In 1991, Thurley and Wirdenius claimed that international companies operating in European countries could, and should, make a strategic choice whether or not to develop a "European" approach or style of management. After the acceptance of the Treaty of Maastricht, and with the new European Union preparing to absorb applicants from the European Free Trade Association, their claim is becoming even more important. Not surprisingly, a European style of management, or "European management," is an important topic for business, business schools, and academic research. While a growing number of publications have been written on this subject, a brief review of the literature on European management reveals a clear tension between "integration opportunity" and "constraining diversity" issues as a challenging problem for managers in Europe. This article investigates whether key characteristics of a European style of management can be discerned. To this end, a conceptual framework is developed for reconciling the observed tension and pinpointing a key common characteristic of a European style of management. No attempt is made here to show that national styles of management such as Swedish or British management (Barsoux and Lawrence, 1990) will disappear in the future. On the contrary, we maintain that national styles of management are and will remain part of Europe's diversity (Lessem and Neubauer, 1994). We aim to improve our understanding of how management relates to the European business environment as a contingency factor. In particular, we investigate ways of approaching the above-mentioned management problem in Europe. In a general sense, our research contributes to the challenging field of international management research (Earley and Singh, 1995) as well. We begin with a short overview of the literature and draw attention to the tension between integration opportunities and constraining diversity for managers in Europe. We then introduce a managerial perspective in describing various relevant forms of an important contextual variable of Europe--namely, diversity. After developing a conceptual framework for reconciling this tension, we describe how this framework can focus attention on a key characteristic of a European style of management. We use a case study of Unilever Foods Europe to illustrate the proposed conceptual framework. In discussing our findings, we touch upon some implications for developing the distinctive managerial skills required by a European style of management and suggest directions for future research.

EU, corporate culture, free trade, international business enterprises, international competition, international trade, international trade financing, management styles
ERIM Article Series (EAS)
International Studies of Management and Organization
Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Boone, P.F, & van den Bosch, F.A.J. (1996). Discerning a key characteristic of a European style of management. International Studies of Management and Organization, 26(3), 109–127. Retrieved from