Purpose ¿ This paper aims to provide an alternative explanation for the rise of modern management schools at the turn of the twentieth century. It is to be argued that these schools were not just responses of the higher education system to the demand of industrializing companies for a new class of professional managers, like Chandler suggests. Design/methodology/approach ¿ The historical-actor approach is applied to explain the rise of academic management schools, prior to the Second World War. Data were collected from the archives of different management schools and professional organizations of the engineers and accountants. Findings ¿ To legitimize their position in the higher education system, abstraction appeared to be the dominant strategy of the professions. By abstraction they could distinguish themselves from the lay public and other professional groups in the domain of management. At the moment the new professions had a foot in the higher education system the engineers and the accountants contested for the new management domain. Abstraction appeared also the successful strategy of the accountants to distinguish themselves from the engineers and to establish a sound base for the development of the Dutch variant of business economics. Research limitations/implications ¿ The paper presents a full account of the Dutch situation but the findings cannot be generalized to other countries. More comparative research is needed. The rise of management schools is mostly explained as an educational response to an economic demand. Practical implications ¿ The history of the Dutch business schools may provide researchers and administrators of universities insight into the dynamics of disciplines and into setting up professional schools. Originality/value ¿ This research is based on original documents from the archives of schools and professional organizations. The main contribution of the paper is that it shows how emancipatory and social status motives mediated between the demand and supply side.