About Georg Kell – Keynote Speaker at the 8ICSR

Georg Kell: ESG Financial Analyst and Designer of the Global Sustainability Agenda

Since 2011, Ethisphere Institute annually counts the German national amongst the ‚100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics‘, Fergal Byrne calls him a „key figure at the heart of the development of today’s sustainability agenda“. When Georg Kell worked on Kofi Annans renown speech “A Global Compact“ almost 20 years ago, he didn’t yet know that what was originally meant as a wake-up call and appeal to the experts, executives and politicians of the World Economic Forum in Davos, would turn into the world’s largest and most influential corporate sustainability initiative of our time under his leadership. Today, Kell sees the Global Compact’s biggest impact in having reshaped global views and mindsets on CSR. He says the biggest transformative power of the sustainability agenda is now finally awakening through a change of thinking in the financial world. It’s about time. 

Pioneer of the Modern CSR Agenda

Kell studied engineering and economics at TU in Berlin, where he then started his career at Fraunhofer Institute for product technology and innovation. He earned his PhD at St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York City. After having worked as a financial analyst in various African and Asian countries, he joined the United Nations in 1987.

The UN Global Compact (UNGC), led by Kell until 2015 has today been adopted by over 9,500 companies in over 160 countries to anchor CSR and to discuss a socially and environmentally sound globalization. During his time at the United Nations, Kell established the UNGC as a cross-sector forum for sustainable practices and policies. The platform significantly contributes to not only implementing CSR within corporations, but also to continuously develop, disclose and share the concept. Besides the UNGC, Kell moreover supervised the conception and implementation of parallel initiatives, such as the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) as well as the Sustainable Stock Exchange (SSE) Initiative.

The United Nations Global Compact is the worldwide largest and most important initiative for responsible business practice. Based on 10 universal principles and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it pursues the vision of an inclusive and sustainable global economy for the good of all people, communities and markets, today and in the future. (UNGC)

Moreover, Kell is Chairman of Arabesque, an ESG Quant fund manager that uses self-learning quantitative models and big data to assess the performance and sustainability of globally listed companies. Its investment technology processes over 100 billion data points to select an investment universe of equities with the aim of delivering superior returns, integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) information with quantitative strategies. This offers long term returns and a significant reduction of portfolio risks.

System Change and the Power of Ideas

Only when companies take over ESG factors into their strategy and operations and realize that it pays to create sustainable solutions instead of being a root cause of global problems, a sustainable transformation can be successful. Responsible leadership, he says in an interview with the UN News Center, means “connecting all the dots (for) you know your own future financial success depends on the success of the market where you invest”. In the interplay of global stakeholders, business plays a key role when it comes to the rewriting of old paradigms in this regard. For Kell, the systemic transformation of markets is at the center of a successful sustainability agenda. The bis challenge and the real test lies in the reality that institutions and political systems are only changing slowly. Business must operate in frameworks which are, in the face of digitalization, technological development, planetary boundaries and complex, changing government structures outdated. So, the path to transformation is still oftentimes a chaotic and not always forward-oriented one. He for example calls out Germany’s subsidies of diesel consumption to be a “perverse outdated industrial policy”. We do not have a pre-drawn map to navigate the transformation we’re facing, but for Kell there’s no arguing: “we have to move from an industrial era model to a future-fit model”. Therefore, it needs courageous visionaries and leaders who, in the presence of an unknown future, do not fear to follow ambitious goals. We should not forget: Out of an inspirational speech – with the right vision and leadership – can emerge a network of over 9,500 corporations which is able to shape the awareness of an entire generation: “The strongest power humanity has is idea power”, says Kell.

