for analysing leadership as it grows up and develops in the university.
In research leadership, we focus on two aspects, highlighted in studies of knowledge
companies: the role of networks and brokerage (Burt 1997,2005) and thus the role of
social capital (Bourdieu 1981,1998) and organizational entrepreneurship (Hjorth 2003). In
the knowledge organization, working with temporary organizational structures, rapid
organizational changes and networks are some of the characteristics of a new kind of
organizational entrepreneur. He or she is working in and between internal and external
networks, and on very short-lived networks as well as long-lasting ones. In addition, if we
combine the idea of networking entrepreneurship with Burt’s (1992,2005) discussion of
structural holes and brokerage, where the broker sees ‘entrepreneurial opportunities’ in the
structural holes in the networks and proﬁts from establishing bridges (Burt 1992, p. 36), we
have a tool for understanding how the new type of research leaders operate. Acting as
entrepreneurs or brokers, placing themselves in (or on) bridges in networks, they guide the
coordination between networks across structural holes. The structural holes are many and
various in the modern university, some related to the institution, some to the international
scientiﬁc networks and some to the outside world, industry or other user institutions, or to
society as a whole. Especially the networks to stakeholders are closely related to the new
demands to universities to produce social robust knowledge in interaction with society and
stakeholders (Nowotny et al. 2001).
Therefore, the ability to locate structural holes and brokerage opportunities to supple-
ment the internal closure in social networks is one of the central qualities in the research
leader. Though the capacity to manage networks also demands the ability to persuade
followers and build up a group around oneself. To do so the research leader must
demonstrate scientiﬁc credibility and status, or what Bourdieu (1998) deﬁnes as a special
case of social capital, namely, scientiﬁc capital constructed by scientiﬁc reputation and the
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 655
power to mobilize resources to research in order to attract followers. The sheer recognition of
scientiﬁc capital is still not enough, however. We focus on how core members of the larger
organization regard the group in the beginning as outsiders, but are persuaded by networking
or created new structures; i.e. how new groups manoeuvre by different types of organizing.
The combination of external networking across structural holes to create internal identity
and the deployment of effective norms and trust in a culture of communication may be seen
in university and research teams in other studies (Salancik and Pfeffer 1977; Coleman 1988).
The former CEO Fourtou of Rho
ˆne-Poulenc argues that ‘‘his scientists were stimulate to their
best ideas by people outside their own discipline’’ (Burt 2005, p. 60). Fourtou emphasized le
vide—that is, emptiness and nothingness, an open space—as having a huge function in
organizations. This is an empirical experience to the theoretical part of what Merton keep
calling serendipity and the unexpected moment in research. (Merton 1968, p. 159).
As stated in the beginning the research question relates to the oscillation between
organizing research, traditional managerial tasks and tasks formulated in collaboration with
industry and society as such. We have tried to conceptualize this dilemma by introducing
the concepts of entrepreneurship and social capital in knowledge organizations like the
university. For our empirical study the use of these concepts with a strong focus on the
networking dimensions should help to frame the questions about larger organizations
regarding groups gradually creating new legitimacy.
In open and complex organizations, power cannot be understood solely in terms of
mastering formal organizations by managerial techniques. Instead we might need to look
back and reintroduce Max Weber’s famous discussions of charismatic leadership. Here
part of the scientiﬁc capital or status in the science community ‘‘rest[s] on devotion to
the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the
normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him’’ (Weber 1964/1947, p. 328).
Power is exercised by special personal qualities, by charisma, as opposed to rational,
bureaucratic and traditional forms of power. Clark (2006) provides us with a historical
study of the possibilities of operating in networks in the structure of the university and how
to avoid too much collegial disciplining and bureaucratic regulation. The power base for
university departments is analysed by Salancik and Pfeffer (1977), showing that the ability
to generate external funding seems to be the most important power dimension for gener-
ating internal legitimacy and resources. Weber’s concept of charisma can contribute to
explaining how the research leader operates in order to attract followers, but at the same
time the research leader in the modern university cannot avoid operating in and with the
managerial world in the university, deﬁned by obligations toward teaching and adminis-
tration. Power, on this view, is generated in interaction and dialogue, in how the role of the
entrepreneurial research leader will develop over a number of years. How will institutional
and bureaucratic pressures inﬂuence the entrepreneurial spirit and the role of networking in
the university? How are the entrepreneurial research leaders using the bureaucracy to
generate resources? In order to address such issues, the concept of organizational entre-
preneurship in the university has to be developed. The point of departure is the decreasing
and limited time and other resources for research. Research is therefore a ﬁeld that is not
just managed but enacted and created in an entrepreneurial way.
