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E. Paillard & Cie, SA: Une entreprise vaudoise de petite mecanique, 1920-1945: Entreprise familiale, diversification industrielle et innovation technologique.

E. Paillard & Cie, SA: Une entreprise vaudoise de petite mecanique, 1920-1945: Entreprise familiale, diversifivation industrielle et innovation technologique In this careful case study on enterprise and change, Laurent Tissot tries to explore changing patterns of entrepreneurial behavior and strategic choices by presenting the history of a single firm specializing in small mechanical goods and located in the industrial complex of the Swiss Jura. The portrait given here covers only one generation of manufacturers and embraces a time-span that may appear too short--emphasis is placed on the years 1920-45--in the case of a firm created at the beginning of the nineteenth century and still existing. But this choice was the result of technical restrictions--the scarcity of sources concerning Paillard's early development--and of methodological ones: the period principally examined, the age of maturity of this small to medium-sized family firm, is not only better documented, but also provides a more homogeneous framework than any other. Between the legal transformation of 1920, when Paillard became a joint-stock corporation, and the complete reorganization of 1945-47, the firm is characterized by structural continuity, both socially and institutionally: there is stability of management and dominance of proprietary families and capitalism in a fixed formal frame. Furthermore, in focusing on the short-run course of Paillard's expanding activities, Tissot is able to provide a very detailed empirical analysis of the strategic lines developed by the chief protagonists, linked to surveys of regional manufacture as well as integrated with a broader macroeconomic approach at the Swiss and international levels.

The sources used are mainly those of the firm, complemented by documents from communal and cantonal archives, as well as an abundance of printed primary and secondary literature. Despite the frequent lack of precise company information (regarding, for example, accountancy, technological aspects of some of the specialties elaborated in Paillard's workshops, workplace relationships, organization of production, or mix of skills), Tissot is strikingly successful in his attempt to clarify and interpret what actually occurred--his extremely subtle interpretation of the financial structure and strategy of the firm is particularly convincing.

The history of Paillard is a fascinating and characteristic example of Swiss flexible specialization. From the very beginning, the activity of this family of ingenious craftsmen, originally makers of watches and music boxes, was essentially product-centered and export-oriented. Until the Second World War, the stability of the enterprise lay in its positive attitude toward change and in its capacity to diversify products or to develop new product lines, continually fitting the existing machine-tools to new purposes and training its workers to adapt rapidly to frequent organizational and technical changes. After Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph, in response to technological challenge and international competition, Paillard became, in association with an American engineer, a pioneer in introducing the production of the new "speaking machines" into Switzerland, specializing in manufacturing components as subcontractors for American and English mass producers, trying simultaneously to promote the fabrication of typewriters, which had a more difficult gestation.

The book is organized into five chronological parts--an introductory and exhaustive survey of the early history of Paillard up to 1920; the subsequent financial and legal transformation; the "golden age" of the gramophone (1922-29); the major shift between 1930 and 1939 toward new products (radio sets, and Bolex cinematographical cameras and projectors) that enriched the existing line (gramophones and Hermes typewriters); and wartime developments--and into three thematic lines dealing with production, marketing, and bookkeeping. But why not a fourth one about innovating, this main component of entrepreneurial quality--part, moreover, of the subtitle and, in Tissot's investigation, an omnipresent element of analysis? Throughout his account Tissot actually pays careful attention to Paillard's attitude in facing new technological and commercial choices and to the complex links and interplay between diversification, innovation, and fluctuating demand. Introducing such a rubric would have enhanced one of his main findings: the redeployment of the firm's incoherent, nonrational, and improvised strategy based on product differentiation (copying products of competitors or buying patents) during the 1920s to a systematic and conscious industrial direction under the impact of the crisis of 1930. Reacting to structural difficulties, the firm gradually moved toward a valorization of its technical and innovating potential by investing in research and distribution and by creating formal structures favorable to a more aggressive strategy of supply and innovation. This shift to new, more scientific methods of management (to an "Americanization" of entrepreneurial behavior?) put an end to the previous "innovative amateurism" (p. 354) and to the disjuncture between diversification and innovation. Another interesting conclusion shows, in opposition to David Landes's statement about French entrepreneurship, but in accordance with Louis Bergeron, that fidelity to traditional, familial management structures does not necessarily equal industrial conservatism and immobility, but can be perfectly compatible with flexibility and creative dynamism.

Tissot's book, clearly written and easy to read, presents a good interpretation of managerial choices and a valuable addition to the emerging field of business history in Switzerland.

Beatrice Veyrassat is the author of a thesis on the Swiss textile industry (University of Geneva): Negociants et fabricants dans l'industrie cotonniere suisse, 1760-1840: Aux origines financieres de l'industrialisation (Lausanne, 1982) and of articles concerning Swiss industrialization and investments abroad (in Maurice Levy-Leboyer, La position internationale de la France: Aspects economiques et financiers, XIXe-XXe siecles (Deuxieme Congres national de l'Association francaise des historians economistes, Paris 1977). She is now writing a secondary thesis on Swiss world trade during the nineteenth century (covering commercial relations with Latin America, emigration of Swiss traders and firms, and textile and watch exports).
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Author:Veyrassat, Beatrice
Publication:Business History Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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