Wake-up Call of the Financial World and the Acceleration of the Sustainability Agenda

Kell sees the true transformational power to move towards a sustainable system in the distribution of financial capital. In Fergal Byrne’s Podcast „The Sustainability Agenda“ , he calls 2018 to be the year of alignment between sustainable investment and responsible business practices. As one of the most inert players, the broad financial world has, in their obsession with short-term profits, tried to escape the ESG debate. Only a study in 2015, showing a positive correlation between ESG performance and long-term stock evaluation trigger a rethinking according to Kell: The wake-up call. In this development Kell sees the next big “boost” of the sustainability agenda. The PRI is growing fast, a variety of other initiatives is developing and with new financial products a new generation is realizing they can personally invest according with their values. The financial world is catching up in regard to the sustainability agenda and, thanks to quick technological developments, in a way that might have it overtake and significantly shape it: “Once finance speaks and relocates capital, then the sustainability issue really goes to scale and will be accelerated and hopefully policy makers will also realize about time to adjust the framework conditions”. Ultimately, we will need political leadership and a regulatory playing field that allows us to operate beyond the boarders of an industrial system.

At the moment, Kell is very much invested into the question of how to make the alignment between sustainable investing and corporate good practices happen in practice, and how to create transmission mechanism most effectively to bring it to scale as rapidly as possible. Because: We’re running out of time.

On November 14th 2018, Georg Kell will speak at the “8th International Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility: Responsible Leadership in Times of Transformation”. He will hold a laudatory for Robert G. Eccles, ESG & Integrated Reporting Pioneer and currently visiting Professor at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, who will be awarded with the „Lifetime CSR Achievement Award 2018”. Join us and buy a ticket at: www.international-csr.org/icsr-ticket-information/ 


Website Georg Kell:

Articles, Interviews, Videos:


Interview with Archie B. Carroll – has CSR become mainstream?

Archie Carroll served for 40 years on the faculty of the Terry College of Business, University of Georgia. He held the Robert W. Scherer Chair of Corporate Public Affairs Management, and served as Professor, Department Head, and Associate Dean. He has received numerous awards and recognitions over the years for his teaching, research and service.

Dr. Carroll has published over 100 articles in leading management journals and over 20 books including multiple editions of several. He is senior co-author of Business & Society: Ethics, Sustainability and Stakeholder Management, (2018), 10th edition, with Jill Brown (Bentley University) and the late Ann K. Buchholtz – one of the leading books in the field. He is co-author of Corporate Responsibility: The American Experience (2012), Cambridge University Press which won the Best Book Award at the 2014 Academy of Management—Social Issues in Management meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

Dr. Archie Carroll coined the understanding of CSR with his concept of the CSR Pyramid in the 1990’s. In this interview Carroll talks about the validity of this concept in times of transformation and uncertainty, CSR in the U.S., and whether CSR has become mainstream.


1) You have had a long and illustrious career as a passionate advocate for CSR in a nation, both government and business, that seems to turn a blind eye to the very real monetary benefits of practicing meaningful CSR, or even acknowledging climate change. Why do you think that the US struggles with these concepts when compared to other developed nations?

It is implicit in that question that both business and government “seems” to turn a blind eye to the monetary benefits of practicing meaningful CSR. To some extent, this is a valid observation but it is becoming clearer with each passing year and decade that these institutions are perceiving effective CSR to be in their best long-term interests, including their economic interests. In the 50 year career that I’ve been monitoring CSR, it has steadily grown in interest among both the public and business. In the U.S., CSR has been typically viewed to be a responsibility of business, not government, though government has addressed many of these same issues. This varies widely by country and company, of course, so it’s dangerous to generalize.

Many variables are at work affecting firms’ CSR. In fact, in our recent article on “The Institutionalization of Corporate Social Reporting,” Business and Society 2017, Vol. 56(8), Kareem Shabana, Ann Buchholtz, and I discuss the independent variables that affect both firms’ CSR and their reporting to include hazardous industry membership, participation in controversial business issues, stakeholder concerns, media coverage, advertising intensity, organizational slack, and firm size to be critical variables. Each of these variables brings influence to bear on how companies are perceiving and responding to CSR.

Regarding the “acknowledgment of climate change,” many of these same factors are at work. Both the acceptance of CSR and the acknowledgement of climate change can represent significant expenditures and significant changes and thus there is at work a resistance to change on the part of various executives and boards. Though much resistance still exists, I sense companies are increasingly coming to see that climate change is an issue that needs to move from its radar screen to its business processes. At the same time these companies are struggling with technology and global competition so there are many pieces to the puzzle on the table.