Doing case studies in organizations often challenges traditional methodological ideas of
distance and objectivity to research objects and their representation. Alvesson (2003a,b),
656 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
put forward convincing arguments for a research strategy based on what he labels self-
ethnography, i.e., using one’s own pre-knowledge of the organizational phenomena to be
studied in a systematic way instead of following the rules of more technical methodologies
for constructing distance in order to obtain objectivity. He explicitly argues that the uni-
versity is an obvious place for researchers to do self-ethnography. ‘‘Self-ethnography is
especially of relevance for research on universities and higher education. ... [I]t is not,
however, restricted to this’’ (Alvesson 2003a, p. 176). In this paper we follow Alvesson’s
idea and start out with studies from our own world, our own university department. Our
empirical material is a collection of interviews with key researchers from our own
department, who has managed by entrepreneurial methods to set up new research groups.
In order to overcome the obvious possibility of bias in their reconstructed storytelling we
have used our own pre-knowledge of the described situations, the history of the actors in-
and outside the department, the resistance and support. The ﬁrst level of validation of their
knowledge claims is then following Alvesson the use of the combined effect of our own
systematized recollection and a systematic use of archive material (e.g., annual reports,
department strategies, budgets). But narratives need to be analysed by some kind of
organizing principle in order to structure the different narratives on the same story in the
analysis and in order to accomplish this we use the critical incident method to structure and
focus the narratives collected by interviews. By presenting different interpretations of the
same critical incident, e.g., a special event or period in the research group, we will be able
to produce a much more robust analysis. Our use of the method make it possible to focus
the analysis and support the narratives with supplementary information and it is a general
experience, that the recollection by interviewees and their willingness to communicate is
much greater when the focus is on speciﬁc incidents (Butterﬁeld et al. 2005). Combined
with the critical uses of theoretical analysis of the input from interviews the ﬁrst results will
be challenged later as the project moves on by a change of space and location in the
studies, using narratives and explicating complexity (Tsoukas 2005). During this part of the
research program, we will interview research leaders and researchers from different
departments, where our pre-knowledge is less developed and later on we will extend the
research program to other university departments and research groups in Denmark and
The Copenhagen Business School in the Danish context is seen as the ﬁrst social science
mover in exploiting the collaboration with other organizations outside the university
sphere. What we present in this paper is two cases on how successful individual researcher-
entrepreneurs uses a whole pallet of instruments in order to create new research programs.
The marginal position combined with the entrepreneurial use of the new Mode 2
possibilities made the chosen entrepreneurial strategies different and new compared to
strategies used in more traditional and disciplinary research environments. At the same
time and in the same process they had to ﬁght the fact that the two research areas at the
start did not have a legitimate space in the business school research and teaching envi-
ronment. The entrepreneurial strategies had to be many dimensional, taking on questions of
legitimating disciplinary and especially interdisciplinary research and at the same time
teaching space and research funding. We draw in the paper some of basic story lines as
they are seen from the two key researcher-entrepreneurs, who had no formal research or
administrative management roles at that time, who took up the challenge. The cases
analysed here are part of a larger research programme, where interviews will included both
other research centres at Copenhagen University (Research manager), and two researchers
at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. The stories are challenged by interviews with
younger members of the groups. The two key informants in the core cases can help us to
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 657
draw a life line of the projects and mark the places for critical incidents. The same method
is developed for the other interviews. The narratives are drawing on the core cases, and the
other cases are only touched upon marginally in this article.
The method demand the life line and longitudinal perspective, and is not possible to fold
out a multiple and diverse case study of many different types of organizations. We have
chosen to illustrate the processes in types of cases, where the research is not ‘‘just business
as usual’’, but a creative process of generating space for research in a university envi-
ronment. The focus on critical incidents and entrepreneurial processes open the perspective
of the organizational changes, rather than on the typical and normal cases. This is an
illustration of the creative process overlooked in many quantitative studies.
The CBS case—framework
There are major differences between classic universities, most business schools and the
Copenhagen Business School that stem from the early 1990s. CBS differs from most
universities in being a monofaculty (since 2007) institution and the non-disciplinary and
problem oriented approach to teaching and research. It differs from most business schools
by its integration of social science and humanities together with more traditional business
economics. The framework for research management is a university business school with
teaching at the bachelor, master of science, PhD, and executive master programmes, and
diplomas as evening programmes, and with part time research as a right and obligation for
the tenured staff. Even if the emphasis is on issues related to application and dissemination
of research, the classic performance criteria from universities remain the same.
