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European top management careers: a field-analytical approach


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Research on European business elites has been dominated by a ‘national career model’ approach, arguing that each country has a specific top management career pattern. In recent years, this line of argument has been challenged due to the increasing international circulation of top managers. To examine the impact of internationalisation on career models, we will draw on a database of 916 top managers in Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain. Our field-analytical analysis reveals that the most important career distinction – between internal and external careers – is valid beyond national models. In addition, international managers do not constitute a separate homogenous group: in some countries, they imitate national career patterns; in others, they pursue complementary strategies.
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European top management careers: a field-
analytical approach
Felix Bühlmann, Eric Davoine & Claudio Ravasi
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European top management careers: a field-analytical
Felix Bühlmann
, Eric Davoine
and Claudio Ravasi
Institute of Social and Political Science, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland;
Ressources Humaines et Organisation, Faculté des SES, University of Fribourg, Fribourg,
Research on European business elites has been dominated by a national career
modelapproach, arguing that each country has a specific top management
career pattern. In recent years, this line of argument has been challenged due
to the increasing international circulation of top managers. To examine the
impact of internationalisation on career models, we will draw on a database
of 916 top managers in Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain. Our field-
analytical analysis reveals that the most important career distinction
between internal and external careers is valid beyond national models. In
addition, international managers do not constitute a separate homogenous
group: in some countries, they imitate national career patterns; in others, they
pursue complementary strategies.
ARTICLE HISTORY Received 20 December 2013; Accepted 11 January 2015
KEYWORDS Career models; Europe; internationalisation; multiple correspondence; analysis; top
management; field analysis
1. Introduction
The internationalisation of business relations opens new divisions and con-
flicts in national fields. One potential arena of such a conflict are the career
paths that lead to top management positions: which assets must candidates
for top management positions possess tobe successful in an internationalised
context? Which types of national or international career paths currently lead
to the apex of large firms? In this article, we study whether and how the recent
internationalisation has altered the rules of this game. Comparing four Euro-
pean countries (Germany, Switzerland, France, and the UK), we investigate
how international managers and international resources have become
embroiled in this struggle for top management careers.
© 2017 European Sociological Association
CONTACT Felix Bühlmann Institute of Social and Political Science,
University of Lausanne, Bâtiment Géopolis, Lausanne 1015, Switzerland
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Whereas advocates of approaches in terms of communities(Morgan
2001)ornetworks(Kentor and Jang 2004) found that common cultures
or networks increasingly span across national borders, the question is still
controversial as to whether educational curricula and career patterns have
also been transnationalised (Hartmann 2011). In large European countries
such as France and Germany national patterns of education, recruit-
ment, and careers seem to be still firmly set. Authors looking at smaller
countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands have found signifi-
cant internationalisation and convergence of recruitment and career pat-
terns (Van Veen and Marsman 2008; David et al. 2012; Bühlmann et al.
In Europe, comparative research on management careers has long been
dominated by the concept of national career models, shaped by national
educational systems and national ways of identifying excellence through-
out careers (Bauer and Bertin-Mourot 1996). In recent years, however, this
idea has been increasingly challenged by the growing international circu-
lation of top managers (Staples 2007). To examine this potential erosion of
national career models, we will draw upon the Bourdieusian concepts of
field and capital (Bourdieu 1986,1993). They will allow us to break
with the idea that careers are necessarily uniform and homogenous on a
national level.
We address four questions:
(1) Can we identify the career patterns and mechanisms that are common
to all four countries?
(2) Is there a difference among countries that supports the hypothesis of
persistent national career models?
(3) Are there sub-groups or fractions within the career spaces of the four
countries, and if yes, what are the relations among them?
(4) Do international managers have certain specific, converging charac-
teristics in common that set them apart from their national
The paper is organised as follows: the theoretical section discusses the
supposed erosion of national career models and the potential role that
international managers play in this dynamic. We then present our theor-
etical approach based on the notions of field and capital. A description of
data and methods is followed by an analysis of career patterns in all four
countries and a concluding discussion of the above four sets of questions.
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2. The erosion of national top management career models
2.1. Are there national career models?
Since the 1980s, the European debate over the education, recruitment and
careers of top managers has been dominated by the theory of national
career models (Bauer and Bertin-Mourot 1996; Klarsfeld and Mabey
2004; Davoine and Ravasi 2013). Three national career models have
been identified in the literature: France, Germany and Britain.
In the French model, top managers are selected according to their edu-
cational title. Their careers depend to a large part on the attendance of one
of the prestigious Grandes écoles(École Nationale dAdministration,
École Polytechnique, Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC)). The path to
top management is supposedly composed of rapid and non-regulated
career steps through managerial positions in different functional areas.
High potential is considered a more important criterion than managerial
competence or professional achievements. The French model is also
characterised by a high rate of inter-company mobility. Managers are
often recruited as external parachutistsand appointed to the top pos-
itions of companies that they do not know from the inside (Davoine
and Ravasi 2013).
In Germany, the university system is decentralised, barely hierarchical
and has no elite universities (Bauer and Bertin-Mourot 1996). However,
this is compensated for by a high rate of German business elites with doc-
torates. The identification of managerial potential takes place within the
companies, during a long integration phase in which new employees are
trained on the job, allowing them to develop a general overview of how
the company functions. Following this period, the managers career pro-
gresses as mountaineerswithin a single area of expertise, in which they
continually develop function-related and firm-related competencies that
play a crucial role in the legitimisation of their position and authority
(Davoine and Ravasi 2013).
Public schools and the most prestigious Universities (Oxford and Cam-
bridge) play an important role in the appointment of British top managers
(Bauer and Bertin-Mourot 1996; Maclean et al.2006; Hartmann 2007).
Britain is also known for a relatively large share of top managers
without academic education. Instead, professional institutes play an
important role by training managers in different management areas
(human resource management, marketing, finance, etc.) within a frame-
work of dual vocational training (Windolf 2002; MacLean et al.2006).
The detection of potential top managers occurs within the firm (Klarsfeld
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and Mabey 2004). Managerial functions are only weakly linked to specific
technical expertise. Managers are therefore supposed to be able to manage
any kind of team.
2.2. Is the decline of national models a consequence of
Recently, the prevalence of these national career patterns has been increas-
ingly challenged. In particular, scholars argue that the internationalisation
of top management leads to the convergence of corporate cultures and
career patterns across Europe.
Scholars examining interlocking directorate networks are rather opti-
mistic about increasing convergence, seeing this sort of interaction as an
indicator of the emergence of a transnational elite. Kentor and Yang
(2004) have argued that within Europe and between Europe and the
US, there are growing transnational links between Fortune 500 compa-
nies(see also Carroll 2010; Heemskerk 2013). However, networks only
indicate the existence of interactions between top managers and often
struggle to understand their meaning and function. A second, neo-
institutionalist approach proposes therefore to study transnational com-
munitiesinstead of transnational networks. Morgan (2001: 117) argues
that transnational communities share interests within a specific transna-
tional space, interests that are distinctive from nationally based interests.
Developing this definition, Djelic and Quack (2010: 384) emphasise the
importance of a common culture in transnational communities, expressed
by common meanings,referencesand identity markers.
