Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Roger L Martin on Corporate Social Responsibility

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Roger L Martin on Corporate Social Responsibility
September 2007 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Roger L Martin
The Joseph L Rotman School of Management,

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  • Thank you Professor for sharing your profound ideas with us. Also congratulations for being an oftencited author in Corporate Social Responsibility area. What were the antecedents for embarking on this topic? Was there any powerful trigger?

  • The triggering event was being invited to an Aspen Institute seminar on CSR in the summer of 2001. It assembled a number of the world's leading thinkers on CSR plus three business school deans (one from North America, one from Europe and one from Latin America). The deans were there to listen and learn from the CSR experts and hopefully take

    back to their respective schools ideas for teaching CSR to MBA students. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I came to the seminar expecting to hear lots of detailed and advanced thinking on CSR, but when I got there, I realized that the thinking was very preliminary and unformed. I realized that if we waited for the experts to tell us how to think about CSR, we would be waiting for a long time. So I decided to work on advancing the field as much as I could.

  • What is Corporate Social Responsibility? What are the different ways/forms in which CSR manifests?

    I am more enthused about the term Corporate Citizenship because I think that it connotes the responsibilities of a good citizen. A person is a citizen of a given country and hence, has a home that accepts him/her as a legitimate member of its community. But in exchange for being an official and accepted member of that community, the citizen is expected to behave in ways that make the community stronger rather than weaker.

    For me, that is a good metaphor. Every corporation has a home (or multiple homes for multinational companies) and should strive to be an entity that makes its home better. That is, its impact should not be neutral or negative; it should make a positive contribution.

    On that front, there are myriad ways that a corporation can make its community better. It can give to charities. It can give its employees time off to do social work. It can invest in the local health or civic infrastructure.

    There are almost an unlimited number of ways that a corporation can have a positive impact on its community, as is the case with any individual citizen.

  • What is the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives? Why should companies embrace them?

  • I think that CSR initiatives are becoming more important because customers and employees think that they are more important than they used to think. In many ways, it is all about expectations. If no one expects a corporation to be a great citizen, then it probably won't be. However, if for example, customers insist on a corporation demonstrating some level of good citizenship in order to warrant their business, the corporation will pay attention.

    I think it is crystal clear that many more customers than ever before incorporate their view of the CSR of a corporation into their buying decisions. In my view, this is a secular trend and not a cyclical upswing, and corporations need to embrace CSR because the important players in their environments increasingly want them to do so, and will put their money and their hours behind their desires.

  • Is there any distinction between Corporate Responsibility (CR) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? Is it correct to presuppose that, most of the times the distinction between the two gets blurred resulting in, at such times, an undue credit for the companies?

    I think they are usually used pretty interchangeably. I do think that some people use Corporate Responsibility in a more legalistic way to describe the legal and regulatory responsibilities of corporations. The same people would be inclined to distinguish CSR as the universe of things that corporations may do that they are not required to do.

1. Corporate Social Responsibility Case Study
2. ICMR Case Collection
3. Case Study Volumes

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