The management structure in the Copenhagen Business School is basically organized in
a matrix structure, where the head of department is responsible for research, for admin-
istration and for supplying teaching to different studies. The head of department is also
responsible for the staff to fulﬁl these obligations. The study directors on the other hand are
responsible for the studies, and may choose to recruit external part-time teachers, if the
departments cannot provide tenured teachers with the right qualiﬁcations, or they want a
cheaper recruitment of teachers for the undergraduate programmes.
The study pro-
grammes all include input from different departments and disciplines, such as marketing,
accounting, organization theory etc.
The lack of clear discipline-based teaching programmes also implies that there is not a
ﬁxed curriculum, but a combination of compulsory and elective modules, where only the
courses chosen as ﬁrst priority by more than 40 students are run each semester. This proﬁle
of optional courses creates a ﬂexibility to take up themes drawing on different disciplines,
but also in a management perspective and staff perspective introduces uncertainty about
the ability to secure the teaching hours that each member of the academic staff is obligated
The balance in the matrix between departments and study programmes is delicate and
difﬁcult, but it has proven itself very strong for the creative development of new study-
lines and programmes. The matrix structure inserts some marketing principles in the
offered teaching, and management has to open up for some of the issues known in other
open multiple task organizations. Funding from the Ministry of Research is tied to the
number of students who pass their exams and receive their degrees (annual student-years),
and positions are tied to educational programmes. Assistant professors have 50% of their
The external teachers are cheaper for the studies, as they have shorter hours of preparation.
658 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
time for teaching and administration, the professors and associate professors have 66% of
their time for teaching and administration. The residual is for research.
Such a matrix structure might foster the development of localised policies without
taking into account the overall strategies of CBS, but this has not been the case, partly due
to the very active role that has been played by the president and dean in the period since the
early 90s. Both have been able to support new initiatives with seed money and other kinds
of support in order to avoid internal struggles for funding, i.e., having to cut down existing
activities in order to make room for new ones. Part of this policy is the result of a kind of
garbage-can thinking of the long term strategic development of CBS, but it also rests to a
considerable degree on the fact, that CBS has been in a position of substantial growth in the
period discussed. In a case of severe budget cuts and the following reduction of tenured
staff, the conﬂict between established teaching activities and space for new ones could
have created internal conﬂicts.
The heads of departments and the study directors are under the deans. Until 2004, all
these positions were ﬁlled with elected members of staff among associate and full pro-
fessors. A national law changed this (2004), and now there is a board with a majority of
members from outside CBS, mainly from industry, with a chairperson from industry as
well. The position as president, dean, head of department, and study directors are employed
for the position, and not elected among the academic staff. The growth and management of
research processes described were, however, under the former type of structure, i.e., a very
traditional framework, but with ﬂexibility for building up new educational programmes,
and a willingness to do so.
From being a traditional business school, a number of new programmes have been
launched in the early 1990s mainly combining business economics with language and area
studies, mathematics, ICT, philosophy, corporate communication, and a broad social sci-
ence education was launched last year. An international business economic education
offered in English has also been part of the expanded proﬁle.
Department level of management
CBS undertook its ﬁrst major research evaluation in the early 1990s, which paved the way
for new mergers of groups from other departments into a new department (Foss Hansen
and Borum 2000). This led to setting up department research evaluations from a bottom up
perspective, i.e., in way that involved the local research groups and researchers in the
formulation of the problems and agenda of the evaluations. The bottom up process showed
its strengths especially in local discussions, where a stronger ownership position in the
research environments could be secured. In short, the evaluation of a single large and
heterogeneous department managed to articulate the problems at the whole business school
in some very constructive ways, preparing the institution for future discussions about the
reconstruction of this department into what would become the department of Management,
Politics and Philosophy. A later survey also showed that members of this department
experienced the greatest satisfaction with the whole evaluation process at CBS. The new
department was established in 1995 as a merger between a number of smaller groups and
the department of management and strategy. The head of the department at the time,
Professor P.O. Berg, motivated and mobilised the groups involved to form the new
department on the basis of the earlier small management department, and managed to get
support from the president and dean to establish a number of new positions to support the
process. The group of philosophers already employed by CBS moved to this new
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 659
department. They had been involved mainly in methodology and philosophy of science
courses. A group of political scientists came from an existing cross university research
centre (COS), where some went to other universities, and a few positions were established
to recruit a core of three researchers. The centre for innovation and Entrepreneurship
became part of the new department as well. The business historians joined the department
The general purpose of the department is to develop research and teaching in the ﬁelds
of management (including strategy and innovation), politics and philosophy. The idea was
to build up research from different disciplines, where all are related to leadership and
management. An interesting challenge consisted in getting disciplines such as philosophy,
political science, and later history to contribute to a business school perspective on
management. The story of growth emerges from the social construction of legitimacy, the
development of a space of opportunities waiting for initiatives, and the underlying
entrepreneurial culture of the whole school. The merging of a number of groups to form a
new department was not done only as a top-down process, but an effort to build up a
platform of mutual understanding, where the responsibility for the younger staff was
stimulated, and where researchers perceived the growth of the department itself as an
The reason for telling this detailed story is to create a context for entrepreneurial action,
and the role of the different elements of strategy to create space for research, such as the
effort to get external funding and develop new teaching programmes, which was not a
dominant feature of the culture at that time played an important part in the story to create
growth. A huge effort was invested in applying for external funding and means to develop
educational programmes. Several people were involved in this effort and a number of
important research grants were won to sustain growth. Likewise, the masters’ programme
in knowledge management, the combined philosophy and business economic bachelor
education and the later new master of social science have been a collective effort to
leverage the new educational proﬁle that the presence of philosophy and political science at
a business school implied.