However, both these forms of interactional and cultural coordination
between business elites are described as fluidand fragile(Djelic and
Quack 2010: 37879). Critics of the internationalisation thesis, such as
Hartmann, pointed repeatedly at the superficialityof international
network linkages and argue that often the real degree of internationalisa-
tion is overrated (Hartmann 2011: 12). We can thus assume that deeper
and structurally stable convergence among elites necessitate longer
phases of international socialisation, such as provided by a common edu-
cation or shared career trajectories. Arguably, only such long-term mech-
anisms of common apprenticeship and a common social imprinting can
create a truly transnational culture among top managers (Hartmann
2011). The aim of this article is to investigate whether these structural
roots of international community are also spreading. Hence, one of the
important indicators for this type of transnationalisation of national
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education, recruitment and career models is the increasing share of inter-
national managers working in the largest firms. Recent studies show that
international managers increasingly sit on the executive boards of large
European firms (Van Veen and Marsman, 2008; Carroll 2010).
However, we often do not know whether these international managers
have a common educational profile or share common career patterns in
terms of mobility between sectors or firms.
3. Career fields and the notion of capital
The internationalisation of top management careers and the role of
international managers in this process can best be studied using two
Bourdieusian concepts: field and capital. These concepts are particularly
suited to understanding structural aspects of transnationalisation and
potentially break with the assumption of a unified national career
model (Mach et al. 2011).
3.1. National and international career fields
The concept of field denotes a relatively autonomous and structured space
(Bourdieu 1993; Fligstein and McAdam 2012; Savage and Silva 2013).
Schematically, the field concept can be summarised into four points: (1)
the actors involved in a field agree about the objects and stakes of
dispute and help to create and perpetuate the field (Bourdieu 1993). (2)
A field is the structure of relations between different positions and
actors endowed with different volumes and compositions of capital (Bour-
dieu 1993). Most of the fields have their specific capital which takes its
value in relation to that field and that is convertible into other species
of capital under certain conditions. (3) Fields are composed of different
groups or fractions (endowed with specific amounts and forms of
capital). The most important groups within a field are the incumbents
(the orthodox, the dominant) who possess large amounts and specific
compositions of capital, which procures them authority, and the challen-
gers (the heterodox, the dominated) who have less capital and tend
towards subversive strategies (Fligstein and McAdam 2012). (4) The occu-
pation of a specific position in a field leads actors also to take certain pos-
itions, in the form of specific interests, practices and strategies (Bourdieu
1993). Through the mediation principle of the habitus, a given position in
a field generates specific practices and representations.
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All fields have not only invariant rules of functioning but also specific
properties, capital and mechanisms (Savage and Silva 2013). Early on,
Bourdieu used the notion of field to analyse the career space of top man-
agers and economic elites (Bourdieu and de Saint Martin 1978). In recent
years, such analyses highlighting the differences and tensions between
different career models within a country have been undertaken in
Norway (Hjellbrekke et al.2007), Switzerland (Bühlmann et al. 2012),
Denmark (Ellersgaard et al.2013), Germany and the UK (Schmid et al.
2015) and France (Denord et al.2011; Dudouet et al.2014). The
concept of field is particularly useful to analyse national career models
and the role international managers play for a potential decline of these
models. Using the notion of field helps to break with the assumption
that careers are uniform or homogenous on a national level (Bourdieu
1993). It introduces the idea of struggle and conflict between sub-
groups or fractions and allows researchers to look at their educational
backgrounds and their careers. It is therefore possible to identify the frac-
tion of international managers and to situate them in relation to national
managers, as well as with respect to the general hierarchy of each national
3.2. Social, educational and cosmopolitan capital
The analytical counterpart of the concept of field is the notion of capital.
To study top management careers, we use the concepts of educational
capital (educational credentials), social capital (networks within and
outside the firm), and the recently developed cosmopolitancapital
(Bühlmann et al. 2013).
In Bourdieusian elite studies, cultural capital has been mainly used in
its institutionalised form as an educational qualification (Hjellbrekke
et al.2007). Therefore, we will concentrate on this aspect and use the
label educational capitalinstead. Besides the educational title, edu-
cational capital must include specific national aspects of educational legit-
imisation such as elite universities, the studied discipline or studies
abroad. Additionally, some of these credentials, such as degrees from an
elite national university, are strongly bound to a national field. Others,
such as an MBA degree, are intrinsically international in orientation
and supposed to open doors across national contexts.
Social capital is the force drawn from durable networks of more or less
institutionalised relationships of acquaintance and recognition(Bourdieu
1986: 51). These relationships are inherited or acquired along the career
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trajectories. Their volume is the result of the network within and between
firms, which managers have built over their careers. This is why it makes
sense at this stage to distinguish between bonding social capitaland brid-
ging social capital(Putnam 2000). Certain managers may have always
remained at the same firm and have created very strong links within it
over time. This bonding social capital might help them access positions
at the top. Others have shown a higher mobility between firms, were in
positions that facilitate contacts with a larger number of different
people and were able to accumulate bridging social capital. Over the
course of a career, the two forms of social capital are more or less mutually
exclusive. It is difficult to create deep and bonding networks within one
firm and simultaneously cultivate a widespread network across many
Wagner (2007) argues that cosmopolitan capital corresponds to the
capacity to feel at home, even in places which are geographically
distant. This capital is, according to her, inseparably cultural, linguistic,
and social, in large parts inherited, reinforced by international educational
trajectories and occupational experiences in several countries(Wagner
2011: 6). Besides being able to speak foreign languages, being familiar
with foreign countries and their cultures, being used to travelling or
being at ease in exchanges with people from foreign countries, it encom-
passes also forms of international social capital (Carroll 2010). Formal and
informal contact networks spreading over several countries, built across
an international education curriculum or an international occupational
career, allow top managers to develop international strategies and
impose their authority on the boards of multinational companies and
transnational governing bodies.
4. Data and methods
4.1. Sample
To study the impact of the internationalisation on top management
careers, we selected four European countries France, Germany, Switzer-
land and the UK. They vary with respect to two dimensions: (1) National
career models: France, Germany and the UK are three ideal-typical cases
of different career models, whereas Switzerland features aspects of each of
the models. (2) Internationalisation of top management: as a result of the
specific embeddedness in national and international markets, specific cor-
porate governance regimes or corporate friendly taxation policies,
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Switzerland and the UK have a particularly high proportion of multina-
tional companies (MNCs) and are therefore among the most internationa-
lised countries when it comes to top management (Van Veen and
Marsman 2008; Davoine et al. 2015).
As opposed to this, there are com-
paratively less MNCs in France and Germany and also still rather national
top management teams (Hartmann 2007; Morgan 2011).
We collected data on top managers of quoted firms in each of the four
countries. Our selection criterion was the presence of the firms in one of
the important stock market indexes in 2009: the Swiss Market Index (20
firms), the CAC 40 (Cotation Assistée en Continue, 40 firms), the DAX
(Deutscher Aktien Index, 30 firms) and the largest 30 firms, according
to market capitalisation, of the FTSE 100 (Financial Times Stock
This resulted in a comparable blend of firms in turnover,
number of employees, economic sector and internationality. In a second
step, we selected the managers belonging to the top management in
each of these firms. Company websites and annual reports listed the top
management team, albeit often under different labels: senior executive
team, executive committee, executive management team.
these teams are composed of a Chief Executive Officer, a Chief Financial
Officer and various other positions depending on the firm. On average,
top management included 6 members for German, 10 members for
Swiss, 8.5 for French and 9 for British firms.
