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Corporate stories: “Fortune” magazine and modern managerial culture

Kevin S Reilly, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation uses Fortune magazine to explore the relationship between professional corporate managers after 1920 and the cultural impulses of urban modernism which helped define them and their institutions. Fortune's reporting, photography and design is part of the larger story of business from 1930 to the early 1950s, and the dissertation argues that the magazine helped make a fundamental articulation between the concepts of liberated individual leadership and institutional mastery. It elaborated a specific vision of corporate architecture and governance compatible with the staff's political aesthetics, and offered a useable cultural identity for the “managerial revolution.” Chapter One interprets the magazine as a consumer item and discusses the ways Fortune interpellated its readers as a “business class.” The layout of graphic designer Thomas Maitland Cleland was tailored to Henry Luce's vision of an elite audience of cosmopolitan executives. Chapter Two explores the aesthetic ideologies at work in portraying business as a modernist enterprise. It considers the contributions of Margaret Bourke-White to the Fortune innovation, the “corporation story,” and examines the links those stories had to contemporary advertising narratives. Chapter Three turns to the magazine's staff, which included well-known writers like Archibald MacLeish, Dwight Macdonald, James Agee, and Russell Davenport. Their engagement with New York art and political debates in the 1930s injected an iconoclastic element into Fortune's journalism that further defined readers. Chapters Four and Five examine exactly what kind of business and what kind of manager was the ideal in the Fortune universe. Those “model executives” and firms were shaped in the editorial offices by the discourses surrounding the labor movement, anti-monopoly debates, and anti-fascist politics in Manhattan during the late thirties. Chapter Six gestures to the postwar emergence of the Organization Man as a discourse linked to the idea of managerial intellectual independence in the face of institutional discipline. Throughout I argue that Fortune was a unique venue that linked urban intellectuals with the highest ranks of corporate leaders, and in the process established a resilient foundation of “corporate stories” to shape the modern managerial subjectivities.

Subject Area

American history|American studies|Mass media

Recommended Citation

Reilly, Kevin S, "Corporate stories: “Fortune” magazine and modern managerial culture" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3136771.