When you say the U.S. struggles with these concepts compared to other developed nations, this is a discussion that could have no end. I don’t sense the U.S. struggles with CSR more than many developed nations. As for climate change, that may be truer. The American citizenry is often divided on the causes and remedies of climate change.

Concerning CSR, I think the important work by Dirk Matten and Jeremy Moon regarding the differences between CSR in the U.S. and Europe apply here. If CSR is more “implicit” than “explicit” due to the nature of the socio-economic structure of the country, differences are to be expected. Back on the subject of climate change, I think some of these same variables may be at work along with the fact that many of the European countries are much smaller than the U. S. and thus their sense of urgency regarding climate change may be reflective of these factors.

2) What changes would you make to the CSR Pyramid during these times of significant transformation and increasing uncertainty?

We constantly seem to be in times of transformation and uncertainty. I guess what you are asking is whether the CSR Pyramid is still valid given the environment in which we live. In primarily capitalistic economies I do believe the CSR pyramid is still valid. In business-driven economies wherein private ownership is still the dominant form of ownership, the foundational importance of the economic responsibility of business is still the building block of business’s responsibility to society – to provide goods and services that society needs and to provide profits sufficient to ensure survival and growth (sustainability) and to reward its investors. Inasmuch as a legal infrastructure is essential to a growing and prospering country, I do think the legal responsibilities provide the codification of right and wrong that permit institutions to flourish. The ethical component of my CSR Pyramid suggests that just obeying the laws and regulations are not enough, one must practice sound ethics as well. Ethical expectations typically exceed the requirements of law and also address other issues for which there are no laws or laws lag. And, as for philanthropy, this is still viewed as an expected responsibility by most of societies’ stakeholders.

When I originally conceived of this four-part construct of CSR, I was thinking mostly of the U.S. That was between the late 1970s and the early 1990s before the explosion in the global economy and competition. I’m aware that a few other researchers have concluded that the pyramid sequence of responsibilities is different in some countries, I do believe the pyramid remains valid in most free-enterprise economies as a descriptor of the relative importance of the responsibilities. I receive emails from academics in China, Japan, Malaysia and many European countries saying they use the CSR Pyramid in their teaching. That is somewhat comforting.

Changes? In my later teaching and thinking about CSR using the Pyramid, I have always drawn a broad arrow down through the four categories, from top to bottom, to depict that ethics, broadly conceived, shapes and informs each of the four categories. Even the choice of capitalism as an economic system, for example, is an ethical choice that countries and societies make. And, it is obvious how ethics underpins law and philanthropy. So, for sure, a concern for ethics cuts through the entire pyramid. In addition, I often sketch out the tensions that occur between and among the four CSR components.

As for how to change the pyramid to accommodate transformations and increasing uncertainties, I’m not sure. In my mind, the pyramid is implicitly a dynamic model though its not easy to depict that in a single diagrammatical format. Maybe a series of pyramids moving from left to right illustrating how the factors may change over time might capture some of it.

3) Do you feel as though that mainstream business has finally come around to the notion that one can make a profit and have a positive societal impact at the same time? Or do we still have a way to go in this regard?

If you listen to business executives and observe their practices, it is apparent that CSR has become a mainstream responsibility among most medium-to large business organizations. I do believe most of them have accepted the “business case for CSR.” CSR arises in many different forms and degrees, however. Among these are firms I would call “CSR Exemplar Firms,” in addition to the “mainstream adopters.” In addition, we are observing social entrepreneurship and social intrapreneurship catching on and spreading. The rise of B-Corps is evident as is the rise of small business CSR. The Conscious Capitalism movement is another example though it shares many of the same attributes as CSR Exemplar firms.

4) Do you see CSR and Sustainability as being distinct factors that companies need to consider, or do they belong inherently to a holistic and balanced corporate strategy?

In my mind, CSR and Sustainability are more overlapping and interrelated than distinct factors companies need to consider. I understand that some sustainability experts argue that CSR is too old fashioned or static, but I think it is assumed by most of us who have been working in this area that CSR has both a short-term and a long-term perspective and that both are important. Often academics have different views on this than do practitioners.