4.2. Variables
Information about top managers is not always easy to obtain.
This group
might have strategic reasons for not making all the information publically
available. However, the information published about top managers is
National and international elite formation processes interact with organizational and inter-organizational
career-building developments to create particular propensities towards the growth of global manage-
ment elites in different countries and in different type of multinationals(Morgan 2011: 432).
Information about the executive board members of the firms Salzgitter (Germany), Essilor, LVMH, Capge-
mini and BNP Paribas (France) and Diageo (UK) was not found in annual reports or press releases. The
STM, EADS, Arcelor Mittal, Dexia (France) and Xstrata (UK) firms were not taken into account, as they
were not considered to be French or British firms since their headquarters are not based in France or
in the UK. In the sample of British firms, Diageo and Xstrata were substituted by BT Group and
British Sky Broadcasting (these were ranked as the following most imported firms on the FTSE 100
list, on ranks 31 and 32).
Eight British firms (BT Group, HSBC, Lloyds, National Grid, S&S Energy, Standard Chartered and Tesco) did
not indicate the members of top management team on their websites or in their annual reports. In these
cases, the executive members of the board of directors for these firms were used.
In particular, it proved to be difficult to collect comparable data on social origin in all four countries. As
our analytical focus was on international comparability, we decided to relinquish data on social origin.
Even though the level and type of education can be considered as a rough proxy for social origin, we
dare not to use it in our theoretical discussion this would be over-interpreting our results.
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probably carefully selected by the firms in order to build a figure of cred-
ible and legitimate leaders within a certain culture. This public relations
selection mechanism might help us to grasp the most important infor-
mation about these people. However, despite considerable effort, some
information is missing or incomplete on items such as previous pro-
fessional experience and university degrees.
For the indicator educational capital, we first distinguished between a
PhD, a BA/MA degree and those who hold no university degrees. When
it comes to the discipline of study, we coded the variable into business/
economics,law studies,engineering studiesand other disciplines
(including natural sciences, medicine, humanities or social sciences).
order to compare the importance of elite universities, we created a variable
with the Yes Top 2 Universitiesand No Top 2 Universitiesmodalities.
For this purpose, we identified the two most-attended universities (in the
country where the firm is located) and then coded managers according to
their attendance of these two universities.
We also distinguished between
managers who earned an MBA from those who did not.
Social capital was measured using an indicator for the number of pos-
itions in sectors other than the sector of the current firm
: here, we estab-
lished the categories of: 5 or more positions in other sectors,34
positions in other sectors,12 positions in other sectorsand no pos-
itions in other sector. We also coded the variable number of other
firms (other than the current firm) with 3 and more other firms,12
other firmsand no other firmmodalities. The third indicator concerned
the number of years that it took the manager to move to an executive pos-
ition within the current company: we distinguished between parachutist
(direct access from outside the firm), up to 10 years,1120 yearsand 20
years and more. We also compared those who were employed by an inter-
national auditing and consulting firm with those who were not, calling
that variable Audit.
When an individual holds several university degrees, we gave a preference to lawand business studies,
as these two disciplines can be considered as the most orthodox for top managers. Business studies and
Economics are pooled together, as these two disciplines have become increasingly close in recent years
(Fourcade and Khurana 2013).
These elite universities include: Oxford and Cambridge for the UK, Ecole Polytechnique and HEC for
France, St. Gallen and ETH Zurich for Switzerland and Munich and Cologne for Germany. We have
tested versions of the variable with three and four top universities; the overall results do only very
weakly differ from the adopted version with two top universities.
Sometimes, managers only indicated in several other positionsor in several other sectors. In order not
to lose this information, we gave a value of 3 in these cases.
This operationalisation narrows down the spheres in which managers build social capital and focuses
rather strongly on the occupational sphere. It would be interesting to include other sectors, such as edu-
cation or associations. We were not able to collect this type of data across all four countries. However,
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As we have no information on the cosmopolitan character of primary
socialisation of these managers, we measure cosmopolitan capital mainly
by international education and career spells. The first indicator of cosmo-
politan capital is international education. Here, we researched whether
managers went to study in another country (viewed from the native
country). It distinguishes between exclusively national studies,amix
of national and international studies(often a BA in the native country
and an MA or an MBA abroad) and exclusively internationalstudies.
Next, there are two indicators on foreign stays: the number of foreign
stays counted the number of stays abroad and classified the variable
into the following categories: 3 or more foreign stays,2 foreign stays,
1 foreign stayand no foreign stays. The second investigated the destina-
tion country of the stay abroad (abroad being defined with respect to
country of origin, not of current employment). In addition, in the light
of the particular status of the US in recent globalisation, we also took
into account whether people studied in the US: comparing Yes studies
in the USto No studies in the US.
To measure the impact of international managers, we introduced the
variable nationalityas a passive variable, which does not contribute to
the construction of the space. We distinguished between Nationalsand
4.3. Analytical strategy
The use of (specific) Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) allowed us
to relate the different forms of capital with careers and nationalities. MCA,
a multivariate method often used to analyse fields and capital, condenses
the information contained in a large number of variables and allows the
researcher to represent this information graphically (Le Roux and
Rouanet 2010). This graph represents a cloud of individuals and a cloud
of categories and constructs a fieldillustrating the system of relationships
among them. Both clouds should be interpreted separately: the more
closely (respectively more distant) individuals are situated from each
other, the more (respectively fewer) categories they share. Inversely,
spatial proximity between two categories indicates that these categories
the variable elite universitymight not only inform us on educational capital, but can also be considered
as an indicator for social capital (especially in the French case, see Section 5.4).
Because it is difficult to collect data on the group of top managers, also this operationalisation of cosmo-
politan capital is merely a rough approximation: for example, it would be helpful to have more precise
and explicit data on the ability to speak foreign languages or the density of friendship and occupational
networks in other countries.
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are shared by a larger number of individuals. There is a general distinction
between active variables, which contribute to the construction of the space
and passive variables, which are only projected into the space. We studied
the specific situation for each of the countries in order to identify transna-
tional convergences, persistent national characteristics, different fractions
within national fields and the positions of international managers. To
illustrate particularly important relations between variables, we also
resorted to cross-tables.
5. Results
5.1. Top management career models in four countries
We examined the differences, contrasts and hierarchies within each of the
countries on the basis of a multiple correspondence analysis. For three
reasons, we retained only the first two axes in each of the national
cases: first, in three of the four countries (the exception being Switzer-
land), there seems to be a clear caesura between the second and the
third axes in terms of eigenvalues; second, the third axis does in none
of the countries correspond to a sociologically easily interpretable dimen-
sion that would add theoretical value; third, the integration of a third axis
would have burst the space limits of this paper. We do only interpret cat-
egories with values above the average contribution this corresponds to
100/36 = 2.78 for Germany and 100/37 = 2.7 for the other countries.
