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Brech, Edward Francis Leopold (1909–2006), management consultant, theorist, and historian, was born Edward Franz Leopold Brech at 84 Brook Street, Kennington, London, on 26 February 1909, one of four children of Franz Josef, later Francis Joseph, Brech (1876–1933), an Austro-Hungarian restaurant manager, and his wife, Anna Maria Magdalene, née Bachmaier (1880–1961), originally from Bavaria. His family suffered considerably when his father was interned during the First World War. Educated at Clapham College, a Catholic grammar school, he seemed destined for the priesthood and was selected for a pilot scheme whereby priests took a degree before entering the church. But having obtained a London University BA (general) degree in 1929, he abandoned the church and worked briefly for a fur trader and at the Swiss Commercial College before joining the German Commercial School in Ealing in 1931. In the following year he graduated with a London University BSc degree in economics, and in January 1933 became the German Commercial School's director at the precocious age of twenty-three. On 1 September 1936, at the Roman Catholic church of Saints Peter and Paul, Northfields, London, he married Irene Ella Levien-Thompson (1912–2000), the daughter of Henry Levien-Thompson, commercial clerk. They had a son, Robert, and two daughters, Lorna and Wendy.

Brech's interest in management and commercial education was nurtured during the difficulties of the great depression, and in 1938 he obtained the diploma of industrial administration from the Institute of Industrial Administration. However, it was his relationship with Lyndall Urwick that was to prove a key factor in his working life. In the same year Urwick, impressed by Brech's diploma results, asked him to undertake some unpaid research on the development of industrial management in Britain, then sponsored his appointment as research officer to the education research project of the British Management Council. The outbreak of the Second World War interrupted this work, and in December 1939 Brech joined the management consulting firm of Urwick, Orr & Partners as Urwick's personal assistant. He was subsequently co-author with Urwick of the pioneering three-volume The Making of Scientific Management (1945–8). This was followed by his own major contributions, first The Nature and Significance of Management (1946), then The Principles and Practice of Management (1953), both of which ran to several editions (the former as Management: its Nature and Significance). The Principles and Practice of Management remained in print for thirty years, sold 90,000 copies, and was the standard text for management studies in the national curriculum. In 1957 Brech published Organization: the Framework of Management, which explored managerial delegation, and the second edition of which was the first in an eighteen-volume series in management studies edited by Brech for Longmans.

A believer with Peter Drucker in the social and educative importance of management, Brech championed a professional, institutional response to management theory and practice. He also did much to create a central institute for management. His wartime work laid the basis for post-war management training, and the foundation of the British Institute of Management in 1947. At Urwick Orr he was an active consultant, providing services to companies like Lotus Shoes, John Laing, Macleans, BOAC, George Wimpey, and Unilever. He was also a founding director of MSL, a management recruitment agency, in 1955. From 1961 to 1963 he was a vice-president of the American firm Booz-Allen and Hamilton, and managing director of its London subsidiary, though he was less comfortable with the American approach to consultancy. After a period of part-time work, notably with Shell-Mex, he became chief executive of the newly established Construction Industry Training Board in September 1965. There he flourished for a time, making a major contribution to the training of the skilled and semi-skilled and editing a hefty volume, Construction Management in Principle and Practice (1971), before a somewhat messy departure the same year: essentially he was sacked for having been too successful. In 1974 he was co-founder of Intex Executives, which provided an innovative executive leasing service.

In 1964 Brech was offered, but turned down, the post of principal of Manchester Business School, one of the pioneering business schools in Britain. While these institutions gained momentum in the 1970s, he felt that the study of management and the institutional history of management remained neglected areas, and he proved to be a lively and enduring advocate. A man of indefatigable energy, he set new standards in his attitude to ageing. Embarking on an Open University doctorate in 1990 he completed his thesis, entitled ‘The concept and gestation of Britain's Central Management Institute, 1902–1976’, in 1994 and became, at the age of eighty-five, Britain's oldest doctoral graduate. He went on to publish a monumental series of five volumes for Thoemmes Press entitled The Evolution of Modern Management (2002), which provided an institutional history of British management practice and knowledge. Making a significant contribution to the Open University's business school, he founded and led a management history research group in the 1990s. He was also a regular attender of the LSE business history unit's seminars. A modest and self-effacing man possessed of enormous integrity and humour, he was always provocative and constructive in debate, putting scholars half his age to shame. Many a speaker was disconcerted by his remark: ‘I know the answer to this. You see, I was there’.

Brech's contribution to the development of management science in Britain was significant but limited. The British Institute of Management did not achieve all that he had hoped, and his attempt to encourage business schools to embrace the history of management did not prove very successful. While he did much to encourage accounting, business, and economic historians to see management as a science, there were others who saw management as more intuitive and who did not share his interest in the detailed history of management institutions. He was appointed MBE in 2003, became an honorary freeman of the City of London in 2004, and a DLitt of the Open University in 2005. He died on 22 September 2006 at his home, 1 Littlemead, Esher, Surrey, of heart failure. He was survived by his three children. His papers and books were donated to the Open University after his death.

Terry Gourvish

Sources  

The Independent (6 May 1999) · M. Witzel, ed., Biographical dictionary of management (2001) · J. F. Wilson and A. Thomson, The making of modern management: British management in historical perspective (2006) · The Guardian (10 Oct 2006) · The Times (13 Oct 2006) · E. F. L. Brech and R. Brech, ‘A man in management: autobiographical notes’, 2006/7, Open University business school · personal knowledge (2010) · private information (2010) [Robert Brech, son] · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

Open University business school


Likenesses  

obituary photographs · photograph, repro. in Independent (6 May 1999) · photographs, priv. coll.

Wealth at death  

£1,107,679: probate, 14 Dec 2006, CGPLA Eng. & Wales