In reconstructing this story, the role of leadership became very clear. It is to stimulate
initiatives and allocate resources, but it is also increasingly to organise the framework and
establish the conditions for institutional change. This organization of background condi-
tions, in fact, becomes more important than managing existing resources.
The case of the policy group and the centre for business history
The process of constructing a research group takes a number of different routes, some
depending on the discipline and traditions in the research community and some related to
the speciﬁc themes in a research-organizational context. Basic questions to be solved
in setting up a new research unit independent of discipline and institution include how to
deﬁne or set up the agenda, how to recruit, how to select key personnel, and how to secure
funding. Taking a longer view, there is also the question of how to transform the group
from an up-and-coming initiative on the boundary of mainstream research to a stable and
inﬂuential part of the whole organization on a more permanent basis. The following section
will discuss our case story with an eye to how the two research groups were set up and how
they grew into what has become a more stable situation.
In the cases discussed here, the two research groups in focus have some important
common features but also some marked differences in their history. The common feature
660 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
relates to the role of participating in teaching programmes in the mother institution, i.e.,
CBS. The differences relate mainly to two aspects of the group construction: the role of the
disciplinary system in (social) science and the construction of the leadership roles in the
group. They are showing some of the challenges of using the discipline in practice with
Seen in relation to the disciplinary structure of a traditional business school, both
research groups were living on the edge. That is, their major research questions and
disciplinary core was and still are on the boundary of what is conventionally understood as
related to business economics and relevant to a business school perspective. Both groups
faced the same basic problems related to establishing space and recognition inside the
organization in order to survive and expand. In some aspects they chose the same strategy
but in others they chose very different ways of expanding and establishing the internal
coherence of the group.
During the interviews, both researchers who are now group leaders stressed that the
combined focus on external resources and teaching as a fundamental strategy in setting up
a new research group in interdisciplinary spaces. Teaching is of course one way to win
resources for the group, but it is also, and more importantly, a way of gaining legitimacy
for the group’s research activities in the eyes of other parts of the school. The bureaucracy
is both a constraint and an opportunity to mobilize resources and legitimacy in the existing
structures. The disciplines in both groups are marginal to the Business School, and both
have to ﬁnd other means to become central actors, and move from marginal to core
The policy group
The group established itself over a period of 7 years with a well-deﬁned proﬁle in public
policy and public management analysis both in research and in teaching. Over the last
4 years, the group has developed collaborations with organizations and institutions and
made room for externally funded research projects on the boundary between private and
public policy, especially the role of NGOs. This process has led to spin-off successes in
both the teaching and the research proﬁles for the whole group.
The leader of the policy group, who was a young associate professor in 1995, stated the
basic strategy of using teaching opportunities to build a new group this way:
You participate in constructing your audience by setting up new expectations for
teaching in management and organization by asking how to make myself relevant. ...
We started by producing a number of electives and in this way it slowly developed
into new expectations among students. It is a long struggle over many years to
produce a teaching strategy...
The group chose a strategy explicitly aimed at getting a large share or portfolio in teaching
on different levels for at least two reasons. First, as a marginal discipline in the business
school, it hoped to win legitimacy and respect from other researchers and departments.
Second, it hoped get a solid resource base from which to seek external funding in the
future. By participating in a master’s programme in public administration, for example,
they were able to get a number of valuable contacts outside the business school. The
teaching policy also had the function of being a major recruiting mechanism, especially in
the ﬁrst years before the group had been recognised and could use external funding to
recruit new PhD students and researchers.