In bold are the categories retained for first axis, in italics those retained
for second axis and in bold italics those retained for both axes. We indicate
the relative contributions of categories in the descriptive analyses below.
In Germany, the first axis distinguishes between different forms of
social capital: on the left are managers who remained true to a single
firm (9.7%), who were not educated in business, law or engineering
(4.4%) and who have heterodox international experience (3.2%). On the
right are top managers with bridging social capital who worked in
many firms (6.3%) and sectors (6.4%), did a spell at an audit or consulting
firm (10.3%) and have a relatively international education (9.2%). The
second axis shows the national aspects of education: in the upper part
are people with a broad experience abroad (4.2%) and in the lower half
people with experience in the US (13.7%), an MBA (10.9%) and often
also a degree in Engineering (5.5%). Managers with a PhD (2.9%) are
on the left side of the plane which is associated with internal careers
For a detailed report of the contributions of the variables, please refer to the appendix.
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and opposed to a more mobile and international career strategy. However,
a PhD is not correlated to other career characteristics, particularly not to a
quick career (parachutist career) in the current firm.
Swiss top management careers are characterised by an opposition
between bonding and bridging social capital. On the left side are managers
with no position in another firm (15.9%) or sector (12.6%) who hold a
degree in a heterodox study field (not business or law, but mostly:
natural sciences and medicine; 6.6%). On the right side of the first axis
are managers with auditing or consulting experience (9.1%), a career span-
ning across several firms (10.4%) and sectors (6.1%) and international
studies (8.3%). Unlike in Germany, the second axis also reveals a clear
pattern: together with the parachutists (12.0%), those who quickly
achieve executive positions, are those with a PhD (9.5%) or an MBA
(3.4%), a degree from an elite university (4.8%) and those with auditing
or consulting experience (8.4%) in the upper part of the plane. In the
opposing lower part are people with slow careers who also frequently
hold no university degree (9.8%) and have only stayed in the US (4.7%)
or studied exclusively abroad (5.7%).
An almost equally clear link between career patterns and educational
capital can be seen in France where both quick (3.7%) and mobile
(19.7%) careers, situated in the upper part of the plane, are closely
linked to degrees from elite French Universities (8.1%). In the lower
part are those with only limited careers in other sectors (6.7%) mostly
managers with studies and experiences abroad (especially in the US;
7.1%). As in all the other countries, the horizontal axis reflects a distinc-
tion between internal and external careers. The first are associated with
the lack of a university degree (2.8%), engineering degrees (4.1%) and het-
erodox international experience (3.4%). The second coincides with experi-
ence in auditing or consulting firms (5.9%) and degrees from an
international (4.8%) or American University (5.6%).
Britain appears to be the same when comparing the first axis. On the
left side are managers who pursued their career within one single
company (9.1%) and the right side shows managers with frequent
moves between firms (11.6%) and sectors (7.9%). This structure is dupli-
cated by an opposition between managers without university degrees (9.8)
on the left and managers with international (3.3%) and business studies
(5.0%) on the right. Vertically, the space is set apart by a group of man-
agers holding degrees in engineering (5.5%) or business (3.0%) and edu-
cated in the US (4.5%) or nationally (7.1%) in the upper part of the
plane. These are contrasted by a group without university degrees
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(14.8%) in the lower part. No clearly distinguishable career patterns are
associated with these positions, however.
5.2. Transnational convergence: the opposition between internal and
external careers models
In all four countries, the most important contrast is mapped on the first
horizontal axis (Figures 14). This axis is best explained by different var-
ieties of social capital. The first group of top managers, possessing bonding
social capital, are situated on the left of the plane. They pursue careers that
unfold within a single (or a small number) of firm(s) based on internal
networks, internal competences and promotion policies that favour
internal candidates. Based on studies on internal career success, we can
assume that these managers with a long experience with in the firm
may have access to specific information, access to firm internal resources
and profit from internal mentoring and career sponsorship (Seibert et al.
Figure 1. German field of top management careers.
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2001). Analysis shows advantages, that in our case these characteristics are
typically coupled with a lack of university education, occasional inter-
national experience and in general, little cosmopolitan capital. This is
an indicator that these internal top management careers are, to a
certain extent, compensatory strategies to counterbalance the lack of edu-
cational and cosmopolitan capital.
Opposed to this group are the managers who possess bridging social
capital on the right. They have worked at many firms and in several
sectors with comparatively little internal company networking and whose
competences are not bound to a specific firm. However, as given in the
plane, they possess other forms of capital: they have frequently worked in
auditing and consulting firm. This means that they were in regular
contact with many international and important firms and their managers.
This might have spread wider their already large networks and contributed
to an increase of their bridging social capital. In addition, they are endowed
with a strong combination of cosmopolitan and educational capital: they
were often educated abroad (notably in the US) and hold degrees in
Figure 2. Swiss field of top management careers.
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business administration. On their way to the top, they compensate for the
lack of bonding capital within the firm by a combination of bridging social
capital, cosmopolitan capital and educational capital.
5.3. Persisting national differences
Despite the persisting validity of the opposition between bonding and
bridging forms of social capital in all four countries, educational capital
might still follow national patterns. We compared the differences
between the countries for educational capital internationalisation and cos-
mopolitan capital (Table 1).
France is characterised by a high share of managers with an education
at one of the top two Grandes Ecoles, the Ecole Polytechnique and the
HEC. About one-third of all managers in French firms attended one of
these institutions. Only about 10% of directors attended one of the top
Figure 3. French field of top management careers.
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two universities in the other countries. In Germany, on the other hand, it
is still important to hold a doctorate with 44% of the top directors having
one. In contrast, about 23% in Switzerland and a negligible share in Britain
or France. In Britain, a particularly high proportion of managers do not
have a university degree: 28% of top managers compared to 10% in
Germany and only 6% in France. Switzerland seems to be among these
three systems and stands out as a country with a high share of managers
who earned an MBA or studied abroad.
The second aspect which differentiates between countries is their
degree of internationality (Table 2). Switzerland and the UK are the
most internationalised countries: they have the largest share of foreign
Figure 4. British field of top management careers.
Table 1. Top managers educational capital in Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain.
Germany (%) Switzerland (%) France (%) Britain (%)
Top 2 universities 11 14 29 10
PhD 44 23 6 7
MBA 11 17 8 17
International studies 7 10 4 5
No university studies 10 14 6 28
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top managers (two-thirds of all managers in the stock-listed Swiss firms
are not of Swiss origin). Fifty-one per cent of the FTSE 100 firms top man-
agers are also from outside countries, but only about a quarter of the
respective managers in Germany and France.
Managers of Swiss firms, both national and international, are more
likely to have an international education, an education in the US and
have stayed more frequently abroad than managers in the other countries.
In other words, the general background of top managers in Swiss firms
seems also to be more international than in France or Germany. We con-
clude that clear and persistent differences remain in educational profiles
and degrees of internationality between the countries. Therefore, national
specificities remain important for describing and explaining career
5.4. Fractions and configurations within national fields
The multiple correspondence analyses indicate in several cases that there
is a link between bridging social capital and cosmopolitan capital (Figures
14). In Germany, Switzerland and Britain, people who cultivated a wide-
spread network across many firms and sectors also tended to have studied
abroad. In addition, these managers frequently served international audit-
ing and consulting firms. It appears that the international educational
capital, the networks and the generalist knowledge these managers have
acquired predispose them to move easily between firms and sectors.