To be sure, the early writings on CSR did not speak as much as they should have about the concern for future generations and that is a key point in sustainability, but the broader view of sustainability that encompasses social, economic and environmental (the triple bottom line) spheres is very much overlapping with CSR. If you examine the highest ranked CSR and highest ranked Sustainability companies in the world today, you will find they are significantly the same companies.

Your question also addresses whether they belong in an inherently holistic and balanced corporate strategy, and I would say that they definitely do. CSR and Sustainability must be carefully crafted and integrated into corporate strategy to be effective.

Archie B. Carroll
Professor Emeritus
Terry College of Business
University of Georgia

For Further Information about Dr. Archie B. Carroll: http://www.terry.uga.edu/directory/profile/acarroll/ 

Interview with John Elkington – why his triple bottom line has to be reexamined

John Elkington is an author, entrepreneur and world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development. He is also the Founding Partner, Chairman, and Chief Pollinator at Volans, as well as co-founder, now Honorary Chairman, of SustainAbility and of Environmental Data Services.

In this interview Mr. Elkington talks about his reexamination of the phrase “triple bottom line”, implementing CSR and sustainability into strategies and operations, and the future of the business world.




1) Why did you feel that after 25 years a fundamental reexamination of your triple bottom line theory was warranted? What has changed in your mind?

Since the 1990s, the sustainability sector has grown rapidly, though at around $1 billion in annual revenues globally it is no giant. Still, market research suggests that future markets for its products and services could be huge — with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals forecast to generate market opportunities of over $12 trillion a year by 2030 (and that’s considered a conservative estimate).

But success or failure on sustainability goals cannot be measured only in terms of profit and loss. It must also be measured in terms of the wellbeing of billions of people and the health of our planet, and the sustainability sector’s record in moving the needle on those goals has been decidedly mixed. While there have been successes, our climate, water resources, oceans, forests, soils and biodiversity are all increasingly threatened. It is time to either step up — or to get out of the way.

As I wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

Fundamentally, we have a hard-wired cultural problem in business, finance and markets. Whereas CEOs, CFOs, and other corporate leaders move heaven and earth to ensure that they hit their profit targets, the same is very rarely true of their people and planet targets. Clearly, the Triple Bottom Line has failed to bury the single bottom line paradigm.

Critically, too, TBL’s stated goal from the outset was system change — pushing toward the transformation of capitalism. It was never supposed to be just an accounting system. It was originally intended as a genetic code, a triple helix of change for tomorrow’s capitalism, with a focus was on breakthrough change, disruption, asymmetric growth (with unsustainable sectors actively sidelined), and the scaling of next-generation market solutions.

To be fair, some companies did move in this direction, among them Denmark’s Novo Nordisk (which rechartered itself around the TBL in 2004), Anglo-Dutch Unilever, and Germany’s Covestro. The latter company’s recently retired CEO, Patrick Thomas, has stressed that the proper use of the TBL involves, at minimum, progress on two dimensions while the third remains unaffected. It is time for this interpretation to become the default setting not just for a handful of leading businesses, but for all business leaders.

I see a bright ray of hope coming from the high-energy world of B Corporations. There’s a lot of momentum there; around 2,500 businesses worldwide are now certified as B Corps. All are configured around the TBL — dedicated to be not just “best in the world,” but “best for the world.” Major companies like Brazil’s Natura and Danone’s North American operation are now B Corps, with other multinational corporations considering how to follow suit.

To truly shift the needle, however, we need a new wave of TBL innovation and deployment. But even though my company, Volans, consults with companies on TBL implementation, frankly, I’m not sure it’s going to be enough. Indeed, none of these sustainability frameworks will be enough, as long as they lack the suitable pace and scale — the necessary radical intent — needed to stop us all overshooting our planetary boundaries.

Hence the need for a “recall.” I hope that in another 25 years we can look back and point to this as the moment started working toward a triple helix for value creation, a genetic code for tomorrow’s capitalism, spurring the regeneration of our economies, societies, and biosphere.

*For some background on the recall process itself, see here:

2) Following up on that question, do you feel that we have reached an inflection point regarding the acceptance of CSR and sustainability as viable strategic approaches by mainstream business in 2018, given Larry Fink’s open letter to CEOs, or are we not quite there yet?

