Archive for the ‘corporate governance’ Category
The theme for this year’s ASA meeting is “Real utopias,” and Erik Wright commissioned a bunch of us to write up utopian blueprints for our particular domains. Erik wanted the essays to be posted months in advance in order to encourage people to read, think about, and comment on them. The annual meeting could then be spent in productive discussions rather than one-way transfers.
My session, “Re-imagining the corporation,” may be of interest to orgtheory types. It’s a morose chronicle of the collapse of the corporation as a social institution in the US, followed by a more cheerful account of how we might deal with apocalyptic climate change and societal collapse using the shrewd insights of organization theory.
The essay is posted at the Real Utopia website, and the session will take place Saturday 12:30-2:10 in the ever-popular “Room TBA.” Hope to see some people there.
Here is an executive summary:
The big news in academic circles recently is the resignation of Teresa Sullivan as the president of the University of Virginia. I’ve been slow to catch on to the importance of this topic and have to admit that I don’t understand the complex politics motivating this move. What compelled the Board of Visitors to ask for her resignation?
The story I’ve heard from a number of news sources is that certain members of the board, and clearly not all since the move was initiated without a vote from the full board, were unhappy with Sullivan’s “incremental” pace in creating change to the institution. But what changes did they want? Based on the emails of board members involved in the ouster, one of the topics that keeps coming up is online education. But that can’t be the real or entire reason for worrying about Sullivan’s strategy. Every university in the country is aware of the potential that online education offers, but none of the elite institutions have yet figured out how it’s going to play out in the long run. Some universities are experimenting with online offerings, but it’s still at a developmental stage.
Others have speculated that the reason was that the Board wanted to see the university run like a business, a vision that Sullivan did not share. But if you read a strategic memo issued by Sullivan in May, you can see that she was actively engaged with the university’s budget situation. She was making efforts to control costs and optimize revenue streams. As you’d expect from any competent president, as it appears she was, Sullivan was keenly aware of the operational needs of the university.
Sullivan’s own public statement about the resignation suggests that the board was unhappy with her style of leadership. They wanted her to run the university in a more autocratic style, a style she did not believe was conducive to good university governance : “Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work.” Taking this statement as a signal of the disagreement between the two parties, the board probably wanted Sullivan to make some moves that would have been unpopular with some of the faculty and Sullivan was unwilling to make those decisions without some faculty support. I’d like to know more about what those unpopular actions were.
What am I missing here? I’d appreciate it if anyone else who is much better informed about the context could shed some light.
Remember a few years ago when we had that massive child abuse scandal in the Catholic church? What was the consequence of that? If you read the wiki, the answer seems to be that the Church lost a lot of money ($1.5bn by one estimate) and some priests had to retire or resign. Almost no one went to jail, and the Catholic church seems to have suffered few consequences aside from bankruptcy and losing properties. The Catholic church seems to have retained its legitimacy as an organization.
This raises a question for me: What does the child abuse scandal teach us about the resilience of organizations? For example, would other religious organizations be so resilient in the face of such serious charges? Is the Catholic Church unique? Or do religious groups have an above average ability to survive this sort of scandal?
Writing from the home office in Switzerland, Tim draws my attention to a conference for management PhD scholars interested in development. From the call for papers for the UNDP Development Academy:
The oikos UNDP Young Scholars Development Academy 2012 provides PhD students and young scholars working on poverty, sustainable development, and the informal economy from an Organisation and Management Theory perspective a platform to present and discuss their on-going research projects with fellow students and senior faculty.
Research on inclusive business models, market development and sustainability between the informal and formal economy is a promising and challenging field for young researchers and PhD students. It calls for a multitude of methods, combination of disciplines in strategy, organisation studies, sociology, anthropology and economics, and new research designs, e.g. market ethnography in organisation studies.
Great opportunity for orgtheory PhD students and tenure track/post docs. Check it out.
I was reading through some of his work and much of it links with important issues in organization theory. For example, one of Ribstein’s areas of focus was “uncorporations” — see his book The Rise of the Uncorporation (Oxford University Press). Uncorporations are forms of association and governance like limited liability corporations (LLCs), partnerships etc. These uncorporations represent 1/3 of all tax-reporting entities (the stat is from the above book) and the form is growing rapidly. These forms deserve attention given their unique structure, approach to contracts and incentives, etc.
So if you want a very good primer on corporations and uncorporations (frankly, this should really be part of the “yleissivistys” of any good org theorist), then get this book (here’s Chapter 1 on SSRN). While we have some good work on partnerships and related forms (e.g., I like this piece by Royston Greenwood and Laura Empson), nonetheless I think there is much opportunity to do further research in this area.
Another piece that might interest org theorists is Ribstein’s 2010 piece on the Death of Big Law, Wisconsin Law Review. The article discusses the many pressures faced by big law firms: deprofessionalization, competition from small law firms, the rise of in-house council, diseconomies, changing incentive structures, etc.
For more, here’s Larry Ribstein’s bepress page.
Bob Sutton teaches us that @$$holes are a bad thing. They take up our time, they decrease our productivity. But what do we make of the Steve Jobs biography? According to one headline, it shows that Jobs was a “jerk and a genius.” What gives? Was Sutton wrong?
Here’s my take. Yes, in general, jerks are a bad thing. Research and personal experience show that they are. For every mean boss who succeeds, there’s a legion that just make their co-workers miserable and unproductive. Early in his career, Jobs was the paragon of the jerk who pulled everyone down with him. One of the reasons he was run out from Apple was that he constantly fought with other factions within Apple.
So how did Jobs break out of this trap? A few ways. First, he became better at his job over time. Even though there were some problem products later in his career, nothing compared to the bomb that was the Lisa computer. It’s easier to command respect and compliance when your batting average goes up, way up. The benefits of working with Jobs now outweighed his negatives.
Second, Jobs restructured the organization and eliminated people who didn’t buy into his personal style. Early in his career, he had to work with people who were older than him and knew him before he became famous. They might not always buy into the “reality distortion field.” Later, Apple leaders were mainly people groomed by him. All the old leadership had retired or were fired upon Jobs’ return.
Third, Jobs was fairly interactive. Yes, he was a bit of an @$$hole, but the biography shows many cases of where he built strong bonds with people. A lot of @$$holes never balance the aggression with positive reinforcement.
Bottom line: I still believe in Sutton’s rule, but Jobs was exceptional. Almost no one had his deep knowledge of the high tech business or such an acute sense of style and design. Few can build an organization tailored to their personality. Most @$$holes will never be in Jobs’ league and will merely make our lives miserable. Long live the no @$$hole rule!