Who's Excellent Now? The unspeakable nature of business excellence

David Collins*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper, developed in the long shadow cast by the 40th anniversary of the first publication of In Search Excellence offers a critical reanalysis of the orientations of the excellence project and a reconsideration of its legacy. Observing that the excellence prevails in the face of a host of academic critiques, which highlight its methodological, conceptual and empirical failings, the paper argues that In Search of Excellence continues to exercise an influence on the theory and practice of management because critics have made the conduct of Peters and Waterman their central analytical concern. Changing this focus the paper offers reflections on the lived experience of business excellence and the choices pursued by the exemplars of excellence. Drawing upon newspaper archives and other contemporary sources the paper focuses upon two of the fourteen organizations highlighted as exemplars of excellence and demonstrates serious misconduct including bribery, corruption, racism, sexism and anti-Semitism within these settings. Noting that these features of the lived experience of business excellence have evaded academic scrutiny for some 40 years, the paper concludes with the suggestion that management pedagogy and research must now adapt to acknowledge the unspeakable nature of business excellence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalCulture and Organization
Early online date8 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Dec 2023

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