Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 155, Issue 3, pp 741–762 | Cite as

The Co-evolution of Leaders’ Cognitive Complexity and Corporate Sustainability: The Case of the CEO of Puma

  • Stefan Gröschl
  • Patricia Gabaldón
  • Tobias HahnEmail author
Original Paper


In this longitudinal study, we explore the co-evolution of the cognitive complexity of the CEO of Puma, Jochen Zeitz, and his view and initiatives on sustainability. Our purpose was to explore how the changes in a leader’s mindset relate to his/her views and actions on sustainability. In contrast to previous studies, we adopt an in-depth longitudinal case study approach to capture the role of leaders’ cognitive complexity in the context of corporate sustainability. By understanding the cognitive development of Zeitz as leader of Puma, we provide an important step toward understanding the co-evolution of leaders’ cognitive complexity and proactive corporate sustainability initiatives over time. Our findings show that as he developed a more complex mindset that also included non-business lenses, Zeitz developed a more inclusive understanding of sustainability and adopted proactive initiatives that went beyond business-as-usual. Our study also demonstrates that a longitudinal perspective can offer valuable insights for a better understanding of how individuals and their interactions affect and are affected by an organization’s strategies and performance, in corporate sustainability and beyond.


Cognitive complexity CEO Corporate sustainability Puma Longitudinal case study Leadership Sensemaking 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Stefan Gröschl declares that he has no conflict of interest. Patricia Gabaldón Quiñones declares that she has no conflict of interest. Tobias Hahn declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10551_2017_3508_MOESM1_ESM.docx (64 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 64 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Gröschl
    • 1
  • Patricia Gabaldón
    • 2
  • Tobias Hahn
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of ManagementESSEC Business SchoolCergy Pontoise CedexFrance
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsIE Business SchoolMadridSpain
  3. 3.Strategy DepartmentKEDGE Business SchoolMarseille Cedex 9France

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