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 661
The policy group’s leader stated explicitly that
the idea was from the start not to deﬁne or establish a group on a speciﬁc object or
disciplinary problem, but on the idea of how to research on the tensions concerning
the conditions for management in organizations, and in the meeting between private
and public and public and NGO. Policy could of course be one object but it could
also be a certain perspective. ... so we deﬁned a special way of working, agreeing on
being able to disagree on the discursive analysis strategy as our basic idea.
The pressure for entrepreneurship and creation of new attention was important, and in
order to give everybody the impression that something new was happening all the time:
you cannot think in the framework of a zero-sum game or economy, because then
you won’t get any new ‘playmates’, at best you might secure a small and stable
number of positions. ...very important for the group to be in a dynamic research
environment and the very active doctoral school [at MPP] was decisive in producing
expectations setting up new PhD’s all the time. ...One of the advantages of having
PhD’s is in this connection, that they last for 3 years
, so you have all the time a
pressure to get new people in the group.
The teaching in the executive master programme created many contacts in public orga-
nizations, and access to meetings and speeches in these organizations. Some of these have
been valuable for funding PhD scholarships and a few post doctoral positions. Permanent
responsibility for teaching courses and programmes became the access to external re-
sources and data, and internal possibilities for expansion.
In the early days, the diversity of teaching in a variety of programmes produced a stable
foundation for the group. From here, the strategy was one of creating good and exciting
research environments to attract and inspire members. In this process the research leader
saw himself as a resource person, a coach, creating the best environment for the others,
even if it meant ‘‘moving away from one’s own research agenda in order to make space for
new and young members of the group, ...it is like being simultaneously a colleague and a
More recently, the group’s resources have come from both teaching (for permanent
positions) and external funding (for temporary positions). The cross-disciplinarity in the
core group created capacity to work on the changing conditions for leadership in different
organizational settings and on the boundary between public and private sector. The classic
political science ﬁelds have been transformed. The group must constantly interact with
other research groups and centres, both at the business school and outside. This constant
interaction and boundary crossing has made the group more and more central and visible in
the business school environment. A good example of how successful the group has become
is the fact that the group managed to launch a completely new social science master’s
programme in political leadership and communication within the framework of the busi-
ness school. This has become the group’s ﬂagship (Fig. 1).
Internally, the group was growing rapidly from 2 to 15, and also gained an excellent
reputation as an interesting research environment, which as known, and where people with
research money came and asked to stay and join the group. The reputation is strongly tied
to the Danish books published, which were very well received as a new perspective on
public management, but also to the way they worked on the boundary of classic political
In Denmark PhD students are young researchers employed on normal academic terms for 3 years on a
speciﬁc PhD project.
662 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
science and relations between the public and the private sector using also a number of
sociological theories and organizational analyses. The strong growth and successful
external funding and book communication has created an atmosphere of high expectations’
to research and to positions. ‘‘People want to stay once they have visited,’’ it is often said.
The research agenda ﬁrst formulated by the group’s leader: ‘‘how to inquire into the
struggle over the conditions for management in organizations’’, has made political scientist
central to the business schools context. In order to keep a special proﬁle for the group and
avoid letting the research agenda be ‘‘inﬂated’’ by disciplinary traditions, while at the same
time maintaining some form of identity, the group’s research programme has developed its
own brand of social theory, drawing on Luhmanian systems theory and Foucauldian power
analysis, generally taking a discourse analytical approach.
The group is open about its leadership functions; it is trying to construct leadership at
different levels, where ‘‘each person is his own research entrepreneur,’’ as the group’s
leader puts it. ‘‘At the department we have tried to redeﬁne leadership into a responsibility
one has for one’s own work.’’ The redeﬁnition of leadership in this network-based research
group creates dynamics, though also problems. ‘‘Being so close to colleagues in the group
and acting as a coach makes it difﬁcult to act as a leader-manager in situations of conﬂict,
especially when it calls for the dismissal of staff or recruitment of PhDs for assistant
professorships’’. In such situations, the close, almost personal, relations between members
of the network constitutes a personal problem for the leader, and after experimenting with
different models a solution was found, where personnel management tasks were handed
over to the head of department. After the ﬁrst years of enthusiasm had passed, a major
challenge now lies in creating a feeling of growth and change and to reach out to other
environments, ‘‘it is not necessary to have constant growth if you have important circu-
lation, it is important to have a ﬂow in and out of co-researchers.’’