The only exception in this respect is France where neither an education
abroad, nor an employment with an auditing and consulting firm is cor-
related with bridging social capital. It is French elite universities that
procure managers with general knowledge and connect them to dense
and efficient alumni networks.
We also observed large differences in the combination between career
speed and educational capital. In Germany and Britain, there is no form
of educational capital that promotes an accelerated career (within the
current firm). The German PhD, for example, does not accelerate the
Table 2. Top managers cosmopolitan capital in Germany, Switzerland, France and
Germany (%) Switzerland (%) France (%) Britain (%)
Foreigners 27 64 23 51
Education in US 15 24 15 21
No foreign stay 43 27 44 38
3+ foreign stays 11 17 14 11
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access to executive positions. On the contrary, it appears to be correlated
with the traditional, internal German career model. A degree from an
elite university in France, however, clearly accelerates careers. Parachutists,
that is, managers who jump directly into directorial positions, clearly hold
degrees from one of the Grandes Ecoles more often. In other words, the
PhD in Germany and the Elite universities in France, often presented as
functional equivalents, have rather distinct social meanings and functions.
In Switzerland, quick careers are related to several forms of educational
capital at once: a doctoral degree, MBA and a degree at one of the elite uni-
versities are all very closely related to rapid careers. This means that these
forms of educational capital often occur jointly and each of them can accel-
erate top management careers in Switzerland.
5.5. Do International managers contribute to the decline of national
In the four MCAs, nationality has been introduced as passive variable
(underscored). As indicated by the close distance between the categories
foreignand nationalon the planes of Figures 14, the differences
between national and international managers are not enormous. We
found that in Britain and Germany (and to a lesser degree also in
France), international managers show more mobility between firms
than national managers. Only in Switzerland do national managers
pursue more mobile careers than their foreign colleagues (Table 3).
When it comes to national educational curricula, unsurprisingly, the
widest gap by far between nationals and internationals concerns elite uni-
versities (Table 4).
These institutions are very rarely attended by international managers
who do not come from the country in which the elite universities are
located. We surmise that international managers are not chosen because
of their lack of national elite education, but despite their lack of it. In
Germany and Switzerland, where a doctoral degree legitimises authority,
international managers hold a PhD less frequently than do national
Table 3. Number of other firms differences between international and national
No other firm 34.6 27.1 20.8 39.8 30.1 22.6 30.0 28.6
3+ other firms 16.9 29.9 25.0 18.8 29.1 29.0 21.7 26.2
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managers. In France and Britain, where PhDs are secondary, interna-
tionals hold doctorates more often than their national colleagues. In
addition, international managers in Germany and Switzerland have far
higher levels of doctoral degrees than in the two other countries.
Do international managers enjoy a more international education and
stay abroad more often during their careers than do top national man-
agers? (Table 5).
We found that in France and Germany the differences between national
and international managers are the largest. In these two countries, inter-
national managers clearly have higher levels of international education
than national managers. In contrast, Switzerland, the country with the
highest rate of international managers, shows national managers with
an equally international education than international managers. In
addition, in the countries with the lowest rate of international managers,
France and Germany, national managers also have a very national profile;
48% of French and 42% of German top managers never stayed abroad,
whereas only 26% of Swiss top managers never went away.
6. Conclusions
In the debate on the transnationalisation of educational and career pat-
terns, it has been argued that national models of top management
careers are increasingly eroding as a consequence of growing
Table 4. Educational capital differences between national and international mangers.
UK (%)
PhD 52 23 32 18 4 13 4 10
Top 2
14 0 33 2 37 3 20 0
No university
Table 5. International capital differences between national and international
UK (%)
7 8 10 10 2 11 3 7
Mixed national-
11 18 17 9 10 14 6 7
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internationalisation of top management teams. To study this hypothesis,
we have examined how international managers and international forms
of capital are embroiled in the struggle for top management careers in
Germany, Switzerland, France and the UK. Informed by a field-analytical
perspective, we can now give the following answers to our four research
(1) In all four countries internal top management career models are
opposed to mobile ones. The first are based on bonding networks
within the company, firm-specific expertise and the use of internal
career ladders. These careers are frequently coupled with the lack of
legitimate educational and international capital. Mobile careers fre-
quently allow managers to collect a large amount of bridging social
capital and are fuelled by auditing and consulting experience and a
specific blend of educational and international capital. These man-
agers compensate for their lack of firm-internal networks with a com-
bination of symbolically highly legitimate forms of capital. The
findings cast doubt on one of the central tenets of the national
career model theory (Bauer and Bertin-Mourot 1996): Mountaineers
and parachutistsare not typical for one specific national model
they coexist as competing career models in all four countries. We can
further assume that these two strategies distinguish between two com-
peting fractions of managers, with opposing interests and strategies.
(2) All four countries still appear to have specific characteristics,
especially in terms of educational capital: elite universities in
France, PhDs in Germany, and non-university education in Britain.
These characteristics are distributed unequally along national lines
and have hardly been altered by the internationalisation of top man-
agement. In field-theoretical terms, this means that specifically
national forms of capital are still an important part of the game and
are used by specific factions of the business elite to claim access to
top management positions. The relative value of these national
forms of capital and the groups who mobilise them in the struggle
for access to top management positions must be studied in each
(3) The very concept of a national career model tends to overemphasise
the uniformity of top management careers within a country. We
showed that different career paths compete with each other in every
country, based on specific combinations of social, educational, and
cosmopolitan capital. Even when particularly national forms of
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capital such as the Grandes Écolesin France or the PhD in
Germany remain significant (Hartmann 2007), this does not
mean that their career function is equivalent. In the case of France,
attendance at an elite university is still a very career-relevant sign of
distinction. A title from a Grande École accelerates their careers
and makes them independent from additional cosmopolitan capital.
PhD holders among German managers pursue neither quicker
careers nor more inter-firm mobility than do other managers. On
the contrary, they typically pursue careers that match the traditional
internal German career model and are opposed as part of an incum-
bent faction to a faction of international challengers. This finding
shows that typically nationalcareer characteristics might have very
specific meanings and cannot be compared in an isolated way
they must be understood relationally, with respect to their national
(4) International managers and their blend of capital are neither dramati-
cally different from national managers nor is there a specific hom-
ogeneity among international managers. International managers
simultaneously use complementary and imitative strategies with
respect to dominant national career patterns. The resulting hetero-
geneity makes it unlikely that international managers become a
major force contributing to the erosion of national career models.
Possibly already before the recent internationalisation, the salience
and unity of national career models have been overestimated. Most
interestingly, however, we observed that the internationality of a
country seems to moderate the relationship between national and
international managers. In countries with a higher rate of inter-
national managers such as Switzerland and the UK the differences
between national and international managers are smaller than in
countries with a lower rate, such as Germany and France. In the
more internationalised countries, the distinction between what is
nationaland what is internationalbecomes increasingly blurred.
