BROWN, Percy Shiras
15th October 1883 to 16th July 1973
Brown was a chemical engineer who went on to become deputy director of the International Management Institute. He was a long-time associate of American businessman Edward Filene.
Brown was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on 15 October 1883. He attended St Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire and then the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he studied chemical engineering. Graduating in 1906 he took a job as a chemist with Western Electric1973 Company. An early interest in scientific management led him into research into efficiency methods at Western Electric, where he stayed for a number of years.
In 1917 Brown joined the family firm, Corona Typewriter Company, serving as works manager, a post which gave a him a chance to put Taylorist principles into practice. From 1924-5 he was president of the Taylor Society, a body dedicated to advancing the principles of scientific management. It was probably this post that brought him to the attention of Edward Filene, the Boston department store owner and champion of progressive management methods. In 1927, Filene nominated Brown to the post of deputy director at the newly formed International Management Institute in Geneva, which Filene had largely funded.
Brown lasted less only a year in this post. He fell out with the director, Paul Dévinat, and resigned in protest, returning to the United States. From 1929-30 he was an associate of Filene Stores, and then from 1930-33 he was a partner with consulting firm James O. McKinsey & Company. He returned to Filene Stores again from 1933-7, and then in 1938 became president of the Consumer Distribution Corporation.
As well as his stint with the Taylor Society, Brown was prominent in several other organisations. He was a board member of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, from 1942-4 was president of the Society for the Advancement of Management. He died in 1973.
Brown wrote a number of articles, mostly on scientific management with a specific focus on its application in retailing. His version of scientific management had a strongly humanist face, however, and he was concerned with making organisations more efficient by breaking down internal barriers and introducing greater co-ordination inside the business.
‘The Works and Aims of the Taylor Society’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1925.
‘Organization of the Manufacturing Division’, in W.J.A. Donald, Handbook of Business Administration,
(with E.A. Filene and W.K. Gabler) Next Steps Forward in Retailing, 1937.
‘Co-ordination inside the factory’, April 1927, Balliol College