This way of leadership put a serious pressure on the younger researchers, both the PhD.,
the postdocs and assistant professors, who are not yet on a permanent contract. The
opening of options also opens up the competitive ﬁeld, and the pressure for self-
management to generate own resources and networks for research.
Fig. 1 Timeline policy group CBS
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 663
The history group/centre for business history
The history group took a different road. They were established on the basis of external
funding to write the business history of a few very large corporations. The history group
developed the discipline of modern history into the area of economic and especially
business history. The overall strategy was like the one used by the policy group, starting
with teaching, and, especially, collaborating with an economist from one of the established
departments at the business school.
Here they gained an opportunity to present a historic perspective on business areas like
ﬁnance, international trade, mergers and acquisitions, and strategy, but closely related to
recent developments in these ﬁelds. The teaching program proceeded from the well-deﬁned
sub-discipline of economic history, a ﬁeld with a long tradition for empirical studies and
for being somewhat aloof to the social sciences, to active method courses and more social
science theory based teaching. In the words of the group leader who was a senior associate
professor in 1997,
It is through teaching you create economy for research, ﬁrst by doing electives...it
meant I have to move away from the narrow concept of economic history to
something more like social science, and I had to take up reading business economy
(Porter, Williamsson). After a while it developed into a very popular subject: Danish
Eventually it developed into a new subject area at the business school, viz., business
history, but it took ‘‘a number of internal disputes over relevance’’ to establish the ﬁeld as
teaching area ‘‘and an invitation from the new bachelor program in Philosophy and
Economy (BA-phil-econ). After some years, we were asked to run a compulsory course in
business history at the bachelor’s level’’. In addition to a number of internal disputes to
gain recognition from other departments in business economics, the ﬁeld of business
history demanded a redeﬁnition of economic history with an approach to social and eco-
nomic theory not normally used or accepted in the discipline of history. In this process of
re-thinking the discipline the group has moved from marginality to a more central position
at the business school, and have created international networks and conferences based on
their perspectives on business history.
Business history became a research program based on a number of large, externally
funded projects, especially by companies who wanted a research-based business history.
Then we got external research funding, we were ﬁrst asked to write the business
history of one large bank (Jyske Bank), and a little later we recruited a young PhD
from University of Copenhagen to do the history of the large energy company
Many of these company history projects were initiated by the senior researchers, who
originally took the initiative to introduce this subject area at the business school. The idea
was to produce serious and well-documented studies—with no barriers in access to sources
and no restrictions on the publication of results—but also studies that would have a larger
public than that of traditional academic historians. Because of the external funding, the
history group could recruit a senior researcher and then a number of post-docs.
When we had the opportunity to head the large research program on the history of
Danish industry during the war we had to change the informal group to a centre in
order to be visible.
664 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
The strategy of pursuing external funding based on large company history projects ﬁrst
made the Business History Centre recruit young and open-minded historians from other
universities. Based mainly, on its considerable external funding and support from the
president of CBS, the group was able to recruit a professor in banking history.
The group now went from being a loose research group to a full centre and formed an
advisory board with prominent historians and people from outside the university to create
visibility and formalize external recognition. External funding has become a major strategy
for the centre and new large business history projects. ‘‘Great Nordic opened its archives
for us and a little later also electricity company ELSAM,’’ the group’s leader proudly
declares. The group was at the establishment 1 professor, an associate professor and a PhD
student, and has been growing to 10 and among these 3 professors.
The sub-discipline of business history is today an established ﬁeld at the business school
and the centre has established itself a leader in the ﬁeld in Northern Europe. The staff at the
centre teaches in almost all programmes in the business school, with a heavy emphasis on
the combined philosophy-business economic education. By introducing the business his-
tory approach, the history group has introduced the idea of source critique, a classic
methodology in history, which is not always understood in social science and business
economy. It is however still a problem that most of the teaching is outside their core
research. They have not built up educations related to their research focus in the way the
Political science group has managed. If we try to illustrate the stages or critical incidents,
the change is generated sometimes by external funding, and sometimes the internal
legitimacy is the dominant factor.
One of the junior researchers has been heavily involved in development of method
courses, but now feels the need to go into core areas of his research. The cross-fertilization
of the groups and disciplines are less now than earlier, as everybody so concerned about
their own research. A new international alliance is exploited for applications to create a
small team working on a contextualization and historic framework of the studies of
business culture and identity (Fig. 2).
The re-interpretation of business development in society has been an important feature
of the social science perspectives of research at the CBS.
A good reputation for interesting research and growth of both new positions and new
perspectives make the Centre for Business History an interesting research environment for
young researchers both nationally and internationally.