Further research should closely examine the internationality of top man-
agement teams at the firm level and explore the influence of the histori-
cally grown distribution between multi-nationally oriented and
nationally oriented companies in each country. It would also be interest-
ing to dig deeper into the social origin of these top managers and to
analyse the relationship between social background and their educational
profile. The database of our research is based on (relatively standardised)
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official biographical data published by firms. This allows us to identify
elements of capital acquired during their education and their career, but
does not include information on social origin, early family life or
primary socialisation. We could therefore not consider in our analysis
inheritedforms of educational, social and cosmopolitan capital, or
early forms of familial transfers of capital which prepare and therefore
reinforce later forms of capital acquisition. As literature on the socialisa-
tion of upper classes (Wagner 2007; Weenink 2008) suggests, inter-
national studies or stays abroad are often the result of a socialisation
dynamic that began much earlier, which means that managers with an
upper class background are more likely to accumulate cosmopolitan
capital and other forms of legitimate capital. Future studies on top man-
agement careers should therefore try to collect data on both primary and
secondary socialisation for a better understanding of the dynamic articu-
lation between inherited and acquired forms of capital.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributors
Felix Bühlmann studied sociology and political science at the universities of Geneva,
Berlin, Lausanne and Manchester. He is Associate Professor of Life Course Sociology
at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. His current research interests include the
life course, economic sociology and political sociology.
Eric Davoine is a Professor at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and holds the
Chair Human Resources and Organization. His primary research interests include
international HRM, cross-cultural management, top management careers, and evalu-
ation of executive education.
Claudio Ravasi is a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss National Centre of Compe-
tence in Research LIVES (Overcome Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives) and at
the Chair of Human Resources and Organization (University of Fribourg, Switzer-
land). He works on careers and his research interests include expatriation, top man-
agement, and international elites.
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Appendix. Contributions active variables: Germany,
Switzerland, France, Britain
Variables Categories Germany Switzerland France Britain
A1 A2 A1 A2 A1 A2 A1 A2
Eigenvalues 0.22 0.16 0.20 0.14 0.19 0.16 0.19 0.18
Educational degree BA/MA 4.0 0.8 0.9 0.2 0.0 0.0 2.8 6.0
PhD 2.9 0.4 1.4 9.5 1.1 1.2 0.9 0.0
Total 6.9 1.2 2.3 9.7 1.2 1.3 3.8 6.0
Top 2 universities Yes Top 2 Uni 0.1 2.5 0.1 4.8 0.0 8.1 0.2 0.0
No Top 2 Uni 0.0 0.4 0.1 0.3 0.4 3.6 4.6 7.0
No Uni degree 0.1 10.6 0.2 9.8 2.8 0.1 9.8 14.8
Total 0.2 13.5 0.4 15 3.2 11.9 14.6 21.8
Study field Business studies 7.5 0.0 1.2 0.2 1.0 0.0 5.0 3.0
Law studies 0.5 0.0 2.9 0.0 3.4 0.0 0.8 0.0
Engineering 2.2 5.5 0.0 0.4 4.1 1.6 0.1 5.5
Other study field 4.4 0.1 6.6 2.6 0.3 6.9 0.4 0.0
Total 14.6 5.7 10.7 3.2 8.7 8.5 6.3 8.6
Audit/consulting firm Yes Audit 10.3 0.1 9.1 8.4 5.9 0.9 8.1 1.8
No audit 1.8 0.0 1.5 1.4 0.6 0.1 1.4 0.3
Total 12.1 0.1 10.6 9.7 6.4 1.0 9.6 2.1
Number of foreign stays 1 Foreign stay 0.1 4.4 0.6 0.5 0.0 0.9 0.3 0.3
2 Foreign stays 0.1 4.1 0.6 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.6 3.8
3+ Foreign stays 0.4 2.0 0.3 0.6 0.2 0.1 0.7 0.1
Total 0.6 10.5 1.5 1.4 0.3 1.2 1.6 4.2
Country foreign stay No country
0.3 0.6 0.2 5.0 0.8 1.8 0.1 0.0
US only 1.7 13.7 0.0 4.7 1.0 7.1 0.0 1.7
EU only 0.1 0.7 0.1 1.3 1.1 1.3 1.9 0.5
US and EU 4.2 10.4 0.8 2.4 1.1 0.0 0.3 1.4
Other country 3.2 0.0 0.7 2.3 3.4 2.9 2.2 2.8
Total 9.6 25.4 1.8 15.7 7.6 13.1 4.5 6.4
International studies National studies 1.1 0.7 0.8 9.3 0.1 1.1 2.3 7.1
2.9 0.0 0.3 5.7 0.1 0.3 3.5 0.0
Mixed studies 9.2 0.4 8.3 1.8 4.8 8.2 3.3 0.0
Total 13.2 1.1 9.4 16.8 5.0 9.6 9.1 7.2
US studies Yes US education 10.2 2.1 5.8 1.2 5.6 10.3 8.3 4.5
No US education 1.8 0.4 1.8 0.4 1.0 1.9 2.3 1.2
Total 12.1 2.5 7.7 1.6 6.6 12.1 10.6 5.8
Years to executive position Parachutist 1.4 0.2 0.0 12.0 0.2 3.7 0.0 0.0
10 to executive 0.7 1.4 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.0 4.3
1120 to
1.7 2.5 0.8 1.9 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.2
20+ to executive 0.9 0.1 0.1 6.6 0.8 0.3 0.0 4.2
Total 4.7 4.2 1.0 20.5 1.1 4.5 0.1 8.8
Number of other firms No other firms 9.7 0.0 15.9 0.0 19.7 2.5 9.1 9.4
12 other firms 0.9 4.3 1.4 0.0 4.4 2.6 0.0 2.8
3+ other firms 6.3 9.9 10.4 0.1 3.4 12.4 11.6 1.3
Total 16.9 14.2 27.7 0.1 27.4 17.4 20.7 13.5
Number of positions in
other sectors
No other sector ––12.6 0.8 17.7 2.7 7.2 7.4
12 other sectors 0.2 6.6 3.2 0.3 4.0 6.7 1.6 3.1
34 other sectors 1.4 1.5 4.9 0.0 5.1 0.8 1.7 5.2
5+ other sectors 6.4 1.3 6.1 1.2 3.5 8.7 7.9 0.2
Total 8.0 9.5 26.8 2.3 30.4 18.9 18.4 15.8
Note: Bold: questions > average contribution (for all: 100/12 = 8.33); italics: categories > average contri-
bution (for Germany: 100/36 = 2.78: for others: 100/37 = 2.70).
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... However, this glossary also indicates that up till now, the teams listed below have largely developed their own protocols in specific national contexts within Europe. And even though the transnationalization of elites has been given increasing attention the last decade or so (see for instance Vauchez 2012, Georgakis &Rowell 2013, Bühlmann, F., David, T andMach, A. 2013;Bühlmann, F., Davoine, E. and Ravasi, C. 2018;Hartmann 2017), a systematic research 9 program is still called for. We are therefore seeking to develop more co-ordinated research tools which can be used to build more systematic comparative research. ...
... Top managers of Swiss firms increasingly relied on transnational credentials, such as MBAs from renowned US universities (Davoine et al. 2015;Davoine & Ravasi 2013;Bühlmann et al. 2018). Meanwhile, in very internationalised disciplines, Swiss researchers begun to travel to top American departments for research stays, which boosted their scientific capital. ...