BlackRock are a passive investor, which means that they are not going to rock the corporate boat that much. Welcome, but not quite the manifesto for changing capitalism that some have seen it to be.

3) Given the fact that most managers and executives, at least in the West, have been long taught to believe that there is a fundamental trade-off between profit and social responsibility, how should they best go about holistically incorporating CSR and sustainability into their strategic and operational thinking?

In the same way that we encouraged them to pay attention to what NGOs were saying a few decades ago and then more recently to what social innovators, social entrepreneurs and impact investors are doing, they now need to pay a lot more attention to what exponential innovators, entrepreneurs and investors (from Elon Musk to Josh Tetrick) are now doing to disrupt one sector after another. More sustainable outcomes are not guaranteed on these trajectories, indeed far from it, but the combination of disruption with new values is a powerful one.

4) It is, understandably, a herculean task to fundamentally reexamine the entire way in which one does business, in which specific areas do you foresee businesses having trouble with the integration of these concepts?

There is much talk currently of corporate purpose, which is all well and good. But I’m skeptical. If Patagonia talks about purpose, I know what I’m dealing with; if ExxonMobil does, it’s a different matter entirely.

Business leaders need to lobby much more actively for the sort of market incentives that will push and pull their industries in the right directions – and at the right scale and pace.

5) In your opinion, what does the future of business look like? Will companies still be able to get away with negatively impacting society in favor of profit and growth? Or will investors begin to realize that such rabid short termism is ultimately unsustainable, and begin to reward companies that prioritize long term growth, and thus sustainability, over quarterly returns, or I am giving wall street too much credit?

Some companies will always get away with murder – because we haven’t yet woken up to what they’re doing, because we don’t (yet) have enough political leverage on them, or because we don’t care.

But major brands are finding it increasingly hard to hide – and, indeed, their younger employees are bringing a very different value set to work.

Wall Street will struggle to take all of this on board for quite some time yet, but I do see the Larry Fink CEO letter as an encouraging sign that our change agenda is finally starting to percolate at the top of some pretty major financial institutions.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Fröhlich – President of Cologne Business School

Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Fröhlich is the president of the CBS Cologne Business School and a professor for supply chain management.

In this interview, Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Fröhlich describes how CBS is working to become a leader in the realm of sustainable education and research. Furthermore, she explains why the CBS was chosen as one of the two venues for the 5th Responsible Management Education Research Conference as well as the 8th International Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility.

1) Why will CBS be hosting the 5thResponsible Management Education Research Conference as well as the 8thInternational Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility?

The CBS has proven in recent years, under the guidance of my colleague Prof. Dr. René Schmidpeter, the co-director of the Center for Advanced Sustainable Management (CASM) here at CBS, that we are leaders when it comes to sustainable education and research. We are one of the few universities that have implemented and accredited a so-called integrated sustainability curriculum. Our vision for 2017, which was adopted last year, declares that employability and lifelong learning are a top priority for CBS.

We develop competent and responsible decision-makers who take their roles in society very seriously and work to find innovative solutions to the economic problems of our time. CBS can be considered to be a pioneer in the development of new methods for management education, which is why we are proud to announce that we will be hosting the 5thResponsible Management Education Research Conference as well as the 8thInternational Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility.

2) What do you promise guests that visit the conference?

I can promise our guests that they will meet “like-minded people” and that together we will work to develop innovative approaches for sustainable management to ensure that we can find answers to the most important questions of our time. During the conferences, no topic and no region will be neglected – for me personally, this global exchange is incredibly important and future-oriented.

With CASM, we have created a national platform where this exchange can take place to further innovation and change. The conference should also serve to help develop new ideas for study and teaching programs. PRME focuses very intensively on the question of how we can successfully implement sustainability in teaching and how we can “prove” this success. Our guests will hear from some of the best practice examples and can take inspiration to develop management education approaches.

It is also very important to me that we encourage companies to invest more into their employees as well as their management team. Especially when we think about CSR in the context of digitalization, companies will also face the challenge of how to make their top management level “fit” for this change.

