A Conversation with Harvard Business School’s Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society

The Madison Loft, 1555 Broadway St., Detroit
October 21, 2022

What role should firms and their leaders play in repairing a divided America and world? This question lies at the heart of Harvard Business School’s new Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society (BiGS), which seeks to frame and examine a critical management conversation of our time, and to provide new tools for leaders striving to navigate this shifting and complex landscape.

To mark the launch of BiGS, the School brought together senior executives in industry, academia, government, and the nonprofit sector for a day of discussion around current practices, challenges, opportunities, and rationales for business to engage in societal goals beyond shareholder value.

Reading Materials

Case Study:
General Mills: Responding to the Killing of George Floyd

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Doing Business in a Divided World


8:30 a.m.

Registration and Breakfast

9:00 a.m.

Srikant Datar, George F. Baker Professor of Administration, Dean of the Faculty

9:15 a.m.

Roles, Responsibility, and Expectations: What Is Business Meant to Do?

Two trends are increasingly converging across the United States, and shifting the environment in which firms operate and compete. The first is a widening of societal divisions across many vectors—location, education, socio-economic situation, and political beliefs. The second is growing lack of trust in traditional authority structures, and a corresponding increased trust in business and, particularly, business leaders. This session will unpack recent research conducted by Harvard Business School and the Edelman Trust Institute to explain the contours of these shifts, and the risks—and opportunities—they pose.

Richard Edelman, CEO, Edelman
Professor Debora Spar, Jaime and Josefina Chua Tiampo Professor of Business Administration, Senior Associate Dean for Business and Global Society
Professor Peter Tufano, Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration

10:00 a.m.

Case Study Discussion: Jeff Harmening at General Mills

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a Black resident of Minneapolis, was killed by police as dozens of observers looked on. As outrage about his death rips across the city, General Mills’ CEO Jeff Harmening must decide what to say and do about this wrenching event in his company’s hometown. By exploring with Jeff how he thought about and responded to this moment, we can also address the broader issues at hand: when and how should corporate leaders respond to societal crises? How can they best prepare their organizations to deal with urgent and often unpredictable calls for action from employees, customers, or other stakeholders?

Professor James Cash, James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus
Jeff Harmening, Chairman and CEO, General Mills
Professor Jan Rivkin, C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration

11:00 a.m. Break

11:15 a.m.

Working Session One: Channels of Engagement

Against the backdrop of the research and General Mills discussion, we will use this session to structure a broader conversation about how all the leaders in this room have experienced and responded to a growing array of societal expectations. What new demands are they hearing from employees, customers, investors, and outside constituents? How are they deciding which issues or stakeholders most require or deserve a corporate response both inside and outside the firm? And are there lessons to be learned from how firms have dealt with recent high-profile issues, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the lock-downs occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Moderated by Professor Vikram Gandhi, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration

12:15 p.m.

Buffet Lunch

12:45 p.m.

Working Session Two: Crafting an Effective Response

For this final session, we will divide participants into smaller working groups, each with a faculty rapporteur and representatives from both business and civil society. The goal here is to broaden our conversation from the urgent demands firms often face to a longer-term consideration of how they can best address the expanded role that society is asking them to play.  Economists have long recognized that many business activities create “negative externalities”—things like traffic congestion or pollution that are unavoidable by-products of their business practice. Typically, governments have dealt with these externalities through either regulation or taxation. But today, firms are increasingly being asked, by investors, employees, customers, and broader communities to deal with these and other societal consequences on their own.  How, we will ask, can firms think about internalizing or addressing these costs? Are there ways for commercial enterprises to address their negative externalities without harming their financial performance – or maybe even improving it?

Moderated by Professor Robert Kaplan, Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus

Session Rapporteurs:  Dr. Christopher Eaglin, Professor Vikram Gandhi, Professor Hise Gibson, Professor Summer Jackson, Professor Hubert Joly, Professor Jan Rivkin, Professor Debora Spar, Professor Peter Tufano

1:45 p.m.

Closing and Conclusions

Professor Debora Spar, Jaime and Josefina Chua Tiampo Professor of Administration, Senior Associate Dean for Business and Global Society

For event information or questions, please contact the BiGS team at bigsinst@hbs.edu.