Research Proposal
Full-text available
A little more than a decade ago,Mike Savage and Karel Williams (2008) lamented that elites were ‘remembered by capitalism, forgotten by social science’ and issued a mani-festo for the study of elites to be revitalized to address major shifts in capitalist societies in which wealthy elites were driving forward major projects of economic, social,and polit-ical change and in which they were major beneficiaries. As elites became even more prominent in the aftermath of ‘austerity’ politics introduced in many parts of the globe after the 2008 economic crash, this clarion call attracted con-siderable attention. Indeed, by 2020, the situation is very different. In the intervening twelve years there has been an explosion of research on elites across the social sciences, and notably in economics and sociology (see the overview in Khan 2012b, Korsnes et al 2017, Savage 2021). In the context of this renewal of the sociology of elites, this working paper is a stocktaking exercise which provides a convenient glossary of mainly European based sociological research projects which is designed to be a resource for further research.
... Another dominant tradition in studying corporate power, elite studies, focuses on individuals and their backgrounds, e.g., the CEOs of the largest companies (Mills 1956;Bourdieu and de Saint Martin 1978;Hartmann 1996Hartmann , 2018. Elite researchers have extensively examined the channels through which corporate leaders are recruited to their positions, the determinants of their tenure and the effects of internationalization on the formation of corporate elites (e.g., Bühlmann et al. 2012Bühlmann et al. , 2017Davoine and Ravasi 2013;Maclean et al. 2014). These studies have revealed, among other findings, that except for the United States, women rarely lead large corporations; that in some countries (e.g., the United Kingdom and France), the vast majority of CEOs have graduated from a small number of elite universities; and that in-house careers (i.e., the gradual career promotion of CEO candidates within a single company) have been an essential feature of German and Japanese corporate culture (for an up-to-date literature review, see Hartmann 2018). ...
... For the collection of individual-level information on CEOs, I followed the example of studies on corporate elites in Europe (e.g., Hartmann 1996;Bühlmann et al. 2012Bühlmann et al. , 2017. I coded individual information in three sets of variables. ...
Full-text available
This paper seeks to understand the structure of corporate networks in the period following the dissolution of Deutschland AG ("Germany Inc."). For this purpose, affiliation networks among chief executive officers (CEOs) that are based on common membership in various societal organizations will be examined. I apply an innovative mix of methods for studying a sample of CEOs from the 100 top companies in Germany in the 2010s. Based on social network analysis, I show that the overall affiliation network has all features of a small-world network, i.e., a high clustering coefficient and a short path length among the CEOs. The average degree of separation among German CEOs is only two steps. Another innovative contribution of this paper is its study of the linkage between affiliation network features and patterns of corporate recruitment. Using multiple correspondence analysis, I show that different subgroups of the overall affiliation network have their specific network characteristics and recruitment patterns. Within the network, managers from automotive and technical engineering often assume brokerage positions, while managers from the trade branch are largely isolated. This study shows that the affiliation networks and corporate recruitment patterns are interlinked; the transformation of corporate networks is a dynamic outcome of interrelations among different subgroups within the network, each with distinct educational, professional, and network characteristics.
... Other efforts rely on summary measures of careers as active modalities (e.g. Bühlmann et al., 2018;Ellersgaard et al., 2013;Hjellbrekke et al., 2007;Lebaron, 2000) or using event history data as active points in an MCA (Martens, 1994). However, further attempts at incorporating more dynamism into geometric data analysis seems warranted to date and I suggest that categorical typologies construed from sequencing procedures may be fruitful avenues to consult to this end. ...
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In this article, I discuss the potential for quantitatively accounting of the social world as relationally constituted in both a topological and a temporal sense. As statistical procedures rest on underlying assumptions of the social world, I emphasise how multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) thinks relationally, as Bourdieu famously proclaimed, but to a lesser extent addresses the temporal pattering of social life. I point to the beneficial property of sequence analysis (SA) in thinking ‘processually’, and I argue that the combination of the two tools stimulates favourable opportunities for relational thinking in complementary ways. While adding SA to MCA inserts processual thinking into a relational space, the MCA helps embedding sequential patterns within a social structure. I critically assess this strategy by drawing on the diachronic underpinnings to Pierre Bourdieu’s oeuvre and empirically examine how his third dimension of social space – trajectory – might be ‘quantified’.
... While, in Germany, the chimney or mountain climber model may have been very dominant after the Second World War and up to the 1990s, nowadays, other career models co-exist in parallel. Thus, our findings resonate with Bühlmann et al. (2018) and Klarsfeld and Mabey (2004), who stressed that we should overcome the belief that each country has only one dominant national (top management) career model. We can also link our results from the cluster analyses to the idea of scripts, that is, "behaviors or event sequences that are appropriate for specific situations" (Gioia & Poole, 1984, p. 449). ...
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The present paper brings novel insights to career literature, in particular to the field of top managers' careers: first, by relying on the boundaryless career approach, we investigate how those managers who reach the top differ in terms of career variety before being appointed to the board. Second, by combining the boundaryless career approach with human capital theory, we analyze the association between top managers' career variety and the time it takes them to reach a board level position. For our empirical study, we use a sample of top managers from German DAX‐30 firms. Our results reveal four distinct clusters of top managers, indicating that, before reaching the management board, no uniform career path exists. We also demonstrate that more career variety does not shorten an individual's way up to upper echelons; rather, it extends the time it takes to ascend to the top.
... Particularly constraining is the small number of simple variables at our disposal. Not only do we lack the information on the education and the social origin of these McKinsey alumni, which is usually considered crucial to understand careers and access to management positions (Bühlmann, Davoine, and Ravasi 2018), but we also have only very few, very specific, and varying information on the time points of these professional careers. The measurement of the dependent variable, the sector of employment, concerns a single year (1994) and can thus be at biographically very different moments in the careers of these McKinsey alumni. ...
This article contributes to the debate about how more recent professions, especially those related to management, might achieve a semblance of ‘professionalism’ in the absence of the conditions that facilitated the creation of the traditional professions such as medicine, law or accounting in the 19th century. Much of the recent literature has either argued that these professions had to rely on some form of ‘image professionalism’ or that the professionalization process was ‘captured’ by the dominant firms within the professional field, with the aim of creating corporate, firm-internal rather than open labor markets for these professionals. Building on Bourdieu’s notions of symbolic and social capital, we suggest an alternative pathway to professionalization in stratified professional fields. We namely argue that a career at one of the ‘elite’ professional service firms (PSFs) can provide privileged access to positions at other firms within the same field. Hence, such a career constitutes a form of closure regime and allows, at least to some degree, the external labor mobility so typical of traditional professions. We explore this alternative pathway to professionalization by analyzing a novel and unique historical data set of former McKinsey consultants, identifying a number of boundary conditions that seem to facilitate such intraprofessional careers and others, which, over time, might weaken it. We conclude by pointing to a number of broader contributions from our research.