My personal highlight of this conference is to discuss our ideas and visions with top-class, international experts from business, science, society and politics.

3) What do you personally look forward to the most? 

For me personally, the biggest challenge in the context of CSR is the intercultural component. I’ve participated in several international CSR conferences myself and learned a lot from the lectures and panels. Especially in my field of research “sustainable management of global supply chains” the intercultural dimension plays a crucial role. As a German company, I cannot just enforce my own understanding of sustainability on the supplier. I have to understand sustainability first and then I can work together with my supplier to find approaches on how to best enforce sustainability standards.

To realize and to discuss the necessary transparency in the global supply chain, such as new technologies and blockchain developments, can help to overcome these challenges. I am very excited about these opportunities and I hope to take one step further in the right direction here.

I am looking forward to engaging in discussions with our international experts from on the issues that challenge our current business models – and I am convinced that CBS is making an important contribution to this discussion.

Interview with Prof. Danica Purg – Dean and President of IEDC Bled School of Management, President of CEEMAN

Professor Danica Purg is the President of the IEDC-Bled School of Management, Slovenia, and the President of CEEMAN, the international association for management development in dynamic societies, which brings together 225 management development institutions from 54 countries. She is also leading the European Leadership Centre (ELC). [1]

In this interview, Danica Purg describes her views on trends such as digitalization, sustainability, and CSR. She also discusses the concept of responsible leadership and the role of business schools in reshaping the next generation of leaders. 



1) Growing up in the former Yugoslavia you have experienced a significant amount of change in your life, including the fall of Communism and the break-up of Yugoslavia, offering you a unique perspective compared to many western academics. How would you say this experience has influenced your views on trends like digitalization, sustainability, and CSR?

Although it must be already a part of my DNA not to be afraid of challenges and the big political and social changes during the first decades of my life it helped me to think of solutions and to grasp opportunities. Even the establishment of IEDC, a “modern” business school, in the time of (self-management) socialism has been a “disruptive” initiative. The time of anomalies in the late 80s’ and beginning of 90s’ inspired me to introduce ethics in the curricula of the School. Out of that the attention for CSR and sustainability was a logical consequence. I was convinced that only the best faculty could help CEE to close the managerial gap. By attracting the best professors I positioned myself in the frontline of innovative methods of teaching and learning. I see digitalization as opportunity to reach more people to improve own performance.

2) What do you think are the biggest opportunities or challenges that we face in the fields of sustainability, digitalization, and CSR?

The biggest challenge is to change the mind-set of people, in order to be able to live in the era of fast changes (what we call “disruptive” today, will be “normal” in the future), to be able to make “automatically” the right decisions for people and the globe. The biggest opportunity lies in the area of information and communication.

3) What are some of the unique attributes that you believe managers need to have? And how do these attributes this manifest itself in their businesses and their business culture?

Managers of the future are mentors, coaches, creating the conditions for others (people, robots) to perform. They need the necessary technical and functional skills, but focus will be on analytical and emotional qualities. Managers of the complex future are people who are able to build their behaviours and decisions on intuition and their senses. They will perform in horizontal organizations with self- management teams in continuously changing organizations with innovations as an “embedded” characteristic.

4) Leadership as a concept has changed a lot in the past decades, shifting towards the term “responsible leadership”. What does responsible leadership mean for you?

Responsible leadership means for me awareness that every decision has consequences for the environment, for people you lead and for yourself. It also means that you are acting transparently and you are ready to explain your vision and acts and are open to critics and ready to change.

5) Building upon the leadership concept, where do you see the role of business schools in reshaping the next generation of leaders?

Business schools have the responsibility to assist in developing leaders with the above-mentioned mind-set and skills. We are not able to “ensure”, but we can do our best to deliver not only the “toolkit”, but also the “mind-set” to be a responsible leader.

6) What do you think are the most important metrics for defining success?

Success for me is a sustainable and responsible activity (movement, product, service) on the basis of the long-term mission and vision. It can be measured by the level of satisfaction of your stakeholders (employees, customers, financers, relevant groups of citizens).

