The Chief Officer of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Study of Its Presence in Top Management Teams

Abstract

I present a review of the top management teams (TMTs) of the largest public corporations in the U.S. and Scandinavia (one thousand in total) to identify corporations that have a TMT position with “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) or a “CSR synonym” like sustainability or citizenship explicitly included in the position title. Through this I present three key findings. First, I establish that a number of CSR TMT positions exist and I list all identified corporations and associated position titles. Second, I show that Scandinavian corporations are significantly more likely than U.S. corporations to have such CSR TMT positions. This finding serves as evidence that the U.S. may have been surpassed by a subset of Europe, i.e., Scandinavia, in at least one relevant measure of explicit CSR, whereby this study may serve witness to a noteworthy juncture post Matten and Moon’s (Academy of Management Review, 33(2):404–424, 2008) “Implicit & Explicit CSR” article. And third, I show that corporations with a CSR TMT position are three times more likely to be included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) than corporations with none. A range of further research opportunities stemming from these findings include exploring whether explicit attention to CSR by the corporation is indicative of a longer term trend that has to do with attention to responsible business and whether a move away from the expression ‘CSR’ toward the expression ‘sustainability’ is underway and what this may entail.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Economist's use of the word 'whatever' in this statement hints at the ambiguity of the expressions related to CSR.

  2. 2.

    Scandinavia is usually meant to include Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. More recently Scandinavia is also commonly used to embrace Finland and where “Nordic” is often used synonymously with “Scandinavian” (Bondeson 2003, p. 3; Nordstrom 2000, ix). While not all may agree with this broadening, in this article I use Scandinavia in reference to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

  3. 3.

    Senior executive positions with CSR or CSR synonyms in the position titles were also identified at case companies including AT&T, CA, Coca Cola Company, Cognizant, DuPont, EMC2, General Mills, Mohawk Industries, Nike, Owens Corning, Pinnacle West Capital, Verizon Communications, and Yum! Brands but were not included as they did not meet the strict TMT scoping criteria used in this study.

  4. 4.

    This individual left to serve as Chief of Staff for U.S. President Obama. While the individuals themselves who occupied the Chief Officer of CSR positions were not the focus of this study, two conspicuous details about the individuals in the CSR TMT positions became apparent. First, these individuals possess a remarkably wide range of backgrounds. For example, Nokia’s “EVP, Corporate Relations & Responsibility” is a former Prime Minister of Finland. Second, a conspicuously high proportion of females hold these CSR TMT positions in comparison to the percentage of females holding TMT positions in general.

  5. 5.

    CSR ratings including the DJSI are not without criticisms regarding their ability to accurately measure and reflect CSR performances (e.g., Porter and Kramer 2006; Chatterji and Levine 2006; Chatterji et al. 2009). I acknowledge these criticisms but contend that, on the whole, the DJSI represents a useful indicator. I did not have access to the full DJSI selection methodology and thus I recognize points may be awarded for having a Chief Officer of CSR that could skew these results. But I assume this alone is unlikely to explain the 3x factor.

  6. 6.

    These comments were offered by the “VP, Corporate Sustainability” of a DJSI company during a November 2010 meeting in which Chatham House Rule was invoked.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Rikke Augustinus Eriksen, Peter de Fine Licht, Mette Morsing, Eric Guthey, Andrew Crane, Brad Jackson, Jeremy Moon, Dirk Matten, Tarek Haddad, and Itziar Castello. Funding was provided in part by PwC Denmark and the Archibald Bush Foundation Fellowship Program. Thank you.

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Correspondence to Robert Strand.

Appendix: Chief Officer of CSR Position Titles

Appendix: Chief Officer of CSR Position Titles

See Tables 5 and 6.

Table 5 “CSR strict” category
Table 6 “CSR synonyms” category

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Strand, R. The Chief Officer of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Study of Its Presence in Top Management Teams. J Bus Ethics 112, 721–734 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-012-1568-z

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Keywords

  • Chief Officer of CSR
  • Chief Sustainability Officer
  • C-Suite
  • Top management team
  • Scandinavia
  • U.S.
  • Explicit CSR