A Life at the Company: Oral History and Sense Making

Ronald Kroeze, Jasmijn Vervloet

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This article explores the ways that oral history can help business historians to better understand how employees experience and make sense of their life at the company in relation to a company’s identity. The research is based on two case studies. The first concentrates on Heineken. Specifically, it focuses on the closing of the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam in 1988. The second case was a commissioned project to write a book for the eightieth anniversary of the Amsterdam-based consultancy firm Van de Bunt Adviseurs. This project was concluded in 2016 with a publication that, like the research itself, was inspired by a cultural history approach and thus paid attention to founder narratives, sensemaking, and
corporate identity construction. The article shows that oral history can broaden knowledge, especially of how employees experienced life at the company and how they made sense of it while referring to the (changing) company’s identity. Through the oral history method, employees were given a voice that showed how the same events were (differently) experienced. Moreover, the oral
histories made the personal impact of abstract developments more concrete, notably issues such as internationalization, mergers and acquisitions, changing workings conditions, scaling up or down, or closure. Stories about the founders and the ample use of the family metaphor, which stood out in both cases, expressed employees’ feelings of being part of a company with a specific identity, as well as a longing for it. The article concludes with several suggestions that should be taken into account when conducting oral history research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-46
Number of pages14
JournalEnterprise and Society
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Heineken
  • History
  • Oral history
  • Storytelling
  • Van de Bunt
  • consultancy
  • founders
  • sensemaking


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