Owning and Disowning History

This historical case study of the multinational agribusiness Monsanto explores the challenges organizations face when attempting to translate a problematic past into strategic gain. We draw on Resource-Based Theory (RBT) to explain how the relative ability to own and control history as an intangible resource enables or constrains effective managerial deployments of history. Our analysis explores three modes of using the past strategically: learning from the pastselectively interpreting the past, and disowning the past – the latter of which we demonstrate is distinct from existing conceptualizations of ‘forgetting’, ‘rubbishing’, or ‘distancing’ the past. Our analysis builds on RBT to explain why some modes of deploying history are more effective than others at enabling a strategic use of the past. The ambiguous nature of owning and controlling history, we contend, conditions the extent to which each mode of deploying history can or cannot produce strategic gains.