A Brand New Brand

A Brand New Brand of Corporate Social Performance“, by Tim Rowley, Toronto University and Shawn Berman, Boston University, currently appears as one of the most frequently cited articles in Business and Society, based on citations to online articles from HighWire-hosted articles. Professor Rowley and Professor Berman kindly shared their thoughts about the article.

Do you have any specific memories about doing the research, writing or the review/publishing process that you would like to share?

Reflection brings back faint remembrance of genuine trepidation while writing this article and sweat-dripping fear minutes before presenting it at the inaugural Conversazione at the University of Northern Iowa. Let us set the stage: We were newly-minted faculty members at Boston University and U of Toronto and incredibly grateful and respectful to the pioneers in the field. At the same time, as hungry young scholars conditioned to be overly critical we went at it with both barrels when John Mahon timidly said in that charming way he has, “You little craps are doing a paper about what is wrong with the field. Don’t screw up.”

What prompted you to do this research and write this article?

A key motivation for writing the paper was based on the thought that the business and society scholars had a rare opportunity.  While in other management fields scholars could only report (albeit, in sophisticated ways) how managers had acted, our field could lead practice and provide valuable guidance on the future evolution of business and society interactions.  And that promise depended on truly capturing reality in scholarship. Our worry at the time and purpose for writing the paper was that there was a growing disconnection between operational variables and reality.

Tell the story behind the article.

So, we sketched an outline during a 30 minute cab ride to Chicago O’Hara after an AOM conference, traded countless emails and put a full draft together over a long weekend in Boston.  However, criticizing the field and thus some of the work of the people who had blazed the social issues trail and given us many opportunities seemed dis-loyal.  Also, we had not read or heard some of our claims elsewhere so we questions ourselves – maybe we don’t get it or maybe we were speaking taboo. 

We were wrong – about how people would react, anyway.  Our senior colleagues encouraged our enthusiasm and received our ideas not as criticisms but as suggestions for pushing the field.  This we remember clearly.

Why did the paper receive so much attention?

It is not completely clear to us why this article generated significant interest.  We didn’t say anything that others were not thinking.  In a way we simply recorded the thoughts of the next generation of scholarship.  In fact, Griffin & Mahon, 1997 were already questioning CSP measures. Our ideas were not new, but perhaps timely.  To the credit of many new scholars in the field, research rigor has improved dramatically as operational variables are more substantially grounded with theoretical and operational justification. We are pleased if our article helped in any way, but it is clear the field has moved on making many of our concerns quibbles of the past.  And for that we are most delighted.

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