The external funding has given the centre a great deal of independence in relation to the
business school and the department in its research policy, and turned its relations in
networks much more toward external partners. The external funding is very much based on
the elaborated dissemination of research by the group. They are widely known, as they
have a regular column in one of the large newspapers, and their books are very well
received and reviewed in the daily press, where the young researchers are very active.
extended involvement in teaching on almost all levels, on the other hand, keeps the centre
close to the business school. Compared to the policy group the business history centre has a
much more independent role at the department and does not network with other research
groups within the business school at the same level of the policy group. External funding
Two of the books produced have been shortlisted among 10 in a large newspaper’s competition for the
best book of the year. One of these was a PhD thesis by Steen Andersen (2005) De gjorde verden Større, and
a large study by the former group leader Ole Lange (2006), Stormogulen. The researchers at the centre
together have a regular weekly column in a large newspaper, writing analytical comments on business
events to make themselves known in the business community.
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 665
remains a very substantial foundation for the Business Historians group, both in terms of
outside recognition and recruitment.
One of the younger staff describes how the pressure to generate resources via research
councils and private ﬁrms is very high. Opportunities are developed, but serious pressure
for competitive behaviour both on the international publications and on generation of
funding are creating tensions and entrepreneurial conditions for the career paths.
Entrepreneurial change of university research
A modern research group is not established once and for all; it is itself a process of constant
movement and continuous mobilization of resources, which demands that someone takes
responsibility for constructing and reconstructing a learning environment. It is an insti-
tutional innovation based on the entrepreneurial behaviour of researchers and leaders. The
collaboration with industry and public institutions both for dissemination of research and
for establishing new research collaboration and generation of funding is an elaboration of
the type of relationship to industry demanded for most business Schools to legitimize the
industrial relevance of research to create resources for knowledge creation.
Both groups are formed out of an idea of creating a research ﬁeld and colleagues in their
own research interests. The methods used are not only from research, as research com-
munication and teaching, as well as classic internal negotiations known from all large
organizations, are used by not only the original initiators, but also by new younger staff
coming in to the groups. The positions and resources are not only a ‘‘given’’ from the
university, as is usual the tradition at Danish universities.
Merton (1968, p. 158) introduced the organizational dimension in studies of research
and researchers behaviour by emphasizing the external network, the peers, and the ser-
endipity of research based on ‘un-anticipated’ results founded on diversity in order to
Fig. 2 Timeline history group CBS
666 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
understand the dynamics of creating new scientiﬁc ideas. Nevertheless, Merton limited his
discussion of ‘the ethos of science’ to the narrow world of science (Merton 1968, p. 604)
only to be distinguished from social and political problems and relations in society. The
isolation of science and research from society has been broken down (Nowotny et al. 2001)
and Merton’s view on science networks has today to be extended with the dynamics of
organizational network relations like structural holes and brokerage (Burt 1997,2005) and
more generally the whole organizational world of research, captured by Bourdieu (1981,
1998) in the concept of scientiﬁc capital. Following Burt and Bourdieu is every re-
searcher’s individual responsibility for contributing to the construction of the university
organization very clear, involving active, entrepreneurial participation both in teaching and
research. The market or ‘agora’ (Nowotny et al. 2001) for this special kind of expertise on
the periphery of business economics demands creative thinking and a dynamic leadership
and raises interesting issues for the classic Humboldtian university’s relationship between
research and teaching. Teaching in the internal market at CBS now becomes part of the
effort to create research groups, and externally funded research becomes a basis for
forming groups of young researchers, who can also develop new teaching programmes.
Both pictures are interesting also in the way they generate power in the organization.
Salancik and Pheffer (1977) discuss how external funding for university departments
seems to be a very important dimension of power, but that all departments use their own
criteria for access to resources, and thus challenge the power criteria, even if those based
on external resources have better legitimacy than those overburdened with teaching. The
issue here seems to be that it is hard to see one dimension as the most important. Both
dimensions of power and manoeuvring are important for creating internal legitimacy.
The successful research leader, then, is now one who is able to mobilize resources from
many different sources, both inside and outside the university system, in order to construct
and expand his or hers scientiﬁc capital, that is, one who acts like an entrepreneur, and has
the charisma to mobilise resources in networks. The strategy and actions are then both tied
to a very hierarchical organization and to the creation of openings and space for horizontal
mobilization of resources, as ideas, people and research funding. The recent changes in the
function of public universities indicate the emergence of more complex relationships
between research and teaching than the traditional Humboldt model. The new established
groups and research ﬁelds are seen as a result of organizing across different organizations
and innovation within teaching programmes.
