Jim Post Co-authors New Book, “Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience”

in Emerging Research, Faculty, Markets, Public Policy & Law, News, Social Impact
January 28th, 2013

Carroll, A.B., Lipartito, K.J., Post, J.E., Werhane, P. H., & Goodpaster, K.E. (2012). Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience, Cambridge University Press.

Corporate Responsibility: The American ExperienceSince the dawn of capitalism, nations have struggled to solve “the corporate dilemma.” On one hand, corporations–capitalism’s dominant organizational form–have proven effective mechanisms for producing wealth, meeting consumer needs, and building industries that employ millions. On the other hand, they often impose costly negative externalities on workers, communities, and the natural environment.  Corporate responsibility is the “third way” between self-interest and government regulation to address this dilemma.

But to whom do corporations owe a responsibility? For what? And how are those responsibilities, once defined, to be met?

These questions have haunted capitalism throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, both in the US and abroad. Although today constructive corporate citizenship is a hallmark of many leading companies, no single-volume history exists of the concept and practice of corporate responsibility. In his new book, Boston University School of Management’s James E. Post, the John F. Smith Professor in Management, aims to fill this gap. Along with a team of four senior scholars and nearly a dozen research aides, Post and his co-authors have published Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience, from Cambridge University Press.

The story behind the rise of corporate citizenship

This book tells the story of how corporate responsibility emerged as both an idea and practice in the modern firm. Says Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronics and current faculty member at Harvard Business School, the work is “brilliantly researched and beautifully written.” It also a offers gallery of nearly 100 pictures, most in color, featuring seminal moments in the history of corporate citizenship.

Brilliantly researched and beautifully written – Bill George, Former Chairman & CEO, Medtronics; Professor, Management Practice, Harvard Business School

“Our vision, and our hope,” says Post, “was to create a compelling historical narrative of how corporate responsibility emerged as a concept and became  part of the American business psyche. It is an idea that has had a significant and enduring influence on both corporate rhetoric and behavior. Now, we offer the story of how business practice has changed as our nation (and the world) evolved, social pressures built, and companies were challenged to respond and then anticipate where these transformations would lead.”

This is no whitewash of business practice, Post explains. The book candidly covers examples of labor violence, such as the slaughter of dozens of miners, women, and children in Ludlow, Colorado in the infamous Shirtwaist Triangle factory fire; sweatshop conditions in modern factories; and the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. But it also offers inspiring stories as well, such as J. Irwin Miller’s leadership in civil rights as CEO of Cummins Engine Company; Bill Norris’ commitment to radical social innovation in Minneapolis as CEO of Control Data; General Mills’ 150 years of corporate volunteerism and community philanthropy; and the role of women as crusaders, activists, and critical contributors to industrial development and family-friendly and fair workplace policies.

Boston University’s heritage in creating corporate, and social, value

New England companies have often been in the vanguard of corporate citizenship. Post explains that “locally, many Boston University alumni will remember the role of Boston businesses in school desegregation; Polaroid’s withdrawal from the South Africa of apartheid days; and Aaron Feuerstein’s bold commitment to continue paying workers who were unemployed as a result of the great Malden Mills fire in Lawrence, Massachusetts in December 1995.”  Progressive human relations practices remain a hallmark of many local companies, Post points out: Ben and Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Tom’s of Maine, and other New England-bred models of social entrepreneurship.

While belief in corporate responsibility is part of America’s cultural fabric, it is also part of Boston University’s heritage. The founding dean of the School of Management, which in 2013 celebrates its 100th year of classes, was Everett W. Lord: an activist for child labor protection, a believer in professional education, and author of The Fundamentals of Business Ethics. The book, published in 1926, challenges students and business leaders alike to view ethics and integrity as the keys to personal success.  To Dean Lord and his successors, the purpose of business has always been “service to society.”

About James E. Post

James E. Post teaches in the Markets, Public Policy & Law department in the School of Management, and has been involved in conceptual and practical debates over these issues in many forums since joining the Boston University School of Management faculty in 1974. He criticized companies that engaged in questionable marketing of baby formula in the 1980s, then consulted with the World Health Organization on a pioneering international code of marketing practices. He has worked to professionalize corporate public affairs in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, has written extensively about the concept and practice of business and society, and is frequently cited in the media for his expertise.  In 2010, Post received a lifetime achievement award from the Aspen Institute.

Read more about the book Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience.