“Don’t be evil” is the main theme of Google’s code of
conduct statement. GE prides itself on its Ecomagination
sustainable innovation and culture “dedicated to building a
better company — and a better world,” according to its Web
site. Pepsico’s latest annual report is dubbed “Performance
with Purpose,” highlighting the soft drink and snack maker’s
commitment to sustainability.
Ninety percent of companies say they are doing more now
than they were five years ago to include social and
environmental responsibility in their core strategies,
according to a recent McKinsey & Co. report. New research
from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of
Business finds that business schools have a bit of catching
up to do.
The research finds that business schools across the board
lag behind corporations in attention to social
responsibility issues. Smith professors Rhonda Reger and J.
Robert Baum and PhD candidate Lori Kiyatkin conducted
content analysis of Web sites of leading corporations and
business schools. Searching with key words, the researchers
tallied how each organization addressed seven social-issue
categories: corporate citizenship, transparency, the
environment, equal opportunity, family benefits, workplace
safety, and philanthropic efforts. They classified the sites
based on the degree to which the organizations framed the
social issues as key to their main mission. The corporate
Web sites led business schools in every category studied.
Reger, chair of Smith’s management and organization
department, calls the research a “wake-up call to business
The bottom line on why businesses beat b-schools: Baum,
an associate professor of entrepreneurship, says the reason
for the disparity is that commercial enterprises are
motivated by the close ties they have to stakeholders.
“Indirectly, and perhaps unintentionally, a socially
responsible focus leads to economic gain,” he said. “There
is a natural feeling, a latent need in everyone to do good.
Once organizations have their fundamental business in line —
after the survival part is handled — then social conscience
kicks in. Companies are progressive, but business schools
The researchers say the lag is unacceptable and nearing a
state of emergency — business management education develops
critical thinking, and that critical thinking must include
an approach to social responsibility.
“I think we as business schools should be embarrassed
that we’re behind the corporate world on this,” Reger said.
“We need to use research and teaching to leapfrog the
corporate world and lead the discourse on social
Business schools can jump ahead and tackle important
social issues by making the most of organizational and
alumni relationships, Reger said. Many business schools
already partner with corporations, government agencies and
other academic entities, such as medical schools and
engineering schools, creating ripe opportunities to use
these collaborations for research and projects that address
social issues head-on.
More business schools are seeing the value and
strengthening their socially conscious programs, curriculum
and research, in large part because students, corporate
constituents and alumni are demanding it, Reger said. “Our
students are way ahead of us,” she said.
But the Smith School is not taking a backseat — it has
incorporated social responsibility into programs for several
years and is intensifying efforts. Ernst & Young Alumni
Professor of Accounting and Business Ethics Steve Loeb has
for years organized a business ethics lecture series and
heads up the MBA ethics program. Adjunct faculty Jim Sanders
has been teaching a social entrepreneurship course since
2002. The Smith chapter of the social-focused Net Impact MBA
club actively plans events and sponsors speaker sessions.
The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship last year
launched an investment fund with a $50,000 portion earmarked
for investment in student- and alumni-run socially
responsible ventures. Students work with Dingman-supported
Biodiesel University, a mobile education lab that
demonstrates how to use plants to create clean, renewable
fuel. The center also coordinates MBA consulting projects
with nonprofits through a partnership with Grassroots.org, a
national organization that provides free online services to
more than 1,000 nonprofits. Since fall 2006, 40 full-time
and part-time MBA students have worked with 19 nonprofits on
projects ranging from marketing plans to building databases
from scratch. Melissa Carrier, the center’s director of
venture investments and social entrepreneurship, is
championing additional programs and curriculum.
And one of Dean Anand Anandalingam’s primary goals in his
new position at the helm of the Smith School is to beef up
the focus on social responsibility and social
entrepreneurship — “creating global leaders for sustainable
innovation,” as he puts it. By the research, this focus
couldn’t come at a better — or more necessarily — time.