Our study of research leadership at the Copenhagen Business School has demonstrated
the need for special qualities for research leadership, such as
•Personal qualities (scientiﬁc capital and charisma) in order to create respect and
formulate research programs
•The ability to be a broker between networks in teaching and research and not the least
in the outside world
•To be able to use the external contacts and dissemination of research for access to
•To be able to use rules and negotiate in the bureaucracy and develop organizational
openings in a creative way
•To create an environment of self-management in a collective organized research group
to mobilize young researchers to take their own initiatives.
In other words, entrepreneurial leadership in research as a kind of knowledge management
rather than adaptation to existing structures and resources is what characterizes the new
High Educ (2008) 55:651–670 667
university environment. It is a creation of opportunities in institutions, where space for
research is increasingly squeezed.
The understanding of the processes of research leadership is tied to the initiatives and
entrepreneurship of researchers to generate new resources both externally and interna-
tionally. The shrinking resources to universities, and the limited research time do not allow
for much research.
. An extraordinary entrepreneurial effort by researchers to generate
resources to buy research time and build up teams for research may create a basis for real
change in research positions, and rethinking of disciplinary fragmented research.
In our cases, we have found interesting similarities and differences in the strategies used
in order to build a new and stable research group. The main differences between the cases
are rooted in very speciﬁc research proﬁles. The history group/centre was from the
beginning a disciplinary based project. Even if it has developed into a very advanced
understanding of modern business history, where theory and other disciplines are recog-
nised, the group is still composed of people that hold degrees in history. From this point of
view the group can be described as a formation within a disciplinary ﬁeld, though it is a
very successful one in growth, which is not found in other history departments. It is based
on an internal hierarchy based on the senior professors central positions in networks of
both peers in the humanities and managers of large ﬁrms. In combination with the ability to
secure signiﬁcant external grants, the centre is at one and the same time closely integrated
in a growing number of teaching areas as subcontractors, and on the other hand rather
independent in relation to departments and other units at CBS. The policy group, on the
other hand, was from the beginning a much more network-based organization, deﬁned not
by its disciplines but by its subject area by speciﬁc approaches to the struggle over the
meaning of leadership in organizations. This disciplinary openness in deﬁning the group is
reﬂected in the multi-disciplinarity of its members; the group has recruited its members
from different social sciences and from different universities, while insisting on a common
general approach to research.
Both groups have been very entrepreneurial in many different strategies to gain legit-
imacy and resources in the Business School. The combination of both internal development
and the external legitimacy and access to resources (research funding) has been very
important, and is an interesting feature in research institutions like business Schools, who
may work on the empirically complex research problems, and may translate these to the
complex and integrated problems in educating students. The ability to mobilise and use
external resources to form internal identity and teams who can work together to create new
legitimacy, whether in teaching or in new collaborations externally, seems to be the most
important features of the successful development of otherwise marginal research groups.
However, the group’s entrepreneurial strategies differ in the role they have assigned to
the classic dilemma between exploration and exploitation in organizations (March 1989). If
we look at the two groups from an organizational learning perspective, some very inter-
esting differences become visible. After a few years of existence, the policy group show
clear signs of organizational participation in the larger CBS organization primarily by
participating in new teaching programmes. After exploring new possibilities, the group
With less than 50% time for research according to the contract. Danish university researchers do not even
count as researchers in the OECD statistics.
668 High Educ (2008) 55:651–670
converges toward a more exploiting role, learning and cooperating with the environment.
The history group on the other hand demonstrates activities much more oriented toward
breaking new road, e.g. exploring possibilities, and this strategy continues for long period,
securing the group external funding but at the same time reducing the groups organization
bonds to the larger organization.
If we introduce the organizational culture proﬁle by Cameron and Quinn (1998, p. 82),
we can specify some further differences between the two groups, the leadership and the
group formation over time. Both group leaders show clear signs of acting in a kind of
adhocracy organizational culture, where the leader is innovative, future oriented and
continuously changing and improving actions (op.cit. p. 108). But as it can be seen quite
clearly in the timelines for the two groups, after a while the two groups develop in different
directions, the policy group more toward a clan culture, while the history group best can be
described as being between the adhocracy and the market culture.
The ability to mobilise and use external resources to form internal identity and teams
who can work together to create new legitimacy both in teaching and in new collaborations
externally, seems to be the most important features of the successful development of
otherwise marginal research groups. The question that remains to be analysed on a better
empirical foundations is whether this process of group formation will result in a group
culture that will destabilize the dynamics of the original process. The tendency to observe
aspects of an evolving clan culture in the most successful group demands further empirical
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