Investigating career patterns of top managers has been a prominent topic in European Management Journal (EMJ) since the 1990s. Our article contributes to ongoing debates about national differences in top managers' career patterns between European countries. An open question is whether globalisation processes may have challenged the existence of specific career patterns and whether they may have transformed the profiles of business elites in Europe. Our article uses recent data from four European countries (France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK), collected in a way similar to an EMJ article published in 2013, with the objective to assess potential developments that have taken place over the last decade. Some of the major changes relate to the growing relevance of business schools degrees or certificates (such as MBA degrees), a higher proportion of non-nationals and women on boards, more managers with international experience and an increasing number of top managers with a prior career with auditing or consulting firms. The article provides not only new empirical insights, but also a review of the key characteristics of top managers’ careers, some methodological reflections on cross-national comparison and new research avenues at the cross-roads of career literature and upper echelons literature. By shedding light on the career patterns of key decision-makers in large European firms, the article offers new insights for researchers, educators and managers alike.
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This thesis questions the emergence of a new Swiss banking elite. It relies on a biographical database composed of executive directors and non-executive directors of 37 Swiss banks (N = 487) as well as a series of 20 biographical interviews. First, I show that there is a polarization within the Swiss banking elites, between an international pole on the one hand and a national pole on the other. The new elite is rather located on the international pole. Second, I establish a typology of the geographical mobility of the careers of banking elites. I identify four types attesting the plurality of the career paths: national careers, early international careers, international careers and European careers. Thirdly, I identify individual pathways leading to the hierarchical top of a bank. Through this career analysis, I show how the social space of banking elites is highly differenciated. Fourth, I analyze dispositions and strategies of presentations of self by banking elites. I show an opposition between the figure of the wealh manager and the figure of the investment banker, embodied by a new elite. In conclusion, I affirm that there is indeed a new banking elite, characterized by its internationality and its relationship to performance. However, this new group did not replaced the old ones and Swiss banking elites remain a group defined by its plurality.
Career variety has recently received attention in management literature in general, and top management literature in particular. While existing publications have predominantly linked career variety to individual adaptability, agility or competences, this paper focuses on the relationship between top managers’ career variety and their tenure on the board. We rely on the boundaryless career approach and argue that there is a negative relationship between career variety and board tenure. Drawing on a sample of executive directors in UK FT 100 firms, we provide empirical evidence that increased career variety leads to shorter tenure on the board. We also reveal that this relationship is further strengthened with international educational experience. In addition, we show that in-house work experience mitigates the negative association between career variety and board tenure. We contribute to the literature on top managers’ careers by unravelling the consequences that career variety during early and mid-stages of a career has on tenure on the board – and hence on career stability in later stages of a career.
In this framing article for the special issue we contrast the aims and ambitions of three core approaches to elites in transnational policy networks and highlight where they have productive overlaps. The core approaches employ three distinctive theoretical lenses in their investigations: fields, hegemony, and institutions. We discuss how these approaches trace elites in transnational policymaking and associated methods, such as network analysis, sequence analysis and field theory, which highlight different aspects of how elites in transnational policy networks operate. Most of the contributions are concerned with mapping out elite careers and why career trajectories matter for field and network positions in transnational policymaking. While the contributions share this in common, we highlight the different ways in which the approaches can be used to dissect the same issues. Our contributions include pieces on the Trump administration, the professional ecologies of transnational policy elites, the treatment of transboundary political problems, the characteristics of technocratic elites, the racial and gender composition of transnational elites, and professional competition over transnational policy issues.
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Back to the Field of Economic Power in France In 1978, Bourdieu and Saint Martin wrote a famous study, « Le patronat », which was based on a multiple correspondence analysis of French corporate elite. In this paper, we go back to their notion of “field of economic power” and apply their methodology to the 838 executive and non-executive directors of the CAC 40 firms in 2009. We show that the axis which opposes curricula linked to French state resources and foreign curricula is structuring.
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This paper investigates the impacts of globalization processes on the Swiss business elite community during the 1980–2010 period. Switzerland has been characterized in the 20th century by its extraordinary stability and by the strong cohesion of its elite community. To study recent changes, we focus on Switzerland’s 110 largest firms’ by adopting a diachronic perspective based on three elite cohorts (1980, 2000, and 2010). An analysis of interlocking directorates allows us to describe the decline of the Swiss corporate network. The second analysis focuses on top managers’ profiles in terms of education, nationality as well as participation in national community networks that used to reinforce the cultural cohesion of the Swiss elite community, especially the militia army. Our results highlight a slow but profound transformation of top management profiles, characterized by a decline of traditional national elements of legitimacy and the emergence of new “global” elements. The diachronic and combined analysis brings into light the strong cultural changes experienced by the national business elite community.
As said at the beginning of this section, the Culture Example was devised for illustrative purposes. Owing to the small number of questions, the geometric space that we have constructed is far from a genuine sociological “space of leisure activities”. In spite of its limitations, this space has enabled us to investigate structuring factors as Age and Education (problem of the first kind); and it might also serve for predicting the location of other cultural practices (problem of the second kind). For instance, for museum visiting, we read in Donnat (1998) that the most frequent response modalities are “with children” and “with partner”; these modalities — and the corresponding subclouds of individuals – are naturally located in the geometric space of the Culture Example. In spite of their tentative character, the conclusions also nicely concur with the studies concerning sociability in the French society: see e.g. Héran (1988).
The study of politics and power inside multinationals has made significant strides over the last decade. No longer is it possible to treat MNCs simply as rational unitary actors pursuing efficiency logics in competitive markets and selecting appropriate forms of organizational structure depending on the contingent characteristics of particular sectors. Instead, we now have a view of MNCs as consisting of different types of social actors with differing interests and power derived from their distinctive institutional origins. These interests and powers are embedded within the particular strategic and operational positions that subsidiaries and actors occupy within the MNC and the places which they take up within global value chains. In turn this is embedded in the dynamics of global competitive markets that provide the performance outcomes crucial to the survival and growth of firms. Internally, therefore, MNCs are shaped by the ways in which different actors are constituted as collective interests and identities by these processes and how they interact with other actors inside and outside the MNC. From this perspective, the MNC is neither a Weberian rational legal bureaucracy nor an “internal market” but rather a “contested terrain” (Collinson and Morgan 2009; Edwards and Bélanger 2009). Many of the chapters in this book and other recent papers by the editors and authors have contributed substantially to extending our understanding of these processes (Becker-Ritterspach and Dörrenbächer 2009; Blazejewski 2009; Dörrenbächer and Geppert 2006, 2009; Gammelgaard 2009; Geppert et al. 2003; Geppert and Matten 2006; Geppert and Williams 2006).
The economic elites between internationalization and national specificities This paper builds upon an empirical survey of the management of the one hundred largest companies in eight countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Japan, China, United States). It shows how the internationalization of these elites remains relatively limited in scope (percentage of foreigners within each top management, periods of residence abroad), despite some variation between countries. It then looks at the career patterns that dominate at the national level to explain the resistance that the process of internationalization encounters. We focus in particular on the case of France, which is characterized by the important role of the state in the maintenance of a traditional national elite and in the lesser degree of internationalization observed from one cohort to another. The paper shows that even in a context of economic globalization, the framework of the nation-state plays a key role – particularly in France – in explaining the formation of the dominant classes in the economic field.