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Activist manager: The enduring contribution of Henry S. Dennison to management and organization studies

Kyle Bruce (Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 13 April 2015




This paper aims to identify and fill a gap in the knowledge of the contribution of Henry S. Dennison toward management and organization studies and problematize the assumptions underlying the mainstream understanding of scientific management and human relations.


Primary sources are in the guise of archival papers, as well as published journal articles, books and book chapters; secondary sources in the guise of material about Dennison, as well as interviews with family and friends.


The paper concludes that Dennison made an original and enduring contribution to management theory including, but not isolated to, personnel management, organizational behavior and corporate governance that influenced key thinkers of his times.

Practical implications

Dennison was a practicing manager – in fact, he was the president of (what was) his family company which operates today as Avery Dennison – but he still found the time and energy for active public service and to peripatetically articulate his management “praxis”. The paper reveals that much of Dennison’s thoughts and deeds have much relevance today. Among other issues, in his concern with reducing labor turnover and unemployment, in devising and implementing effective personnel management and in his pioneering work on human motivation, group dynamics, goal congruence, worker empowerment and executive compensation, issues of profound importance to business leaders today can be found.


To date, only piecemeal attempts have been made to chronicle Dennison’s contributions to management and organization theory, but these have been scattered across the social sciences. There has been neither any systematic, consolidated synthesis of his contributions to management and organization studies nor of his impact on the thinking of key thinkers of his times.



The author is grateful for the kind assistance displayed over many years by the archival staff at the Baker Library, Harvard Business School, where Dennison’s personal papers are archived. Posthumous thanks also to the late Ken Galbraith and the late Jim Dennison for their revealing insights.


Bruce, K. (2015), "Activist manager: The enduring contribution of Henry S. Dennison to management and organization studies", Journal of Management History, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 143-171.



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