[1] http://www.iedc.si/faculty-research/faculty/danica-purg

Ed Freeman

Stakeholder and Responsible Leadership – Ed Freeman

In this interview, Ed Freeman, the founder of the stakeholder theory, provides valuable insight on how to overcome stereotypes about “academics” and “practitioners”, to create positive social impact. He also discuss the  essentially of communication and notes that one of the reasons why this conference series has been so successful is due to the informal time that academics and practitioners spend together.

(1) Ed, you are known as the founding father of the stakeholder theory. What motivated you to postulate this theory?

My understanding of what has been done may be a bit different from others.  I was simply trying to make sense of what “business” really was.  I had recently gotten my PhD in Philosophy and had no experience with business, and I found myself with a Post-doc at Wharton.  It seemed to me like every business I saw was trying to create value for customers, suppliers, employees, communities, and financiers.  I took this as obvious and common sense, not a “theory” at all.  I’ve tried to pursue this understanding of business for the last 40 years.  I get way too much credit for “stakeholder theory”.

(2) The topic of The 8th International Conference on Sustainability and Responsibility is, “Responsible Leadership in Times of Transformation”. What role does the stakeholder theory play with respect to responsible leadership?

Once again I have to confess being naieve.  I didn’t know that business schools and business theorists separated “business” from “ethics” (and responsibility).  I was trying to give a useful answer to the questions of (1) How can businesses thrive in times of instability and uncertainty? (2) How do we address the issue of the ethics of capitalism? and, (3) What should we be teaching in business schools?  Business and responsibility have always seemed intimately connected to me.  I originally thought that positivism was long dead having been killed at least by Wittgenstein and the pragmatist philosophers of the 1950s.  I was surprised to find it alive and thriving (especially today) at business schools all over the world.

(3) In your opinion, what are some of the pressing challenges facing stakeholders in times of transformation (e.g. considering digitalization or increased fragmentation of stakeholders)?

One of the biggest challenges is keeping up with some incredible technological advances, and since that is really technically impossible, it is imperative to be able to trust others.  The role of ethics and integrity is more important than ever.

(4) At the conference we aim to connect academics and practitioners. What do you think are the most significant challenges and opportunities that arise from a such format?

The biggest issue is how to really listen to each other, and establish some trust.  Academics aren’t the best listeners, and practitioners don’t always have the most open minds.  The challenges of communication are fairly substantial.  One of the highlights of this conference in the past has been the informal time to spend with both other academics and practitioners.  All seem to want to have better relationships and more communication.

(5) How can we use this conference to create or foster societal impact?

Perhaps, out of the communication will come some new ideas, embodied in some new projects that can make a difference.  Getting rid of old stereotypes about “academics” and “practitioners” can really help here.

(6) What do you personally hope for this conference to accomplish?

Conferences can inspire people to do important work.  I see that as part of my role as an academic:  to inspire colleagues, students, and practitioners to figure out how to create value for their stakeholders, and make the world a better place for our children.

Thank you for your time!

About the Author

R. Edward Freeman is University Professor and Elis and Signe Olsson Professor of Business Administration; Senior Fellow of the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics; Academic Director of the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics; and Co-Academic Director of the Institute for Business in Society. He is also Adjunct Professor of Stakeholder Management at the Copenhagen Business School, and Adjunct Professor at Monash University (Melbourne). Mr. Freeman taught previously at the University of Minnesota, and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. 

Freeman’s latest book, Business: The New Story, with Bidhan Parmar and Kirsten Martin will be published by Columbia University Press in 2019,  A previous book, Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2010 (co-authored with J. Harrison, A. Wicks, B.Parmar, and S. de Colle.) He is the author or editor of over twenty volumes and one hundred articles in the areas of stakeholder management, business strategy and business ethics. Freeman is perhaps best known for his award winning book: Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, published in 1984.

Freeman has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Washington University, and a B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Duke University. He was recently awarded four honorary doctorates in economics and management (DHC) from Comillas University in Madrid, from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki and Sherbrooke University in Canada for his work on stakeholder theory and business ethics. Mr. Freeman is a lifelong student of philosophy, martial arts, and the blues. He is a co-principal in Red Goat Records, LLC found at redgoatrecords.com. For more information, go to www.REdwardfreeman.com